Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Cheer

I will freely acknowledge that my sense of humor is a bit perverse. With that in mind, I offer some of the things that have amused me this holiday season (so far, anyway).

Any shopping trip where you only really need one thing and you're under no time pressure. It's like being the designated driver at an Eagles Game, you can just sit back and watch the circus. On Monday evening, I went to the Target to pick up Christmas cards and was amazed. The place looked like a trailer park after a twister convention. Not only was merchandise strewn everywhere, but the customers had hollow eyes and were pushing what looked like all their belongings in shopping carts.

Spider-Man, The Musical. The most surprising thing about this entertainment pinata is that it's news at all. It didn't even really sound like a good idea when it was first gestating, and now that it's struggling through labor pains it makes even less sense. The venn diagram containing Spider-man fans, Julie Taymor fans, and U2 fans doesn't really seem like enough to warrant $65m and numerous cast injuries, does it? And after those 47 people in that venn center see it, and everyone who works for Marvel sees it, who's gonna go? If you want seats in the action, I hear they cost over $250 bucks a pop. For that money, you could get every U2 cd ever recorded, as well as the iPod to play it on, or -- every Spider-man movie, plus the blu-ray player to play it on, or -- enough Spider-man comics to keep you reading for weeks on end.

Nouveau Drinking. I love how a whole new generation has decided it's now hip to drink, and especially hard liquor. It's as if bourbon was invented last year solely for their amusement. From those of us who have long been aware of the pleasure of spirits at the holidays, I can only say, "welcome to the party." Somehow, I always knew if I just kept drinking consistently, I'd eventually be in fashion again.

Cheers and happy holidays!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Political Hangover

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the mid-term elections as I try to get the taste of the political hangover washed out of my mouth. It's been a brutal season, with campaign spending at an all-time high, and campaign messages at an all-time low, but I came to a couple of conclusions.

First, the bulk of the country doesn't really want to think about real issues. That's the only explanation I can find for voting for politicians who deliver messages so internally schizophrenic that they're barely coherent. Make no mistake: promised obstructionism is not a policy that moves anything forward.

Second, the American people should be outraged and shamed that they have willingly surrendered the political conversation not to any one party, but to the news media. The media, whether you think they're liberal or conservative, are interested in a story, not in issues. The more conflict in the story, the better the story. That is a different goal from the way the branches of government are supposed to work. "Checks and balances" does not imply shoving a spanner into anything just to keep it from moving forward; that's a conflict that brings a great story, but no progress. If you don't believe the media is shaping things, ask yourself why Christine O'Donnell got so much airtime. It's not because she had any real qualifications, nor because she had any chance of even coming close in the election, it was because she made a good story. Kind of like a freak show.

Third and finally, the Republicans and their Tea Party subset make a lot of noise about being "real people." They may want me to be a figment of their imagination, but I'd simply ask, what is it about me that's unreal? I have a nuclear family, my wife and I both work full-time jobs to make ends almost meet, we attend a church of our choice, and are active in our community. One of the great things about living in America is that I can disagree with you and still be entitled to the liberties that come with citizenship. You can't dismiss me because you wish I wasn't real, because this is America, and my vote counts and my voice has every right to be heard.

I could go on in this vein, but perhaps I should simply point out that with the switch of power in the House, now the Republicans get their chance to rework the country in a way that will meet the unrealistic expectations of a very impatient electorate. The ball's in your court. You wanted it, so here it is. The clock is ticking.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Season's End

So, I pretty much stayed away from blogging about baseball all season. Now the season's over and I can't resist anymore. I saw a lot of games this summer and followed the Phillies into the post-season, trying to maintain my cool through the slumps and bumps of a very uneven year. Mostly, I think the Phils look like a team that's made it to October in spite of themselves.

The pattern for the summer was injuries, followed by batting slumps, followed by an uneven bullpen. The one thing you can take away from the regular summer schedule is this: three excellent starters can't carry the entire team. When all the bats are firing, the team can't be beat, and that reveals the potential for the team overall. Whenever the bats were lined up, though, the bullpen then seemed to be unable to deliver. It was a summer spent out of sync.

Now, after game three of the championship series, and a loss to the Giants, where the bats didn't show up, it looks like we're out of sync again. I've learned with the Phillies, and baseball in general, you have to take the long view. It's a seven-game series and anything could happen, but today's play didn't offer too many bright spots. When the top slots in the batting order can't deliver the hits needed, you can't win. Statistically, the Phillies had the best record in baseball, but apparently, that run to the end, where everything clicked, burned the team out and now the engine is stuttering.

What seems most distressing, though, is the team seems to be... grinding. They don't appear to have any joy in the games they're playing. They're tight and anxious, and it's sometimes downright painful to watch, like they're psyching themselves out of the running as millions watch.

When you see that level of frustration in high definition, you start to ask yourself why you're watching the pain. I've got enough stress in my life, without spending three hours watching a team that has the potential to dominate all comers stumble over their own anxieties. Yes, of course I'm reading too much into this. A shrink would say I'm projecting. But I, like most people in this economy, have a lot more to do than I did last season, so sitting to watch baseball is an indulgence. Lately, indulgences make me anxious, because I can't shake off the knowledge that I've got an ever-increasing list of responsibilities waiting when the game is over. I'm looking to trim anxieties out of my life and, unless things turn around, baseball might not survive the cut.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Random News Items

A few things that have tickled my particular fancy over the past couple of days, in no particular order:

Rawson Thurber, director of Dodgeball, is slated to write and direct the big-screen version Magnum, P.I.

There's a 3-d Star Wars short making the rounds of the internet.

The New York Times armchair quarterbacking of the summer box office results. is one geektastic site.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Good Flicks

I've made no secret to anyone who's asked that I think one of the best films I've seen this year is City Island. I'm a little late to the party, but the writer/director has been writing articles in about the process. His final one, to coordinate with the DVD release, can be found here.

It's a breezy story about careers in Hollywood, the film, and the future. You should check out the article, and the film.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Space Bugs

This may be the most interesting science news I've seen in a while. Apparently, there are microbes that create oxygen that can survive in space. Read the BBC article here.

Interestingly enough, no one seems to question the prudence of putting something in the vacuum of space for over a year, discovering it can survive, then brining it back to earth. Doesn't it occur to someone that those microbes might be pissed off?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How I spent My Summer Vacation

The word "summer" conjures up so many images: tire swings over cool lakes, endless afternoons reading for pleasure, fireflies at dusk. What amazes me most is the long list of items I have planned in May that I think I'll accomplish over the course of the summer months.

The list, of course, is doomed to failure, simply because, for the most part, my kids are around all the time and given the chance, I'd rather spend time with them than scratch items off that summer list, especially when it contains such things as "clean the basement." Someday, my kids will be moving out and I'm pretty sure that crap in the basement will still be waiting. That rationale doesn't always help my stress levels, though, since I'm the kind of guy who, when he makes a list, expects to actually complete it. So, I have fun with my kids, but that damn list is going to be taunting me when they go back to school.

My summer list includes all kinds of unrealistic projects from domestic life and work life, most of which were patently ridiculous. There wasn't really much chance I was gonna get time to install new kitchen cabinets, was there? What was I thinking? For one thing, I wasn't thinking we were going to be living through the hottest summer on record. I don't mind sweat, as long as it comes with exercise or honest physical labor, but sweating as a matter of course just sucks. It saps my will to set one foot out of my air-conditioned bedroom.

So, how have I spent my summer? Hanging out with my kids at museums, movie theaters, book stores, coffee shops and other air-conditioned venues. We camped out in the back yard. We spent afternoons at the pool. There were swim team events and tennis lessons. Visits to grandparents and dinners with friends. Cocktails on the front porch, and lots of baseball on TV. We grilled, we ate take-out, we skipped meals and then snacked at inappropriate hours. There were fireworks and water-gun fights. Board games and summer reading projects. Chores and piano lessons. And yes, there were lazy hours spent reading, followed by fireflies at dusk. The tire swing over the lake will have to wait for next year.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

5th Grade Redux

From the super-secret list of things people don't tell you before you become a parent (and no, we won't share it with you, because misery does, in fact, love company):

#17 -- The Redux Principle. Having children guarantees that you will be forced to relive the worst moments of your own childhood.

Case in point: 5th grade. Not my favorite year of school when I was a kid. I had the experience of spending a year engaged in intellectual redundancy, with the distinct feeling that I was ready to move on. This, of course, made the time stretch out into some unholy event horizon of the black hole of public education. I felt like a freak because I had absorbed everything that elementary school had to teach. Yet I was emotionally attached to the comforting surroundings and the regular presence of people who were my own age, even if time has proven the term "friend" has a very fluid meaning.

Now, some decades later, I'm going through 5th grade for a second time with my own children, and suffering through all the conflicting emotions with them. Time has given me the perspective to articulate the problems I had back then (see the above paragraph) so I figured I had some parental insight. However, that ignores the guiding principle all children live by (which is available only to kids as their own super-secret list that you have to figure out through guesswork): parents are clearly imbeciles and any insight they have is the insight of a feeble-minded hamster which will routinely eat its own poop.

The end result: you are finally equipped to deal with 5th grade and the boredom, bullying, cliques, teachers, administrators, ceaseless activities, fear, exhilaration, and all the issues that seem so momentous to pre-teens, but the kids don't care in the least that you can help them. Which leaves you feeling just as powerless as doing it the first time around, except you have to watch the people you love the most suffer through everything, when your fiercest wish is to spare them that suffering. You have to be patient (not my long suit) and watch them figure it out themselves.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets, Part 1

I've been thinking a lot about writing lately, which sounds kind of obvious, since I'm both a writer and a professor of screenwriting. I've found that one of the things that happens as you develop professionally and artistically, is that you assimilate all the steps in the creative process and these individual steps become part of your subconscious which manifest only in the act of writing. So, you tend to see only the end result, with the process being mostly handled by a subroutine somewhere low down in the brain programming.

The key to teaching and understanding writing is dragging all those particular steps back out of the brain-basement and shining a light on them, so you can look on them as part of a system that others can then replicate and assimilate. Most writing instruction, from the time we enter school in kinder-garten (or before) until the time we graduate at any level, is focused on defining these steps in the process: learning the alphabet, learning to spell, sentence structure, topic sentences, etc.

I'm not going to concern myself with any of that.

Writing instruction that focuses on developing the process also leaves certain items -- vitally important to writers -- untaught and sometimes even unmentioned. The purpose of this series, and there will be five parts in all, is to air all the Dirty Little Secrets that writing classes don't always tell you. If you've heard some of these topics before, then you had a first-class mentor. If this is all brand-new to you, then let me be your guide.

Part 1: We're Not Holding Our Breath

The sad, naked truth of it is, no one cares whether you become a writer or not. Okay, maybe your parents, but other than that, not so much. In Hollywood, both the industry in general and other writers in particular, would prefer if you just fucked right off. The industry, because they're scared you might actually come up with something interesting that proves they're the emperors without clothes, the screenwriters because no one is looking for more competition.

There's no shortage of writers, or written material. The internet is inundated with would-be writers and their ramblings. Blogs like this one, for instance. Go to your local bookstore and see just how many books are published every week. The WGA is inundated with script registrations for material so awful it has less than zero chance of ever getting turned into a movie. In none of those places do you see a place-holder with your name on it.

It's "easy" to write when you're in high school or college, because you have some benign person looking over your metaphoric shoulder and gently forcing you to meet deadlines. When you hit the real world, the truth hits you: we can all go on with our lives very comfortably if you never write another word in your life. The challenge then becomes whether you can force yourself to write in the absence of external pressures. As a writing professor, I can teach you how to write, but, no matter how much I seek to inspire you, I can't give you the will to write.

The first step to becoming a professional writer is, in fact, writing. Initially, you're writing for your own pleasure only, not for money, fame, or the adulation of readers or filmgoers. If you can allow yourself to not write, maybe you should consider another career path. Writers work at it, always. We're compelled at some fundamental level to put thoughts on paper, regardless of anyone asking our opinion on anything.

Professional writers also write regularly.

The myth of the "inspired" writer, that one who only sets ink to paper when the muse strikes, is someone who may be fun to have a drink with, but this is not an actual writer. This is the dilettante who gives writers a bad name. They also fall into the category of "binge writer." You know those stories? The guy who wrote the script in a weekend. The thing they don't ever tell you is the script sucked. Binge writing is like binge drinking: it may be fun, but you're usually left with a pile of puke.

So, if you want to write, you need to do it regularly, and, since no one's fate hangs on your latest masterpiece, you need to make yourself do it. If you don't have the will, you'll never finish anything. That, of course, means you'll never actually be a writer (and probably weren't one in the first place).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More Cautionary Advice for Writers

As if there weren't enough impediments to writing an intelligent script, now we're supposed to consider upping the dimensions at the earliest stages.

Thanks to Colin George of Farce/Film for sending me this link.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Hollywood Insight

Want to write features? It helps to know what people are looking for. Thanks to Peter Kim for posting this on his blog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taking a Poke

Hey, if you can't laugh at yourself, you've already lost the battle. So, to all those people who scoff at my Twitter usage, I freely direct you to this bit of humor from the New Yorker. And yes, I laughed at myself for the preposterousness. Of course, that didn't stop me from tweeting the link.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

And... I'm Back

Yeah, I know you missed me.

For the next couple of posts, I'm going to be talking about writing stuff, so if that isn't where you're interests lie, then you can go elsewhere for a bit. I probably won't be able to stay away from politics for long, so eventually I'll start bitching again. Check back.

I've got some fairly serious things I'm going to lay on you about writing, but for now, all I'm going to say is: if you have any serious intention of writing for films or television, you need to be aware of this article from last week's New York Times:

Friday, March 5, 2010

March Roars In

March at my house didn't come in like lion or lamb, but like a consumptive old geezer. We've slowly been passing bronchitis around the house and February was basically like a tubercular ward. Fever, mucus, coughing, and my birthday. Great things that go great together.

The net results of being that sick for that long were, in no particular order:
  • Seeing many more hours of olympic coverage than is healthy for anyone. Adding to NBC's constant re-churning of highlights, I think I saw every medal win by an American at least six times. Given the weather, the judging, the ceremonies, and Bob Costas' hair, this may have been one of the worst Olympics ever. Sorry, Canada.
  • Watching terrible movies on TV for lack of energy to press the remote buttons. Why is any network showing a double-feature of Volcano and Dante's Peak? Do they think two awful movies can somehow add up to some form of watchable entertainment?
  • Fearing all the work that is piling up. With a 103 degree fever, you really can't concentrate on anything much (hence my olympics binge), so all the work I should have been doing just collected in one big electronic pile. Now that I'm back on my feet, I'm buried under senseless crap I've got to take care of.
  • Tunnel vision. Your focus narrows down to only the things that absolutely MUST be done. Everything else just drops by the side of the road. So, sorry for all the e-mails and invitations I haven't returned.
Although I'm on my feet again, and the olympics are over, now my kids are sick, which is actually worse than being sick yourself, because there's no way you can take the bullet for them. So, I've got a couple more weeks in the sick zone. Hopefully, when we're done, spring will be here.

Coming soon: a blog post that isn't bitchy or whiny.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

On A Roll

Saturday morning. Two feet of snow outside (and counting) and three cups of coffee inside my system. I'm not gonna complain about the snow, because generally, I think it's a lot of fun. Of course, I haven't started shoveling, yet, so there will be plenty of time for sailor-level swearing as the day wears on. Generally, I try to avoid complaining, because no one wants to hear it, really. You've got your own problems, right? Some times, though...

I believe things even out over time. Some days are good, some are bad; occasionally, there are windfalls balanced out by tragedy. The law of averages comes into play at some point and, if you live long enough, you're going to see plenty of both sides of the coin. Overall, it's a neutral thing, life. Some times, though...

Complaining doesn't fix anything, either; it's just the adult form of whining. There are people whose main form of discourse is the complaint, and they annoy the living shit out of me. It presupposes two things on the part of the complainer: that their problems are somehow worthy of complaint, and that you have none of your own, because for most of the complainers, it's a distinctly one-way circuit of communication. They interpret my lack of complaint as some magical happenstance where I never have a bad day. In reality, I just know how to shut the fuck up and not spread misery to someone who might be having a worse day than me. Some times, though...

Someone is always having a worse day than you. That's pretty much a guaranteed fact. However, you've got to remember that even though someone's having a lot of trouble, it doesn't make the minor crap that's screwing up your life any easier to deal with. I don't want to feel guilty about having a shitty day because there's been a natural disaster somewhere. I'm very thankful for everything I've got, but some times...

As you may have guessed, I've had a week. Nothing particularly major, just a sequence of minor events that went from being merely annoying, passed through oppressive, and eventually turned comical in its mundane grandeur. It started with being called for Jury Duty exactly one year after my last service -- the statutory minimum; various work and scheduling snafus; a car that died, forcing my wife to rent a car to drive herself to the hospital to get a z-pac for her bronchitis; a tow-truck fiasco; and it all ended with a speeding ticket for me in a rental car on the way home Friday night. So, I'm not complaining about the snow. I'm on a roll.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Let's Recap, Shall We?

My, my, what a week it's been, eh? How to keep track of all the fast and furious developments, you ask? Well, you've come to the right place for that special bitter touch. I've loaded up on coffee and the morning papers and have assembled your cheat sheet for the weekend cocktail parties, so you can look like someone who really cares about current events. If it works, and you get some real chat going, remember you found it right here at the bottom of the cup, where all the bitter dregs congeal.

Cheat Sheet Of The Week - Current Events Version

1. The Haitian Earthquakes. (Yes, Quakes, because even their aftershocks are stronger than most seismic events.) You can find real news about this everywhere. In fact, it's about the only story you can find on TV. Americans donate in record amounts to a country most can't point to on a map. Appear on the cutting edge by mentioning "Smile Boy," the latest survivor to be pulled from the rubble. The photo has become an instant sensation. If you want bonus points, tell your friends everything you know about the history of Haiti. I'm guessing it won't take long.

2. Dems Lose Senate Seat In Assachussets. First, a little perspective: this is NOT a referendum on Health Care. It's NOT a condemnation of Obama. It's NOT the end of civilization. The Democrats still control the Senate and hopefully, this will encourage them to exercise it. However, the symbolism can't be ignored: in a state that's consistently waved the Democratic colors, it appears like spitting on Ted Kennedy's grave to elect a Republican to the Federal Legislature. Extra credit discussion points if you can throw in the name any of the other legislators from MA, all of whom are Democratic. Will that one Republican senator curb healthcare reform? Keep your eye on the ball, people: the REPUBLICANS, as a party, are 100% united against any health bill. They want the insurance companies to profit at the expense of your friends and family members who are denied coverage. When they block you from the hospital, don't blame Obama, blame the rich old white guy, who's probably in the pocket of--

3. The Banks. The Market. Again. So, yesterday, the market "sank" according to the WSJ, on news that the government would dare to propose legislation reigning in banks and risky investment habits. Show your perspective on the markets by pointing out that a year ago, the Dow was below 8,000. So, a couple hundred points yesterday doesn't negate the gains the market has made from the pit of depression. Earn extra street cred in the discussion if you point out that if you can't take the short losses, you shouldn't be in the fucking market to begin with. The only people hurt by bank regulation are people who have more money than the general population. They screwed the economy once. You really want to give 'em a chance to do it again?

4. The Supreme Court Again Gets Into Politics. In the courageous tradition of the court that gave you President W, Corporations are now allowed to campaign for candidates without restrictions. What could possibly go wrong? Earn laughs and the girl of your dreams by coming up with witty campaign slogans: "Pepsi and Palin: This Is It tour, 2012" "The Merck/McCain Healthcare Bill".

5. The Unemployment Ranks Swell. Yes, Conan O'Brien is officially on the dole. Only he gets paid $45 Million. How much was your last unemployment check for? Yep, that's right, you actively contribute to the ruin of a once-great TV show, you publicly bad-mouth your bosses, you have the worst hair in the history of TV, and you get a BONUS. Hell, you could have done that. Bonus conversation points if you can explain why NBC honcho Jeff Zucker had CO arrested in college. Triple bonus points if you can find someone who actually gives a shit.

Annnnnnnd, there you have it, your weekend conversation cheat sheet, dregs-style! Use this knowledge only for good, or to crush your enemies, see them flee before you, and hear the lamentations of their women. (Quadruple bonus points if you identify that reference.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


So, I'm in a hotel room in a deserted east coast beach town in the middle of January, playing scrabble with my kids, while my wife's got the Golden Globes telecast on the TV. Foolishly, I had forgotten to load up on booze from home, so I was stone cold sober during the whole process, ergo my take on the old GGs was perhaps a little too unforgiving, but still, this was the worst telecast since the year after 9/11, when they just held a press conference.

It was a uniquely awkward, unpleasant experience where even the attendees didn't seem to be having much fun, and most of them weren't sober. Here, in bullet list form for those with short attention spans, are my top five things wrong with the Globes this year:
  1. A painfully unfunny Ricky Gervais. Catwoman jokes? Way to keep up, Rick-o.
  2. Mariah Carey's continuing love affair with her own boobs.
  3. James Cameron's discussion of his "need to pee" during both acceptance speeches. They're called "Depends", dude.
  4. Sandra Bullock's joke about someone "buying" the award for her. If you know anything about the Globes, you'll know this wasn't a joke. (I think this was Sandy, but if it was someone else, please correct me.)
  5. -Tie- James Cameron's Na'vi speech, which enabled you to clearly imagine him speaking klingon at a Trek convention. -Or- James Cameron ordering the audience to give themselves a round of applause. Considering Avatar will end up making more money than, oh I don't know, the annual income of the entire nation of Haiti, that seemed in particularly bad taste.
I could go on, but it's self-evident, if you were watching. Which brings up the larger question, why were we watching? If I wanted to see a bunch of rich people at a self-congratulatory party, C-span is on all the time. Of course, the really frightening thing about that comparison is most people know more about the folks on the Globes than those on C-span, but the people on the globes don't really affect most of our lives directly.

Now, don't imagine I'm on a high horse, because I was watching the telecast, too. If I hadn't been, maybe my 10 year-old son wouldn't have beaten me in Scrabble. Evidence! Entertainment shows do rot the brain.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ten Ten, Baby!

We're a nation of lists. It doesn't mean anything to us unless it shows up on a list, somewhere. We delight when our preferences are confirmed by someone's "Top Ten" and jeer when something shows up on a "Worst Of". I want you to ask yourself: are you really that afraid of or incapable of coming up with your own unadulterated opinion about something?

But, it's a brand new year, and I'll try and get into the spirit of things (in addition to my usual list in the sidebar). Without further ado, or more clever explanation, my top ten list of top ten lists: