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.


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.


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.


A voice from the past

Dear Jane Espenson,

It's good to have you


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?


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.