11/16/10

Another pet peeve

Dear Writer,

If you find yourself typing the words "true to form," or "typically," or "as usual," or "as one might expect," or any such phrase – consider that you might be writing a CLICHE.

Then don't.

11/9/10

Look Who's Talking to A Beautiful Mind

Creeeeeepy baby...



11/7/10

As soon as she opens her mouth, the movie is over

I love Cher. And I wish Christina Aguilera all the best -- yo, Staten Island! I also love Diablo Cody, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming and anything with sequins and fringe. But despite the fact that I have to be the target market for this movie, I am not going to see Burlesque on opening weekend. And possibly, not at all.

Seriously,
I am the target market. But I've seen the trailer a few times and things don't look good. In the trailer, a plucky young ingenue heads to Los Angeles. She tries to get a job singing at a club. Cher, the club manager, blows her off. The plucky young ingenue gets onstage anyway. She's played by Christina Aguilera, so as soon as she opens her mouth, Cher is impressed. The girl gets the job and the movie is over. That's beginning, middle and end, right there in the trailer -- but not a compelling narrative filled with obstacles, conflict and stakes.

This is a problem with the entire awesomely-talented-but-somehow-still-struggling performer genre. It's one of the reasons many reviewers found
Secretariat a bore. If you never saw the actual horse win the Belmont Stakes, watch the video now. For two minutes and twenty-four seconds, it's a gas. But who wants to watch the run-up to that race for two hours? I am also the target market for every horsey movie out there, but I still haven't seen Secretariat. The horse won the race in stunning fashion, but not in dramatically compelling fashion. Secretariat was an amazing horse with previous victories and terrific bloodlines from a successful stable. Everyone knew he was going to win the Belmont Stakes. A few other horses entered because money was on the line for place and show, but we're not talking real obstacles. To make this story dramatic, one would have to saddle the poor horsey with a drug or alcohol problem, an abusive stable mate or recurring nightmares of childhood trauma -- you know, the stuff we writers shove in such movies to make the stories of extraordinary talent rewarded slightly more compelling.

Perhaps there are real obstacles in
Burlesque. There are none evident in the trailer, which seems to include the entire film. I hope this is another case of a marketing department screw-up and that the movie revolves around a different set of events never hinted at in the trailer. But I am dubious, and I will wait to see. Unfortunately, that might mean the film is gone from theaters before I make up my mind.

10/22/10

A great new use for Facebook

I've been happily buried in three different projects, one of which involves considerable historical research about the Civil War. The Facebook advertising engine picked up on that research – they're watching our every move! – and suggested I "like" the daily updates from this site.

Damned if the advertising engine isn't right. I do like the updates. In fact, I think whoever came up with the idea of sending around a daily Facebook post on something of interest related to the Civil War that happened on the same day 150 years ago is freakin' brilliant. Way to go, unknown fellow historian!

10/1/10

This is not a Paris runway

First casualties of the new season – Lone Star on Fox and My Generation on ABC. There were issues with the Lone Star pilot, but I didn't hate it. I could see they might be headed in interesting directions. I would have given it a second look. And yet – though I Tivo'd it, I didn't get around to watching the pilot until after the series had been canceled. I still haven't watched the My Generation pilot. I watch a lot of television, but neither show excited me enough to click play. Here's why –

The posters that adorned every bus shelter and many of the buildings where I live were some of the worst I have ever seen.

In the My Generation posters, pretty people stare at the camera with no expression on their faces. In the Lone Star posters, a handsome young man stares at the camera with no expression on his face. Why would I want to watch shows about expressionless people? If they aren't interested in their own lives, I won't be either. Not that the shows themselves – Lone Star at least – featured expressionless people. An early line of dialogue specifically points out the importance of the lead character's awesome smile. And the actor has an awesome smile. Why didn't they feature that in the posters? I might have watched the show sooner to find out what he was smiling about.

I think I know where the blank-faced trend originates. For some time now, fashion photography and fashion runways have featured expressionless models. Here's a note for television marketing departments: this is not because we like blank faces. It's because fashion designers want us to focus on the clothes alone. Most people don't watch television for the clothes alone. Not even Gossip Girl – though how awesome were the clothes in the Paris episodes? And Gossip Girl posters are some of the best out there.

9/28/10

Twenty four words you can't say in Final Draft

One of the last things I do before I consider a script ready to send out is run a global search for my personal list of proscribed words. These words are not forbidden because they are naughty – it's a script, fuck that – but because I use them too often.

We all have such words. Most of them stand in for the pauses we add to our everyday speech. We want pauses in our dialogue, so we stick 'em in there too. Problem is, different readers use different words for their pauses, and most readers add the pauses in their own heads and don't need those words. Though we sprinkle our everyday speech with well's, oh's and you know's, a page of dialogue studded with those words causes pain. As I mentioned in a
previous post, dialogue needs to sound like real people talking – only better.

Everyone has their own habitual vocabulary. That's one of the ways literary forensic types determine disputed authorship. Though you should make your own list of dangerous words, here's my version:


Actually, usually, a lot, like, always, very, well, here, yeah, hey, ok/okay, maybe, just, oh, pretty, guess, more, quite, bit, you know, right, even, of course, so
.

Though I search for every word, I don't remove every instance. People use these words. Dialogue without them might sound strange. But it's eye-opening to skip from instance to instance and realize how often the words pop up. Though I don't remove them all, I remove enough. Sometimes I get a page less script for my labor. Hey, that's actually worth it, you know?


Here's another note. While running this search, do a quick scan of every incidence of your/you're and make sure you've got them right. No, you are not ignorant for mixing them up – it's something your typing fingers do without consulting your brain. But you LOOK ignorant if they remain wrong in your finished draft.

9/24/10

Technological dependency

The ridiculously cheap envelopes must have been a Luddite Trojan horse, as my Internet connection has been down since I brought them home. I am now lurking in a Starbucks, sucking an ancient cup of coffee. Last night I circled the parking lot of a closed McDonald's, fishing for a signal. The Verizon folks say all will be well soon. But they said that two days ago. I now face a weekend without Internet and all is not well.

As a friend posted on her Facebook wall, "I love my computer since all my friends live there..."
I want my friends back!

9/19/10

In related news

I bought envelopes today for the first time in years. They were marked down to a ridiculously low price – two dollars and fifty cents for a box of two hundred and fifty resume-quality, rag bond, watermarked envelopes. I made the salesclerk check the price twice as I was sure she had made a mistake. She hadn't.

The marked down price makes sense, as I will probably not use two hundred and fifty envelopes for the rest of my life. I'm sure there were similar sales of audio cassettes, VHS tapes and typewriter ribbons in the last few decades, but honestly – who remembers?

In a burst of synchronicity, I will use those envelopes (okay, a few of those envelopes – seriously, two hundred and fifty?) to announce to the world my latest screenplay, Postal. Though, in an even more synchronous turn, I'm announcing it here, first. 'Cause I'm a product of the Internet age, and I can't wait for my own virtual reality headset. Facebook in 3D? Awesome.

9/17/10

Dude!

Here's a fun video of yesterday's storm excitement in New York City. Several folks in the comment section suggest these young men cannot be real New Yorkers as REAL New Yorkers would never show that level of excitement about anything.

There's truth in that.

Back in high school, I was on a harbor ferry when it was hit by a freighter in a dense fog. The boat tipped way over, one side was clearly bashed in and the PA system sounded like very nervous adults in a Charlie Brown special. As far as any of us knew, the boat was going down.

We tramped out on deck and yanked life vests out of their wooden racks. That was fun, 'cause you got break the wooden lath that held the vest in place. Breaking stuff is fun, even for blasé New Yorkers. Then we realized that the outside vests were filthy, and tramped back inside to retrieve nice clean vests from under the seats.
And then... we all stood around holding our vests at dainty arm's length, pretending that nothing exciting was going on.

Sure, the ship might be about to pull a Titanic, but that's no reason to make evident one's distress by actually PUTTING ON THE DAMN VEST.

I haven't lived in New York in some time, but I still have trouble visibly displaying the level of excitement in this video – even when I'd like to. I went to Comic Com and thought the people geeking out over their favorite stars looked like they were having fun. But I just couldn't do it. I am a fan, but I'm a fan who was born and raised in NYC. I scream on the inside.

As for these guys, native New Yorkers or not, they are a perfect example of why writers should write realistic dialogue – but never real dialogue. DUDE!? A tornado is touching down in Brooklyn and that's the best you can do? Well, yeah, in real life, that is about the best anyone manages.

9/11/10

Recessionary spending

I just read a BusinessWeek article about the recent Burger King sale. Guess what? The chain's "razor-like" focus on their favorite male 18-34 demographic has proved disastrous while McDonald's attempt to woo a new market has been a stunning success. What's that new market... ?

Women.

Apparently, women make money. And in the current recession, they're doing a better job of it than young men. Ouch.

Hollywood, I hope you are paying attention. McDonald's didn't just throw out a couple of poorly-prepared options to keep the ladies happy. The company reworked the menu, the marketing and the restaurant decor to the point where I am proud to tote my coffee around, in public, in a McDonald's cup. And why not – McCafé coffee is pretty damn good. It sure would be nice to want to watch a recent movie as much as I currently want a Mickey D snack wrap and fruit smoothie.

Of course, the McDonald's market – even the new, money-making McDonald's market – just isn't sexy. Anyone coming to Hollywood in search of Entourage-style sex, drugs and more sex and drugs probably isn't too interested in appealing to such a market. Though at the moment, I bet there's LOTS more fun to be had at McDonald's franchisee conventions than at any such Burger King get-togethers. Scary thought for the future, huh?

Profitability. It's the new sexy.

9/6/10

Please nobody tell James Cameron

The waitress handed Precious Nephew a 3-D puzzle toy. We put together the puzzle and Precious gazed at it, perplexed. "Where are the glasses?" he asked. "How can it be 3-D if there are no glasses?" Uh... crap.

I am not ideologically opposed to 3-D movies. In general, I am in favor of the March of Progress and all that. My sister recently found a 1950 shelter magazine that breathlessly suggested housekeepers could enjoy unexpected benefits from modern, office machines like... staplers. I have a stapler – and a 3-hole punch, tape dispenser and copy machine – in every room of my house in which I am likely to encounter paper. Though in a few years, the use of paper could mark me as old fashioned all by itself.


I like synced sound and color movies, too. My problem with 3-D movies is selfish. I am one of the 2-12% of the population who just doesn't see them in anything resembling 3-D. This makes me the annoying wet blanket on movie night. And for that, I hold Mr. Cameron personally responsible.

Of course, my insistence on good 'ole 2-D makes me a pleasantly cheap date. Though as an adult who buys my own tickets, that's not such a great argument.

8/22/10

No protagonist is an island, entire of itself

In a previous post, I described a common failure in the scripts I am asked to read – the script crammed with compelling supporting characters that features an oddly unfocused protagonist. I have since decided that an opposite problem also exists.

I recently read a script in which the protagonist was a beautifully detailed creation with a gaping hole in his life and choices looming ahead. But despite all that lovely story-engine work, the script remained stuck in place.
There were needs, but no real obstacles. There were choices, but no real costs. The writer was only interested in the protagonist and had only bothered to develop the protagonist's story. Without equally needy and choosy supporting characters, the story lacked all conflict.

I would say this is an obvious point, but this is not the first such script I've read. Not by a lot. Perhaps it's obvious to me from my years as an actor. There's an old joke about the actor who played the doctor in the first production of Streetcar Named Desire. The character is barely a cameo role – the doctor only appears in the final pages to lead Blanche DuBois off to the nut house. Before the opening, a reporter who knew nothing about the play asked this actor what it was about. "It's about this doctor, see," the actor earnestly replied, "and he meets this lady who wants to depend on him. And he really wants to help, but he's torn, because..." and so on. You get the joke. There are no small parts, only small actors, blah, blah, blah. Trust me, when you're in one of those small parts, this joke is funny. But like many an old cliche, it's also true.

There are no small parts for writers, either – and we have to play ALL the parts. Every character must need something and must face choices.
They must be the stars of their own little movies, so when the protagonist's movie gets in their way – hello, conflict!

8/20/10

And... I'm back.

Been a while, huh?

As a follow-up to the last post, my computer did not die permanently – but it was an expensive can of Fresca. My multiple keyboards and I soldiered on and the impossible deadline turned out to be possible. The draft is finished. The trusted readers have returned their verdicts. One more quick buff and polish and I get to put this baby to bed.

But first, THIS baby needs to go to bed. Tomorrow I will post something nice and long to make up for the drought. See you then.

7/27/10

When troubles come, they come in pretty blue cans


I haven't posted in a few days as I'm under an impossible deadline – which caused me to knock over a can of Fresca and soak my laptop keyboard, because that's the sort of crap that happens as soon as you have an impossible deadline. I do not blame the Fresca. I blame the deadline.

It is every bit as hard as you might think to write a script without functioning DELETE and RETURN keys. The nice boys at the Mac shop were out of keyboards, of course. They swear a new one will be in tomorrow. In the meantime, I am the rock god of writing, with one keyboard plopped on top of another and hands everywhere. It's a terrible way to write, but I bet it looks cool.

I will be happy when this is over. And I may have news, to boot.

7/23/10

Darlings, dead

Way, way back in the day when I first spun the idea that turned into the script I'm currently re-writing, I wrote a single scene. I don't usually start that way: I'm more of a beat/outline/draft writer. But the scene came to me in an insistent rush while I was out for a run (and did not have a piece of paper handy – why does that always happen?) and it seemed to contain the beating heart of the movie I wanted to write. I raced home and scribbled it on a sheet of paper. That scene became my favorite thing on the beat sheet, my favorite thing in the outline, and my favorite thing in every draft since.

Guess what I just cut?


Here's why I don't need that scene anymore: yes, it still contains the beating heart of the movie. But now, SO DOES THE REST OF THE SCRIPT. That once lovely scene is now freakin' obvious. Goodbye.

Oo – this feels good. Let's see what else I can cut...

7/20/10

Tour de narrative

If one can recognize – and sympathize with – the protagonist as the person who gets dumped on in Act One, then Andy Schleck is now the protagonist of the 2010 Tour de France. Stage 15 is a little late for Act One, but at least I know who to root for in the stages that remain. Ride, skinny boy – ride!

Of course, the dumping upon is merely the situation that helps establish the protagonist’s status. We still need a story…
what will Andy choose to do next? Will he dig in and claw back those precious eight seconds? Will he accept former friend Contador’s hotel room apology? Will he whine about it and drop further back – in which case, I'll stop rooting for him.

Speaking of which, someone should have offered Lance Armstrong a rewrite after his early stage disasters. He could easily have been the protagonist, but he ignored the clearly heroic choice laid before him. Lance might be out of contention, but teammate Levi Leipheimer clings to a spot near the top. How wonderful would it have been if the great Lance Armstrong had declared, as his farewell Tour slipped away, "This one is for all the teammates I've had over the years." The world would have set aside any reservations they ever had about the guy if Lance Armstrong had pulled a Bull Durham during his remaining two weeks in the sport, and sacrificed his own glory to drag Levi onto the podium in Paris. Of course, that hasn't happened. And perhaps the sort of man who can win seven championships in a row is not the sort of man who will EVER sacrifice himself for a teammate. But hey, it would have been nice.

Slate has an interesting article on our deep-seated desire to root for the underdog. Though the article offers several semi-scientific reasons, the writer suggests that part of our tendency to root for the guy who isn't winning actually traces back to the narratives all around us – a bit of self-fulfilling prophesy for us writers:

When you think about horse racing, which comes to mind first: Seabiscuit's underdog victory in the 1938 Pimlico Special or Cool Coal Man's unremarkable loss at the 2008 Kentucky Derby? … And consider all the other underdogs in our culture—from the Bible, from literature, and from every sports movie ever made. It's no accident that we remember the Titans...

7/15/10

Charitable horn tooting




I'll be helping out with the annual
Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation yard, gift, supply and bake sale this weekend, Saturday July 17, 10am - 3pm in West Los Angeles at 2499 S Barrington Avenue (on the corner of Pearl Street). Swing by, grab a cupcake, buy a MacGuffin or two, and chat about rabbits, scripts, or anything else.

It's not too late to donate to the sale! Designer clothes, small appliances, furniture, DVDs, books, jewelry, whatever you've got is welcome. Please contact larabbits@earthlink.net to schedule a donation time before the sale. (Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to house rabbit welfare in the Los Angeles area. All the proceeds from the sale go to help the bunnies.)


If you would like to know more about house rabbit pets, please visit the website or come meet the bunnies at Centinela Feed Adoption Days, 3860 S Centinela Ave, LA 90066 every Saturday afternoon from 12:30pm - 3:30pm. See you there!

7/14/10

My day as a six year old

I played hooky like a six year old yesterday and watched Toy Story 3 in the morning, Despicable Me in the afternoon and The Princess And The Frog on DVD at night. I would say my brain went on vacation for the day – but, dang, those are some thoughtful kiddie movies.

Now I'm going to make things worse by blogging about it all. So much for vacation. Minor SPOILERS ahead...

Despicable Me is a hoot through and through and features a funny and moving performance by Steve Carell as protagonist super-villain Gru. The performance is so good that... well, I'm not sure how much movie is left without the performance. Perhaps that's unfair. The end of the film is predictable – but there's nothing wrong with that. Macbeth is predictable, too. We know where most moral lessons are headed, and most moral lessons are still valuable.

Here's the real problem: ten minutes after leaving the theater, my mind was still churning over the movie I had just seen... three hours before: Toy Story 3. Perhaps if I'd reversed the order in which I watched the films, I might appreciate Despicable Me more. But not to worry: the target market for both films, Precious Nephew (age almost 5), was so thrilled by Despicable Me he never touched his popcorn. So there.

I enjoyed The Princess and the Frog as well. It has a nicely nuanced moral message -- neither fully pro wishing-on-a-star, nor fully against -- and the film is beautiful. I should have caught it in theaters. I will have to remember that for Tangled – Disney's upcoming Rapunzel reboot. Tangled trailers played in front of all three movies yesterday, though the version that played in front of Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me was an oddly male-centric cut. Hm.

The animation of Frog's Tiana and the few glimpses of Tangled's Rapunzel, make clear that Disney animation still does better than anyone else the thing it has done better than anyone else since Beauty and the Beast: animate female faces that are attractive, interesting and funny all at the same time. Those girls might be drawings, but they are d*mn fine actresses, too. Nobody does female faces like Disney.

And then there's Toy Story 3.

I can't say I walked out of this film happy, but at a full twenty-four hours later, I'm still thinking about it. It's clearly a great movie. Is it too deep and tragic for kids? Maybe... though I loved deep and tragic as a kid. Perhaps the folks at Pixar have simply decided to make great movies, and don't care if we call them kiddie movies or not. They've earned that right – and proved they can do it, too.

The end of the film is absolutely the right end, but it's a tough one for me. I gave away my vast, beloved Breyer horse collection when I went to college, and I still feel terrible about it – though I know I made two little girls insanely happy. I certainly don't know what I'd do with a room-sized plastic horse collection now. But here comes Toy Story 3 to make me feel even worse about my decision since I kept my Woody – my very first Breyer horse, who has spent many years now in a cardboard box in my dad's guest room. I hope he isn't too lonely. Eesh. I suck. Thanks, Toy Story 3!

Anyway, I found an early moment in the film particularly stunning. Teenage Andy must decide what to do with his old toys before he leaves for college. He scoops the entire collection into an attic-bound plastic bag. At the last moment, he pulls Woody alone from the pile and places him in a college-bound cardboard box. This is the moment that pays off Woody's extra burden of moral responsibility through the entire series. He secretly believes he's special – because he IS special. And as the special one, he will be called upon to make a sacrifice before the series can end.

I am reminded of sci-fi/horror gem Pitch Black. At the start of that movie, a space pilot played by Radha Mitchell punches a button to jettison her sleeping human cargo. The entire movie waves its hands around for the next hundred minutes to make you forget that you know Ms. Mitchell needs to balance that pushed button with a major sacrifice before the end. Toy Story 3 waved its hands around admirably. I really did not know how the movie was going to end – even though it ended where it had to end.

And I'm STILL thinking about it. In fact, I'm starting to tear up again. Crap. I need a tissue. And then, back to work.

7/8/10

Show and tell

Show don't tell, show don't tell, yeah yeah yeah – we are all good little writers. We know this. We have it tattooed on our wrists for easy reference.

But here's a twist. Much of the time, when I watch television, I don't
watch it. It's on, and I'm listening. I look up every now and then to check in, but I'm also sorting mail, washing dishes, reading magazines, or even – as right now – tapping away at my computer.

I read an article once that had statistics on this sort of thing. The article claimed lots of people don't
watch watch television, they only sorta watch. I tried to find that article for your reference, because I hate it when people say, "I read an article once" as if that meant anything, but when I googled people who listen but don't watch television I got a lot of people bragging about how they don't watch television. I hate that, too.

Anyway... where was I?


Right. Watching television, mostly with my ears. The television in question is the Tour de France daily coverage on Versus. Lance Armstrong's
new ad for the Nissan Leaf electric car plays heavily during the commercial breaks. Here's the voiceover script for the ad:

In twenty years of cycling, even when I was ahead, I was always behind. Behind cars. Behind trucks. Behind... those guys. Tailpipe after tailpipe, after tailpipe. Until now. The one hundred percent electric, no tailpipe, Nissan Leaf. Innovation for the planet. Innovation for all.


The ad is quite clear – when you see it. Tailpipes spew smoke and Lance coughs and one understands that "until now" refers to the tailpipes and the smoke and that Lance is still behind the cars, they're just not spewing smoke in his face anymore. But the first time I saw the ad, I didn't really see it – I only heard it. And I heard something quite different.


THE AD QUITE CLEARLY STATES THAT THE NISSAN LEAF IS SO DANG SLOW THAT A GUY ON A BICYCLE WILL NEVER HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT RIDING BEHIND IT AGAIN.


I think this is not what the good folks at TBWA/Chiat/Day had in mind. These are the people behind the Justin Long/John Hodgman MAC ads. These are good writers. And the Leaf ad is a good ad, as long as you watch it.
Which I didn't. And according to that article I couldn't find, a lot of other people won't either.

So definitely
show, but make sure you aren't telling something completely different at the same time.

7/2/10

Weekends? We don't need no stinkin' weekends!

I dropped scripts off at the agency this morning. I dropped a friend in Manhattan Beach later this afternoon. At both locations, people wandered about in t-shirts and flip-flops with happy smiles on their faces. The sun shines brightly – June Gloom ended right on schedule – and everything seems in place for a glorious three day weekend.

During which, I will be chained to my desk trying to make the words happen good and stuff.

I have never experienced weekends and holidays the same way other people do. All the way up to high school, I toured with a children's theater company. We worked over the holidays – who doesn't want to see a puppet show on Easter, Purim, Halloween or Christmas? In college, Thanksgiving break got reserved for building sets and costumes. That happened a lot after college, too. I opened a Christmas show on the last weekend in November once and was stunned to learn that the other actors planned to skip dress rehearsal to head home for some kind of meal or something. Hello, priorities?

And now of course, free days are writing days. But you know what? I like writing. I also liked the puppet show, and building sets, and even dress rehearsals. Looks like I'm taking my holidays just the way I want them.

I hope you all have a wonderful July 4th as well!

6/29/10

Yo-ho-ho and a really good point

Here I go linking to John August again. I was planning to comment myself on the not-exactly-upside but not-entirely-downside of Hollywood's rush to develop non-narrative property titles, be they board games, toys or theme park rides.

A title is not the most binding straitjacket around. A title might specify a genre or setting, but the story remains wide open.
A movie based on a toy might seem silly, but it will only BE silly if the creators make it so.

For a master class on how not to make silly movies, listen to the writers' commentary track on the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl DVD. The final pair of writers explain their process in great detail and one understands why the movie turned out so well – and how it could have gone wrong so easily.

Even if you aren't interested in why it was the superior choice to make Commodore Norrington a priggish good guy – but still a good guy – listen to the track anyway. Seriously, how freakin' awesome is it that a movie based on a theme park ride includes a writers' commentary track?!

[I've linked above to the Blu-ray edition. Amazon no longer lists the 2-disc DVD version on which I listened to the commentary track. Anyone know if the Blu-ray version includes the same tracks?]

6/28/10

Ouch

I just realized I took the same easy road I've inveighed against time and again. The original sketch of my current project called for the hero to make a disastrously wrong choice at the end of act one. I backtracked almost immediately from that I idea. In my defense, I was encouraged to remove the disastrous choice to make the hero more "likeable." Screw that; I have no defense. I know better. Woody in Toy Story is not likeable because he's a good guy; he's likeable because he does something terrible – and fights like hell to fix it.

Every comment on my script since the change has involved some form of, "I don't get what the protagonist is fighting for." Of course you don't. He's fighting to fix the idiotic mistake he was supposed to make in act one.


I have now fixed the outline and I feel so much better... now that my protagonist feels so much worse.

6/25/10

Crying all the way to the bank

Short and sweet, via John August: "The protagonist is the character that suffers the most."

I'm going to add my own footnote: emotional/existential suffering counts more than physical. A lot more – though it is nice to give your hero a good Indiana Jones-style beat down every now and then.


I've
commented before that many otherwise talented writers seem unable to apply this to semi-autobiographical protagonists. In the latest flurry of script reading, I've noticed a corollary. Many otherwise talented writers seem unable to apply this to characters written for stars.

I recently read a buddy cop script in which one of the two leads was written for a particular attachment. The star role was clearly intended as a weightier, showier, more memorable part than the second lead – Riggs, not Murtaugh. Unfortunately, unlike
Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black, who dumped piles of crap on Riggs, this writer tiptoed daintily around his star. The character got all the great lines and stood up bravely for all the right things, but nothing ever got to him. The villain threatened the star with a gun, but never with deep, heartfelt, I-just-can't-go-on-style loss. The guy got beat up a few times, but he never really suffered.

Go ahead and hurt your stars. Give Mr. or Ms. Above The Title something to love, then take it away. Be merciless. They won't hold it against you. Heck, actors love that stuff anyway.

And if you need extra incentive, remember how much they're going to earn from all that suffering you endured writing the thing.

6/22/10

Power elbows



In an interview on the
Prime Suspect 7 DVD, Dame Helen Mirren thanks a senior policewoman who advised her against smiling or folding her arms while in character as Jane Tennison:

"You can watch all 22 hours of
Prime Suspect and I never fold my arms. It's a defensive act and while you might think folding your arms looks strong, you're actually putting up a barrier to defend yourself... For Tennison to have used such basic body language in her own incident room would have betrayed her instantly."

Michael Shurtleff gave us similar advice in class once, though with less nifty psychology and more straight-up ego. "Keep your damn elbows from touching your body," he said. "It makes you look small. On stage, you want to look big – so people will look at you."


I wish someone had given Joseph Fiennes that advice before he starred as an FBI agent in
FlashForward. I like Joseph Fiennes. I'm one of the few people in Hollywood who thinks Shakespeare In Love deserved to win over Saving Private Ryan – and will say so out loud. But I hated Mr. Fiennes' performance in FlashForward. Dude had his arms clamped in front of his body – elbows touching shirt – in every scene. I wound up rooting for the slimy guy from Pirates Of The Caribbean to run off with Penny from Lost. That can't have been right. Joseph Fiennes' character was the series lead; I should have been rooting for him. I'm not blaming Mr. Fiennes for the death of the series... but these elbows didn't help.



Okay readers, where are your elbows right now? Think about it – then MOVE THEM. Do this in interviews. Do this any time you want people to take you seriously. And if you've got an actor on whom the survival of your entire precious series depends, tell him you want to see daylight inside those elbows, now!

6/20/10

Mixed company

Many recent films about friendship take as a given that the friends will be all male or all female – think Sex And The City, The Hangover, Grown-Ups and the whole Apatow-esque genre. While I have enjoyed some of these films, I find the single-sex friendship assumption strangely old-fashioned.

I'm not talking about the dang kids with their mixed sex preteen sleepovers and such.
I'm talking about me and everyone I know. I went to a co-ed school. I live in a co-ed neighborhood. I belong to co-ed clubs and work in a co-ed office. It would be weirdly anti-social to befriend only women, or for the guys I know to befriend only men. And it's not just my generation. My dad's book club seems pretty well mixed, and they're all closer to the Greatest Generation than X or Y, or whatever we're up to now.

Still, these movies make money. Some of them make A LOT of money. Maybe my life and my dad's book club are weirder than I think. Or maybe we all secretly long for a bunch of guys to do guy things with or gals to do gal things with, even though most of our friend activities do not involve bachelor parties and shoe shopping.

Or maybe – and this is the reason I find most likely – we are so well programmed to expect romance when two attractive actors meet in a movie, that a writer who wants to focus on friendship has to set up an artificial locker-room world to keep things on target. Friends fall into romance off screen, as well – and it does play hell with the storyline.


That last reason explains why television shows seem to feature more realistic mixed-sex friendships. Television characters hang around for years; we don't expect them to pair off every ninety minutes. Sure, nearly everyone at the end of
Friends wound up in a couple. But it took two hundred and thirty six episodes to get there – plenty of time for the writers to explore other themes.

Speaking of friends – and
Friends – I enjoyed the first season of Cougar Town. I loathed the name and had to be coaxed into watching it, but I enjoy the show and its depiction of mixed-sex friendship, romance and everything in between. And that friend who convinced me to watch it? A guy. We went shooting a few years back for my birthday. With like, guns. 'Cause when you hang with me, it ain't all shoe shopping.

Though, some of it is.

6/15/10

Steady as she goes, Mr. Sulu



IT has arrived. The smartest-looking desk chair on earth. By the end of the week, I expect IT to be writing my scripts for me.

Anyone else think this looks like Captain Kirk's chair?



A little, right? The wide armrests, if nothing else. By the way, the original Kirk chair sold at auction for $304,750. Which makes IT seem almost cheap. Almost.

6/14/10

Moving targets

As a reader, one often gets scripts in which an eager writer has specified the brand, and even the particular model, of every prop, car, electronic device and beverage touched by the protagonist. Here's a note to my fellow writers: don't do this.

First, unless the writer gives equal attention to character and plot details – which the people who write this sort of thing never do, preferring to use brands as a kind of hip shorthand – the script starts to resemble a catalog. Readers do not recommend catalogs for further development.


Second, though brand specificity shows that the writer has an "eye for marketing" – guess who else has an eye for marketing? Marketing departments. Though they might appreciate plot-important phones, cars and beverages, they aren't particularly fond of limited options.


Third – and this is the big one no one seems to think of – unless the writer is willing to track down every copy of the script every three months and update all the model names and numbers, that hip shorthand quickly deteriorates. Phones and bar orders that seemed cutting edge when the script was written, cause the reader to sneeringly check the copyright date a few months down the line. Consumer cool is an ever-moving target. Phones come and go, but well written character arcs, thorny choices and intriguing flaws are forever.

6/7/10

Surprise!

It occurs to me that the story I told in yesterday's post provides an example of another of ScriptShadow's twelve points. As a bonus, this point is one of my favorite things to see a writer pull off in a script.

Number 8 – SURPRISE!

Surprise applies to more than plot twists. It's also a powerful character tool. I love it when the wrong person surprises everyone and says the right thing – thereby making previously obvious choices difficult.

In The Piano, the heroine believes true intimates should be able to read each other's mind. The right man never manages the trick while his finger-chopping rival succeeds. The heroine is surprised – and forced to reevaluate her choices.

In Sleepless In Seattle, Bill Pullman's schlubby fiancé seems destined for dumping. He turns the tables, stands up for himself, and dumps Meg Ryan instead. Sure, Meg winds up with Tom at the top of the Empire State Building. But her once obvious choice is tinged with surprise – and a little bittersweet regret.

The otherwise mediocre film Waitress contains a wonderful, unexpected scene – worth the price of admission on its own. At the film's climax, the brutal husband learns that his wife has secretly plotted to leave him. The audience – and the wife – expect an abusive confrontation. Instead, the guy throws himself on his knees and tells his wife every tender word of love she has longed to hear. He's still the wrong guy, in a major way. But the protagonist's clear path is suddenly not so clear – which is unsurprisingly, exactly what one wants in a drama.

6/6/10

Two stories

I enjoyed ScriptShadow's recent post on How To Write A Great Script. The twelve points seem like basic, obvious stuff. But most of the scripts I read fail on exactly these points. I guess they aren't so obvious.

One of the biggest issues I've found in scripts involves a combination of numbers 3 (a main character we want to root for), 6 (conflict), 7 (obstacles) and 11 (heart). Far too many writers resist making things difficult for their protagonists – they resist giving the protagonists difficult choices (7); they resist pitting those protagonists against equally compelling antagonists (6); they resist making their protagonists wrong at crucial moments – even though WE ALL KNOW that flaws are the best way to make protagonists more human-slash-likable (3); and in the end, they resist making their protagonists suffer the consequences of their mistakes (11).


I can't use examples from recent scripts I've read (confidentiality agreement, natch), so I'll offer a real life story instead:

W
hen I was in college, I worked in the dorm kitchens. At one point, I was assigned to assist an older employee who had returned to her job after a stroke. I worked as hard as I could since the woman needed my help to keep her job and qualify for her union pension. When my time assisting the woman ended, she threw me a surprise celebratory breakfast, presented me with a family heirloom brooch, hugged me tearfully and told me that she thought of me as the daughter she never had.

Isn't that a nice story? It's also boring as hell. And uninformative. You learn nothing about me, the protagonist, from that story – and you probably don't care to.
Now let's see what happens when we add a little 3, 6, 7 and 11 to the story (which is how things went down in real life, by the way):

I started the job with all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings but quickly found out that the old lady was a BITCH. She was MEAN. She only had one functional hand, but that thing was a CLAW. When she wasn't grabbing me and yanking me around, she hit me with her cane. Seriously – she HIT ME. She hovered over me all the time, making derogatory comments about everything I did. Nothing was ever good enough for her. After a month of misery I could no longer drag myself to work. I went tearfully to the office and told them that even if the old woman might lose her pension, I still couldn't take the abuse. I begged to be reassigned, and, mercifully, they complied.

On the day I left, my tormenter turned into my fairy godmother. She threw that celebratory breakfast, presented me with the heirloom brooch, hugged me tearfully and told me that I was the daughter she had never had – and explained that if she had ever been hard on me it was because she knew I could take it and use it to achieve great things. She would be proud of me to the end of her days. Sniff. And CRAP. The old witch had a motive and everything. I still took the transfer, but every time I look at that brooch I feel like shit. And I kind of deserve to feel like shit.

But YOU like me a little more now, dontcha? :-)

6/1/10

Off on a dig

I'm currently working on a page one screenplay rewrite. I did a lot of brainstorming last week, and came up with some exciting ideas. Those ideas led to other ideas, which led to other ideas... and suddenly everything connected back to themes and arcs that were already in the script. I never realized what they meant before. Even though I wrote the script.

My sister made the following comment, "Rewriting a story is like working an archaeological dig." I'm going to add a bit: Rewriting a story is like an archaeological dig; everything's in there – you just need to dig it up, clean it off and figure out what it is.

Of course, good acting and directing is archaeology too. I remember a Royal Shakespeare production of The Taming Of The Shrew I saw at the Kennedy Center in 2003. Most modern interpretations of the play wink at the "difficult," "misogynistic" text. Some work – I enjoyed Kevin Kline in an Old West version in Central Park years ago – but most don't. The RSC production played the text absolutely straight. And yet they found emotional connections and character motivations that made the play work in a way I have never seen before. Now this is a play I know well. It is the first play I ever saw performed live and I ran straight home and reenacted it with my dolls. I KNOW the text. Or I thought I did until I saw the RSC production, in which they discovered gobs of previously buried information.

The first time we meet him, male lead Petruchio mentions that his father has died. Most productions gloss over that information; they take it to mean that the guy has an inheritance and is looking to settle down. But Shakespeare didn't write a lot of accidental stuff. If he says the guy's father has died, he means the guy's father has died. Which should be important. It would be important to me. Maybe Petruchio is in, I dunno – pain? – the first time we meet him. Maybe he sees a mirror of his misfortune in Kate, a woman who lacks her own father's love... and suddenly, we're off to the races on a whole new, fascinating play, filled with all kinds of interesting, emotional stuff that Shakespeare left there for us to find. It only took the nice folks at the RSC a few hundred years to dig it out, dust it off and figure out what the heck it all means.

By the way, considering how many RSC actors have been cast to lead American series lately, how is it that Jasper Britton hasn't found a home on American TV? Somebody give that man a lab coat, stat!

5/25/10

The blank space at the center of your script is YOU

After years of reading scripts, I have come to a stark conclusion. Though we are told again and again to "write what we know," many writers just plain suck at writing themselves. It is easy to spot an autobiographical protagonist, even if you know nothing about the writer. That self-representative protagonist is always the dreariest, least compelling, least appealing and least understandable character in the script. Even when the plot requires drama and difficult choices, somehow the self-representative protagonist sails through with little more than mild angst and a furrowed brow that could be mistaken for peevish indigestion.

Is it because we can't bear to inflict harm upon ourselves and therefore allow the characters that represent us to avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – even though, dear g*d, that makes them dull?

Is it because we are too close to our own issues to understand that the difficult choices in front of us are difficult – or even choices?

Is it because we are so close to our character's issues and they're so freakin' obvious (to us) that they require no identification or explanation, even though they do? They really do.

Whatever the reason, please take warning. If you get back comments that the protagonist seems unlikeable and you love him, or comments that the arc isn't clear even though to you it's the whole point of the script, be aware that you might not be experiencing the script in the same way as anyone else. You might not think your lead character is all that autobiographical, even though he is a twenty-eight year old former fireman with commitment problems, and hey – so are you. Try the following exercise anyway. Write a sample page as if that fireman were the villain – or at least, someone who absolutely, positively isn't you. Change the race, the sex, the hopes, the dreams, anything, everything. Study that new character's motivations closely. You might find they are stronger – and closer to your own unspoken truth – than anything you could have written for yourself.

5/24/10

Cognitive dissonance

I have been uploading the massive 170 CD box of everything Mozart – thanks again, Record Surplus – to my mp3 collection one careful disc at a time over a period of weeks. Why do I believe 170 discs won't overwhelm the collection if I upload them s..l..o..w..l..y instead of all at once? I'm still planning to upload the whole box. It's so well thought out, and so not rational.

I'm not sure what this has to do with writing, except as an example that otherwise intelligent people can believe silly things, even when they know the things are silly. Scientists can be superstitious. Insurance agents can play Internet poker. Doctors frequently smoke. It's also an example of what Michael Shurtleff (yes, him again) calls "opposites" – the thorny way most of us fight desperately for the things we need, while also clinging to the things that make the things we need impossible. I love my balanced music collection; yet I can't resist the acquisitive urge to grab all that Mozart, even if that means my shuffle play now includes way too much harpsichord.

I probably don't need a balanced music playlist or 170 CDs of Mozart; I just like the word better. Which reminds me of my cousin's two year old. She recently discovered the word "need" and decided it is always preferable to her previous favorite word, "want." Shurtleff would agree. Need is always a stronger choice. Go for it, kiddo!

5/15/10

What's in a name?

I love this website. It's one of my favorite writing research tools. Few things date a character so indelibly as their name. We all know that certain names become attached to certain eras and certain ages. We live now in the era of Jayden and Emily. Jazz babies lived in the age of Walter and Lillian. Times change. One might want to avoid the obvious first few choices, but about halfway down the site's top twenty list for any birth year, one can find a gem of a name that places a character effortlessly in time.

Though here's an interesting warning: audiences seem to prefer heroes and heroines with names popular in their own era – not in the era when those characters would actually have been born. Stephanie became a HUGE name in the 70s and 80s – remember Saturday Night Fever? But when the character Stephanie in that film would have been born, say in around 1960, the name barely cracked the top 100. Of course, popular characters and actors can catapult otherwise unpopular names to the top themselves. I read an article once that suggested the catalyst of the final switch from masculine to feminine of the name "Kim" came after Kim Novak became a star in 1950s Hitchcock films. Checking the SSA site... hey look, masculine Kim peaked in 1955, then pretty much dropped out of sight. Might be something to that theory.

So yes, you can completely ignore the actual popularity of a name, and create a wild sensation with something unique and different – or something already popular in your era but totally out of place for the actual character. But go forth with a warning. You can succeed ahead of the curve, or right on the curve, but don't ever wind up behind the curve. If you call the present day 30 year old protagonist's mother "Edna," you are waving a giant red flag. You are no longer writing a real person, but rather a character based on an elderly stereotype. Which is to say, not just the character is elderly – the stereotype is as well. Edna peaked in popularity in 1912. Moms in the 1950s may have been called Edna, but I don't want to see any 1950s moms in your present day script. Okay? (Unless you're writing a script about 1950s moms in the present day, and that's a whole other thing.)

4/21/10

Sun to snow in less than two hours

I had family in town all last week. We journeyed to see the desert in bloom at the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve – an amazing show after a particularly wet winter.





Afterward, we mobbed the lone ice cream truck on a sweltering strip of highway and looked up at the snow-covered San Gabriels in the distance. We decided to be THERE instead.
Soon after, we were – with snow crunching underfoot and everything. Ain't Los Angeles grand?





We started the day a mere two miles from the Pacific Ocean, to boot.

Coming home, I experienced a ginormous Bass Pro Shop in Ontario, California. I read a post-apocalyptic script once that specified a Bass Pro Shop as the location for a scene. At the time, I found the specificity annoying. I don't need to know exact brands of product or retail locations from the scripts I read. Marketing departments do, but their needs shift and change – why limit available opportunities?

Now that I have seen the crazy over-the-top hugeness of the store in Ontario, I get it. A scene of post-apocalyptic travelers camped out in a camping goods store the size of a forest – and designed to look like a forest – is pretty freaking funny.

4/10/10

Michael Shurtleff meets the Captain

Yesterday, I told you all to read a book by Michael Shurtleff, my favorite acting coach. I find the book even more useful now that I'm a writer. One might assume a book called Audition is about neat tricks to use when you don't have time to study the freakin' lines. Yet Michael's approach is remarkably text-based – possibly the most text-based acting approach floating around our Method-loving world. And as the people writing the text... seriously, read the book.

Shurtleff tells us to imbue each character's choices with life or death importance. It was his Prime Directive, if you will. That might seem a bit extreme. Not every scene is Hamlet, surely. But here's a stunning example of how well this works, even with truly dopey material.

In a recent GQ
interview with Andrew Corsello, William Shatner explains his take on the Priceline Negotiator's unique motivation:

When they were writing it, they didn't quite know how to handle this new campaign they were doing... Then I realized: The Negotiator is insane! ... His very life depends on his ability to convince you that you ... have to get this bargain!
(my emphasis)

This is why there is and will always be, only one Captain for me.

4/9/10

This message brought to you by America's Next Crazy Model

It is impossible to step out of the box.

You must leap out of the box. You must run headlong out of the box. You must launch yourself so far past the edges of the box into far, far away crazy land that the area between you and the box starts to look normal – even though it's still out of the box.

My favorite acting coach, Michael Shurtleff (if you haven't read his book, Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part
and you are remotely involved in story creation, stop reading my blog and go read his book) used to call this "making a horse's ass of yourself." His theory: if you do something so stupid right off the top that you have no hope of being "right" or "safe" or "what they're looking for" or any of those other timid terms, you leave fear behind. And fear is the death of all things great. And great is what they're looking for.

A spectacular example of this went on display in this week's America's Next Top Model (season 14, episode 5). At the top of the episode, model wannabe Jessica told the camera that she wanted to get "out of the box." Isn't that sweet? They always say that, and they never do. They make some teeny-weeny little step that isn't even visible from my couch and – boom – off the show!

But Jessica went for it. Her nightmarish 2-minute "let's get nekkid" tram trip with prim photographer Nigel Barker was such a jaw-dropping episode of horse's assitude that it ran in the trailers all week. It was honestly a little hard to watch. One clucked and shook one's head and assumed the idiot child was not long for the competition.

Ha. Jessica won the next two challenges in a walk. Fearlessly. She'd already embarrassed herself on network television; what the h*ll else did she have to lose?

I hear you clucking and shaking your head. You don't have to be an idiot in public to be fearless! Ha, again, I say.

Here's an example that even Shurtleff didn't get at the time. Michael was a casting director. He finished off a lecture once by telling us all the things we actors must never, never do in a casting session. The worst example of all was some dingbat "committed" actor who read for a serial killer role and never once broke character. The fool even pulled a knife and leaped across the table to threaten the casting assistant.
Michael didn't need to tell us this was a terribly stupid thing to do. We clucked. We shook our heads in amazement. And then a tiny voice piped up from the back of the room, "Did he get the part?"

You know the answer.

I'm not encouraging anyone to pull a knife during an audition. Please, please don't – especially now that I'm on the other side of that table. But if you hear any timid "rights" and "what they're looking fors" creeping into your vocabulary, get yourself the h*ll out of your box. If that means not listening to me, do that too.

Speaking of the other side of the table, this advice applies to writers. If I'm stuck at any point in my writing I pull out a fresh sheet of paper, scribble "No Idea Too Stupid" at the top and let fly. Aliens. Witches. Time Travel. Evil Twins. Everything is fair game, and bigger is better. Those first few ideas don't have to be good, they have to get you out of the box. Once you're out there floating free – usually about halfway down the page – something wonderful will happen.

4/7/10

A voice from the past

Dear Jane Espenson,

It's good to have you
back!

4/2/10

Good book

I just finished reading Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of software company 37signals. I highly recommend the book, and the company's blog, if you're planning to start your own business, work for someone else's business, or just get up in the morning and do stuff. It's that good.

I thought that even before I reached the awesome wonderful fabulous chapter, Hire Great Writers. Here's an excerpt:

If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn't matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.

That's because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

Would you believe that holds true even if you want to hire... a writer?

I sound like I'm joking, but I'm not. I work as an agency reader. It's a big name agency, so the scripts I read have cleared a high Hollywood hurdle. Yet most of them are terribly written. I know it's not my job to correct grammar. I know that poor sentence structure will never show up onscreen. Surely compelling stories and imagination should trump mere spelling and grammar?

Absolutely.

And yet... they never do. The ability to put together a good sentence has proved a spot on indicator of the ability to put together a good story – and vice versa. As the book says, clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. You might not need grammar and spelling to construct a dramatic story in a visual medium, but you still need thought.

3/24/10

The opposite of irony

For about two hours, I was unable to research my script about a worldwide data center snafu... because of a worldwide data center snafu.

3/12/10

The flip book movie of your life

I've been playing with the new features in iPhoto '09. (Instead of polishing the latest draft of something else, I know.)

When you drag the cursor across one of the images on the Face cork board, it flips through the tagged photos in date order. If you've taken a lot of pictures, this flip sequence makes a little movie of your life.

It's particularly fun with kids. I just watched a flip book movie of Precious Nephew changing from tiny baby to gawky five-year old. Cool. For me, anyway.

In years to come, the parents of kids who grew up with digital photos will be able to massively embarrass their kids not with a few snaps, but with a flip book record of their precious darling's baby face gettin' older and older and older -- complete with bad haircuts and facial hair and wrinkles and everything. Hee-hee.

3/3/10

Past and future imperfect

Enjoyable article in Slate yesterday. It's always fun to look back and cluck at how wrong we were fifteen years ago about technology advances today. Of course, "we" fifteen years ago are also "we" today. It's likely that I'm missing retrospectively-obvious game changers in my current fiction. Uncomfortable thought, that.

The immediate past can be a problem, too. One
link in the Slate article threw me for a loop: YouTube has only been around for five years. How is that possible? I remember five years ago. It all seemed so normal. And yet... jeez, how did I manage without YouTube?

This kind of myopia for the last decade must drive the production designer of
Lost nuts. The flash sideways episodes are set in 2004, near enough to seem perfectly normal. And yet, I noticed flash sideways Jack Shephard had one of those ancient flip phones. Apparently, ancient = FIVE YEARS AGO. In my mind those phones seem decades old. But of course, five years ago I had a honking great computer sitting on my desk. With a monitor. Remember those???

Nope.

2/20/10

The library elves head up the Amazon with lots of paddles

I'm a big fan of the Los Angeles Public Library online catalog. I order books and the library elves race around this enormous city picking them up. The whole passel gets delivered to my local library and all I have to do is stroll in and check them out. It's so civilized!

I noticed this week that the catalog has a new addition. Each book's listing now includes a link to that book's Amazon reader reviews. Interesting...

I know there are those who consider Internet phenomena like Amazon reader reviews, Wikipedia and the dreaded news blogs bad things, dismissing them as "group think" that stifles "real" creativity. They claim the reviews and blogs offer dangerously unsanctioned opinions and should be avoided. I am not one of those people. I was a history major in college, with a special focus on the seventeenth-century -- the Golden Age of the Pamphlet. Every loon with a few pence got a printing press and went nuts on a street corner, passing around copies of whatever crackpot idea struck his, and occasionally her, fancy. As with today's blogs, some of those loons really were loons, and some of those crackpot ideas really were crackpot. But other crackpot ideas seem less cracked today: democracy, religious freedom, stuff like that. Dangerously unsanctioned ideas can be a very good thing. You never know who's doing the sanctioning.

Anyway... I asked the LAPL Webmaster when they made the addition and what kind of discussion they had on the subject. Here's the reply.

"We added this feature in October of last year. We did have discussions about it, and while some possible concerns were raised, in the end we felt the benefit to our patrons was the most important thing."

That's a politic reply, and I don't blame him. But wouldn't you love to hear some of those discussions and concerns in dirty detail? The next paragraph was more interesting...

"The system uses the ISBN number to make a request to an Amazon server for reviews. If there are none, the patron is invited to make one when they click the link. If there are, the last 5 are brought back from the server when the patron clicks the link, and another link is created to link back to all the reviews. It is using an API Amazon makes available to other web sites."

The entity driving this rather remarkable change is Amazon itself. One might think Amazon and libraries are natural enemies in the world of book delivery, but of course, they aren't. I often buy a book on Amazon after reading the library copy. And if the library system now takes me directly to Amazon, and shows me a bunch of reader reviews, it's even more likely I'll simply buy the book in the first place. The library elves are fast, but Amazon Prime's free two-day delivery is even faster! Plus, I can sell the book -- again on Amazon -- when I no longer need it.

Dang, that's one smart company.

2/18/10

I'm on a horse

The Old Spice Superbowl commercial is wonderful. This is even more wonderful -- an interview with the ad's creators describing how the seamless transitions were produced. It's a longish video, but worth watching.

I draw two major conclusions:

1. I just love in-camera effects. And apparently, other people do too!

2. There are many wonderful, awesomely talented people on the technical end of things without whose efforts a bunch of silly words on paper are just a bunch of silly words on paper. And I say that as someone with deep respect for silly words on paper.

1/4/10

A picture is worth how much?



Even brilliantly written scripts can stand to lose a line or two once they're on film -- was anyone feeling peckish before reading the sign?