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.


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...


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...


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!