10 November 2010

"Time In"

Here, for your viewing enjoyment, is the latest film from Hard Boiled Productions, Time In:

We were very proud to have Time In premiere last Saturday as part of the Short Film Program at the Riverside Saginaw Film Festival in Michigan. We shot it back in April and completed the post-production phase around August, taking our sweet ol' time to ensure that everything was in tip top shape and we had the finest in fine music from our great friend, Mr. Rob Mosher. I would also like to publicly thank (and shame) the always insightful Mr. Anthony E. Griffin, who had suggestions on a couple of edits that made the film immeasurably better.

A massive, important part of Time In's production process was the patience, support, and hard work of many talented people. My humblest thanks goes out to everyone who generously donated their time and energy to bringing this film to life. If it is any good at all (and I believe it is), it is due entirely to you. I hope you enjoy it.

Like all people, I have no idea where the hell my ideas come from, and don't really want to know. But sometimes I can track their starting point, that one thing that made my brain hum slightly differently so that it produced a thought or image or sentence that eventually became AN IDEA. In this case, it was my friends Lorin and Rachel, and that's why they're thanked in the credits. In case you were wondering (and I know you were), here's what did it:

Whenever I am single (frequently), Lorin and Rachel - who live in a different state than I, with their acquaintances scattered across these United States - have a tendency to make a certain remark about single friends of theirs if they happen to come up in conversation. This remark is usually along the lines of "Oh, you'd like her, you guys would be great together, but it's too bad you live in New York and she lives in [not New York]." It always makes me imagine what a long distance relationship would be like; perhaps unsurprisingly, I never picture it ending well. At some point, I was thinking about this habit of theirs, which sparked my Imaginarium, which jump started a "Hey, what if . . . ", which eventually led to Time In.

Sometimes it's the little things . . .

06 November 2010

An Open Blog Post to Michigan Governor-Elect Rick Snyder

Dear Governor-elect Snyder,

Congratulations on your win in this year's election. I sincerely hope you and your colleagues are able to bring new vitality and growth to Michigan and take it back to the path of economic recovery.

I write you regarding a highly debated part of that economic recovery, one that you have recently criticized: Michigan's film tax credits. You are probably sick of hearing about them, considering they get more attention than is likely merited from their place in the overall scheme of things. But I promise to deliver an argument in their favor that you have not heard before, and one that may even help you get re-elected in the future.

First, some background on me: I am an independent filmmaker and screenwriter originally from Michigan but currently living in New York City. Yes, I am part of the "Brain Drain" of people, young and old, leaving the state for opportunities elsewhere. The extent of this problem is dramatically illustrated for me, not only by my own example, but my travels in and around the country. I have discovered that no matter where I go, I am bound to run into somebody from Michigan who now lives elsewhere.

This is not something I am proud of or enjoy. Despite living in New York City, I maintain close ties to Michigan. The bulk of my friends and family are still there, I frequently return on holidays and vacations, and I work closely with a number of filmmaking collaborators who live in the state. These are not studio titans with multimillion dollar budgets between them. They are low-budget, self-financed artists carving out their own niche in the industry. They are true Michigan pioneers who have made their homes there and will continue to do what they do best.

I admit: I love living in New York City. It is a city that seems custom-built and tailored to fit my personality. At the same time, I still consider myself a Michigander and dream about moving back to produce films full-time. As much as my colleagues and I have been able to do despite a lack of funds, we rely on our day jobs to make ends meet; if moving back to Michigan meant I could find the opportunities and investments that would make me a true independent filmmaker, I would do it in a heartbeat.

The problem, of course, is that there is still not yet enough of an industry there for me to do that. The film tax credits have drawn in many out-of-state production companies and filmmakers, but have not done as much for local producers. I think that, given time, this will change, and as more money comes to the state from outside, Michigan filmmakers will start to see their budgets grow exponentially.

But that is an argument you have heard. I promised to come at this from a new angle, and I intend to deliver on my promise.

Here, in summary, is the reason why I think you should keep the film tax credits just the way they are: Facebook status updates.

I am completely serious.

Given your previous experience in the computer industry, and its ubiquity in modern day life, I am sure you are familiar with Facebook, so I will not explain what it is or what status updates are. You know how they work.

One thing you may have noticed in recent months, then, is the regularity with which your Michigan friends post status updates about meeting or seeing celebrities all around the state. With the influx of film productions to Michigan, more stars have been out and about in our cities, giving people the chance to be star struck and have an encounter they can tell their friends about. Hugh Jackman has shown up in my Facebook feed quite frequently. Ray Liotta was recently spotted in Detroit. David Arquette seems to have fallen in love with Michigan.

Governor-elect Snyder, I am here to tell you that the love affair is mutual. Like any other people in the world, Michiganders love celebrities, and we love them coming to our state. We love it when they turn out to be down-to-earth and relatable ("Wow! They're just like us!"), we love it when they show up at a bar or concert event we go to ("Wow! They like the same music we do!"), we even love it when they are cold, distant, and unfriendly ("Wow! They gave me a great story to tell!"). Celebrities are celebrities for a reason. They have a je ne sais quoi that translates into enthusiasm and good feelings for the state. "If they're here, there must be something cool going on!" we think (and with good reason). In fact, I believe they are why the film tax credits receive so much undue attention.

Yes, it is silly and frivolous. Yes, it is something akin to propaganda. But as a filmmaker, I can tell you: People like silly and frivolous. Propaganda works. Look to the success of the Transformers film franchise (partially shot in Michigan) as an example of both.

Can the film tax credits be altered to better benefit the state? I am sure they can. But doing so might might turn away the film industry. If production companies can get a better deal somewhere else, they will go there. If you must somehow change the tax incentives, I ask you to do so cautiously, and to err on the side of the filmmakers. Because if they leave, so will the celebrities.

And then Michiganders will not be happy. It will change their lives in an active, demonstrable way. It will take away something they love, and they will feel the loss. In their lives and on their Facebook pages. And when the next election comes around, they will remember who took their celebrities away.

I do not intend this post as a joke. I intend it as well-meaning advice. Whatever you do, keep the celebrities on your side. Despite the stereotypes, they are not, overall, bad people, and they serve a useful function in our society. You would be wise to tap into their power.

Sincerely Yours,

Justin Muschong

31 October 2010

"Under the Lamplight"

A brand new piece I wrote for Radio Hound Productions is now online! "Under the Lamplight" is the final installment in their Scream Til You Die Shocktober! Terrible Tales of Terrific Terror series. Which means it's spooktacular. Or ghoulicious. Or doomnificient. Or eerieriffic. Give yourself a treat for Halloween and listen to it here (click the "Pod" icon next to the title). To listen to the rest of the Scream Til You Die Shocktober series, click here.

The story of how I came up with this is stupidly long and mostly uninteresting. Suffice it to say that it stems from a visit I took to the Biltmore Estate back in the '90s with my family, where I got the idea of a man falling in love with a dead person's image. That specific idea cropped up in a short story that ended up going nowhere, and then returned like a rotting zombie to make an appearance in this radio play.

A severely altered and changed appearance, I should add. My goal for this was to try to combine what I love about Edgar Allan Poe's stories with my love for Japanese horror tales. Not the modern day creepy-children-with-long-hair movies, mind you, but the old stories they (sometimes) derive from. Lafcadio Hearn's books are full of them (Kwaidan being his most famous, made into a film AND a Project Gutenberg e-book) and Wikipedia has pretty healthy pages devoted to specific stories. I also rewatched Ugetsu and read the stories available in the Criterion Collection's DVD package of the film.

Those inspirations somehow gelled and congealed with my original idea to produce "Under the Lamplight." I avoided jump scares because, you know, it's radio and you can't really have anything jump out at people. Also, they're cheap as hell. So I focused instead on steadily increasing the creepiness and moody atmosphere throughout, amping these elements for the ending. I hope you enjoy it, not just this Halloween, but anytime you need an old-fashioned scare.

29 October 2010

How To Network: An Instructional Guide

This month I've had most of my free time taken up with the trials and tribulations of film promotion. The first weekend was our trip to Philadelphia for Project Twenty1. The weekend after that, I flew to Michigan to perform some ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording/Replacement - you know, voiceover stuff) to complete my part in Michael McCallum's next feature film, Lucky. (We also recorded commentary tracks. Fun!) The third weekend - well, that was a weekend off, actually. And then last weekend I was representing Mr. McCallum at the Astoria/LIC Film Festival, where he had two films in competition.

Which means I have not had a chance to catch up on my Netflix queue.

It also means that I've had many chances to meet new people and do this thing called "Networking." And if I'm to be brutally honest with myself, here are my thoughts on it: It sucks and I'm bad at it.

Note that it doesn't suck because I'm bad at it. No, it sucks, and, also, independent of that, I am terrible at it. Part of it is shyness, the feeling that I'm bothering people when I go up and introduce myself. "HI! BE MY FWIEND!" is what I hear myself say whatever I'm actually saying. And part of it is that I know and recognize THE ROUTINE, the routine that sucks the wind out of any possible conversation if you fall into it. It goes like this:

"Hi. I'm Justin."
"Hi, Justin, I'm Peter. What do you do?"
"Screenwriting, mostly. But I also do directing, producing, acting, whatever's needed to make things happen. What about yourself?"
"I'm a producer. I'm trying to get a webseries off the ground."
"Cool. What's it about?"
"Zombie pirate ninja robots. What are you working on?"
"Well, we just finished a few short films that we're submitting to festivals now."
[Awkward pause.]

We've all got to fill each other in on whatever it is we're doing and have done, size each other up, make sure that the person understands how awesome we are. "Hey, by the way, did I also mention that I have a film that was accepted into the 2010 Pissant Film Festival? And that it won 2nd Place Honorable Mention for Best End Credit Sequence? And that it cures the cancer of everyone who sees it, even if they don't have cancer?" And once that's all done, the conversation just fucking dies. No. It doesn't even die. It wishes it were dead as it lies there on the ground, staring at you with big wet miserable eyes, pleading with you to just walk away, WALK AWAY so I can die peacefully without you looking at me!

This happens because we're thinking, "I'm networking. Who's this asshole? Can I use this asshole? Ah, give him a card, move on. I need to meet as many assholes as I can! Meeting assholes is important! All these assholes need to know how great I am! Shit, too late to jump into that conversation. Guess we'll just stand here and stare at our feet and pretend like we're still having a conversation, but what we're really having is an awkward silence because we have nothing left to say about ourselves."

When the awkward silence stretches out, and we find ourselves having to talk just to remember that we're functional human beings that other functional human beings can see and hear and even respond to, we dredge up basic questions to ask the other person, and these questions are always the stupidest fucking constructions that ever fall out of our mouths. It's usually something like "What kind of films do you make?"

More or less any question that begins "What kind" is a complete waste of time because there's no real answer to it. For example: A common meeting-someone-new question is "What kind of music do you like?" A person with even a passing interest in the arts, and especially someone who claims to be a professional working within the arts, shouldn't have a definite answer. Because the real answer would be "All kinds." How can an artist just enjoy one kind of music? Even a classical musician should be aware of this thing called "hip-hop" and have listened to a few hits that the damned kids dance to like they're on drugs.

So now my go-to response when I'm asked "What kind of films do you make?" is "Good ones." It's not just to be an arrogant prick. I genuinely have no idea how else to answer that question. The films that we've made don't really fit into any available genres except "independent" and "low-budget", and this question usually comes after I've already explained that we work on those frequencies. And even if they did fit into a certain genre, I probably wouldn't see it that way.

If you asked Stephen King what kind of books he writes, he'd probably say "Are you fucking kidding me? I'm Stephen King." Or he could also say, just to get you off his back, "I write horror stories." But he'd be thinking "Whatever I dream up." He's done thrillers. He's done dramas. He's done comedies. He's done bildungsromans. He's done things that combine all of those and more. Even his horror stories have more than just horror in them. That's what makes them so horrifying. And that's what I hope me and my collaborators are doing. Not fitting into one genre. Blending elements together to create a new piece of art. What kind of movies do we make? How the fuck should I know? We're too busy making them!

I'm sure a lot of other artists feel this way. And yet we keep asking each other these terrible questions. I think the problem is this: These questions make us talk about ourselves and each other. And who gives a shit about that? No one's actually listening when they're networking because they're too busy trying to make everyone else listen to them. We're all spewing nonsense about ourselves, talking past each other, and asking questions of that nature just encourages us to keep doing that. It leads to one-up-manship.

"What have you done recently?"
"Got my film into a festival."
"Well I've gotten my film into your mother! Boo-yah!"

I've found that the best connections I make, both within the arts and just "Hey how ya doin" bumping into people, are the ones where we quickly get over the "Hi, I'm this asshole, I do this, what do you do?" swill and get right to the "Don't you just fucking hate it when Tom Cruise isn't running in a movie? If he's not running I'm thinking 'Why am I watching this goddamn thing?'" Not talking about ourselves, but talking about other things and our opinions on them. Which, yes, is just another way of talking about ourselves, but is much truer and interesting and says more about ourselves than "My name is Kyle I am five and three quarters my dog is brown it eats its own poop."

So this is what I'm proposing:

When you meet new people, STOP talking about each other, and START talking about anything else. ANYTHING. It's the only way you can make a real connection and get a feeling for the actual person underneath all the trying-to-impress you bullshit. And that will make a much deeper impression on them, and thus help you more effectively network.

It's only by not networking that we actually network.

06 October 2010

Project Twenty1: The Aftermath

First, the bad news: No, we did not win any awards at this year's Project Twenty1. The good news: That doesn't matter, because we had a hell of a good time seeing great movies and hanging out with great friends. The BEST news? You can now see our non-award-winning-but-still-wonderful-film-if-I-do-say-so-myself, Patient Zero:

Watch it multiple times! Appreciate new aspects with each viewing! AWE! to the riveting performances! GASP! to the crackling writing! THRILL! to the swift editing! ZAZZLE! to the intricate sound design! GAJOINK! to the keen direction! Then tell the world about how much you love it! Share it with friends and family! Shove it in their faces! Make them see it for the brilliance it is! AWAKE THEM TO THEIR IGNORANCE!

You know...if you like it. And I hope you do.

My hats go off to all of my fellow competitors. This was the strongest year yet for Project Twenty1, with a crop of fantastic flicks that will really inspire me to BRING IT in everything I do, competition-related and otherwise. Also, I'm now famous thanks to a local news broadcast featuring me in the background for approximately two seconds. Watch it and play "Where's Justin?":

Of course, now that I am, in fact, famous, please be careful how you approach me if we should ever meet in person. Do not look me directly in the eyes unless I say it is okay (I will never say this). Do not ask for an autograph without first offering money, goods, or services. Laugh at all of my jokes; if you are unsure if it is a joke, laugh just in case, and then quietly excuse yourself from the conversation. Be prepared to fetch items and serve as a chauffeur. If you feel these rules do not apply to you because you have also briefly been in the background of a local news broadcast, please provide evidence of such. NO OTHER EXCEPTIONS WILL BE MADE.

Though the competition is officially over for this year, the competition that is Our Lives continues, which means I'll have some new projects and updates to share with you later this month. Once again, I recommend staying at your computer and constantly hitting refresh on this page.

29 September 2010

I Read It So You Don't Have To: "Moby-Dick, or The Whale"

As a professional nerd, I often guilt myself into reading classic novels. Shortly after I graduated from college, for example, my mind chided, "You have an English degree and you've never even read The Great Gatsby. What kind of budding writer are you?" So then I had to read it. And yes, it's excellent. On the other hand, I can't just pick up a thick Dostoyevsky tome and dive in without being mentally prepared for it. There must be not just the shame, but a genuine interest in finding out what makes the book a classic work.

However those factors must combine to produce actual results, they were in harmony about a month ago when I decided to finally read Moby-Dick. I'd heard it described long enough as one of, if not the greatest English-language novel, that my mind was already nudging me toward taking the plunge. When I saw a nicely designed edition at The Strand, complete with purty pictures that soothed my savage brain, I decided to do it. And so began my epic journey.

Call me An Asshole.

The book opens with Etymology and Extract sections that analyze the word "whale" and quote numerous authors and books on the subject. When I began these sections, I thought it was an inventive way to introduce the subject, and wondered if it was perhaps a precursor to the song and poetry quotes a lot of modern day fiction authors preface their own novels with in the hopes that they will lend thematic weight to their stories of ninja detectives fighting ghost monkey rapists. But then the Extract section goes on. And on. And on. Many of the quotes serve to give us an idea of the whale's immense size and power. Others just seem to have mentioned the word offhand. Here are a few:
  • "Very like a whale." -Hamlet
  • "Spain--a great whale stranded on the shores of Europe." -Edmund Burke. (Somewhere.)
  • "On One occasion I saw two of these monsters (whales) probably male and female, slowly swimming, one after the other, within less than a stone's throw of the shore" (Terra Del Fuego), "over which the beech tree extended its branches." - Darwin's Voyage of a Naturalist
So...Charles Darwin saw whales at some point. Great. Thanks, Melville. That will really help contextualize your book.

I should have taken it as a sign of what was to come, like the many omens weighing down the pages of Moby-Dick. Instead, I shrugged it off. "Only 17 pages of this stuff," I thought. "Then the book will properly begin." And it does. And it starts off great. Right on the first page is this gem from the point of view of the novel's famed narrator, Ishmael:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos [melancholy] get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.
Here, the author perfectly, beautifully communicates a certain weariness of the soul that anyone whose exasperation at life has expressed itself as a mad urge to get the fuck of Dodge would understand in an instant. And the imagery it expresses is striking and wonderful. I'd love to see a scene where a man just starts batting off the old-timey hats of 19th-century gentlemen in the streets of New York. I read that and said, "Book, you and me are gonna get along just fine."

Lord, was I ever wrong.

From there, Ishmael makes his way to New Bedford, where he meets his new best friend, a South Pacific Islander named Queequeg (which is just fun to say). Together, they make their way to Nantucket to sign on for a whaling voyage and end up on the Pequod (less fun to say, but still not bad) under the command of Captain Ahab. It takes about 150 long pages for that to happen, but still, things are happening. There is a story, and through that story, we learn about the characters and the world they live in. There are many asides and much philosophizing, but it helps us understand the narrator, the stylized tone of the novel, and the whaling industry at the time. And, if we're in the mood for it, we can go ahead and philosophize and ponder along with it.

Once the Pequod is actually underway, however, things quickly go downhill.

There is a clear point where that happens, and it's a chapter titled "Cetology," which is on page 190 of my edition (The Modern Library Classics). This chapter is 18 pages - 18 fucking pages - in which the narrator proposes and thoroughly lays out his system of classifying the different whale species. Why? "...at the outset it is but well to attend to a matter almost indispensable to a thorough appreciative understanding of the more special leviathanic revelations and allusions of all sorts which are to follow." He doesn't want us to get lost. He wants to make sure we understand whales, and all their many species, and just how impressive the damn things are. Even if this means describing and classifying species which aren't even mentioned in the rest of the book.

Here, I reasoned to myself: "I can make it through a tedious display of 19th-century knowledge on whales. Because once that's over, I'll get to enjoy the rest of the Pequod's many adventures on the high seas before its final battle against the White Whale."

But the Pequod doesn't have many adventures after this. Eventually, Ahab informs the crew of his desire to hunt down and kill Moby Dick, the legendary whale that bit off his leg and turned him into a madman. Then they sail around the world, killing whatever whales they see and chatting a bit with the other whaling ships they encounter. Then they fight Moby Dick.

That's pretty much it. And that would be fine if the novel was, say, 400 pages long. But it's 827 pages long. That's a little over 210,000 words. And a considerable portion of those words is devoted to telling us all about whales and the whaling industry to the great detriment of the story and characters. Poor Queequeg, who starts off as a great badass, is relegated to a relatively minor role. He's a dominant presence in the beginning third of the book, and then just some guy who harpoons whales, has a coffin built for himself, and gives his name to a dog.

Rather than telling us more about Queequeg, or the other men in the 30-man crew, the novel describes the following (as indicated by chapter titles):
  • Monstrous Pictures of Whales
  • Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales
  • Of Whales in Paint, in Teeth, &C.
  • The Whale as a Dish
  • The Sperm Whale's Head
  • The Right Whale's Head
  • The Honor and Glory of Whaling
  • Jonah Historically Regarded
  • The Tail
  • Schools and Schoolmasters
  • A Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton
  • The Fossil Whale
  • Does the Whale Diminish?
"Shut up! Shut the fuck up!" I wanted to shout at Ishmael many times over. He's a deeply complex character, one who has never found his proper place in the world, and possibly feels like he has no right to be in it as the lone survivor of the Pequod (SPOILER ALERT!). But too often he comes across as that shitty kid from Jerry Maguire, except all he can talk about is whales. "DID yooouu knooowww..." On and on and on with this fucking guy! It absolutely kills the momentum of the story. All of this insider information on whales and the industry becomes exhausting rather than illustrative, so much so that you don't even want to read the character-building monologues and soliloquies the crew of the Pequod are prone to because it's just that much more. Here's the sort of thing Melville thought was more important than actually have his characters, you know, do stuff:
Whatever superstitions the Sperm Whalemen in general have connected with the sight of this object [a squid], certain it is, that a glimpse of it being so very unusual, that circumstance has gone far to invest it with portentousness. So rarely it is beheld, that though one and all of them declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet very few of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its true nature and form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the Sperm Whale his only food.
That's not even a particularly bad example. Yet it's still the type of writing you read once, then realize you've stopped paying attention as you were reading it, so you read it again and try to focus, then realize you still don't actually understand it because there are so many unnecessary words and it doubles back on itself, then you read it one more time to hopefully process it and, maybe, appreciate it.

It pissed me off so much I wanted to dig Melville up and his scream at his bones, "Hey, asshole! Your book isn't actually about whales! Stop telling me so fucking much about them!" It's as if Harper Lee spent half of To Kill a Mockingbird dissecting and analyzing the American legal system. Or if Stephen Crane had described in intricate detail the soldiers' uniforms and where they came from in The Red Badge of Courage. Or if J.K. Rowling told us exactly how the spells work in the Harry Potter series. And no, I don't buy the argument that Melville had to inform his contemporary audience about the subject. Dickens managed to inform his readers about all manner of subjects without boring the everloving hell out of them or us.

It's especially frustrating because around all that shit is great writing. Sure, even the good parts can be a bit of a verbose slog for us modern readers, but Melville had a sleeve full of tricks and an ability to sink his teeth into florid prose. He occasionally livens things up with play-like interludes, chapters composed entirely of dialogue, and sequences where he freely wanders around the ship and gets into people's minds or listens to the varying thoughts and interpretations different crew members have on the same subjects. And when he does actually allow his characters to live and breathe, they come off as interesting and engaging people we'd like to know more about. He even gives a shading and humanity to his minority characters unusual for a writer of his period, though he is prone to describing them in condescending ways dripping with casual racism. "Savage" and "cannibal" come up frequently, and his chapter on the black crew member Pip has some thorny knots to untangle.

I'll leave you with an example of the great writing Moby-Dick does have to offer for those with the patience to wade through all the agonizing detail. It's a dramatic speech Ahab gives to a whale's severed head and its comical ending:
"Speak, thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed--while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"

"Sail ho!" cried a triumphant voice from the main-masthead.

"Aye? Well, now, that's cheering," cried Ahab, suddenly erecting himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. "That lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better man.--Where away?"

24 September 2010

Plot Points

Many of the traditional, commonly taught screenplay structures involve "plot points." These are basically any moment in a film where a turn of events can be punctuated with the "dun dun DUUNNNNNNN!!!!" musical cue. They are the events that shake things up, that make your characters re-assess their situations and force them into action. When applied well, they make the audience say, "I didn't see that coming! What's going to happen next?!" (Of course, most audiences don't say that these days because if they've seen the trailer, they've seen all the plot points lined up one by one.) Plot points are the foundations for an exciting, fast-paced screenplay.

They're also pretty much bullshit.

I'm currently working on the outline for a script. I don't normally devote too much thought to structure because I believe that if you have good characters and a good story, your script will naturally fall into a rhythm that will pull the audience along - just don't bore them by stretching out a short story to feature-length and, in general, you should be alright. This time, however, I decided that if I ever want one of my screenplays to NOT be tossed out the window for crapping on too many precious "rules," I should write something that kind-of-sort-of adheres to Hollywood's traditional structure. You know: Three easily discernible acts, an inciting incident, the "Everything is awesome!" montage, the "Everything is bad!" montage, the "I'm getting my life back together" montage, and, of course, plot points a-plenty.

It was while I was figuring out the scene-by-scene turn of events that I realized (one reason) why this particular model of screenwriting has never appealed to me. The very existence of a MAJOR PLOT POINT that CHANGES EVERYTHING for your characters suggests, obviously, that certain moments in the plot are more important than others. But when I think about a screenplay, anything that happens that directly affects the narrative is an important plot point, whether it's "major" or not.

For example, let's say our main character, Steve, goes out to buy a gallon of milk. Not a major plot point, is it? But when he gets back, he discovers his girlfriend, Belinda, cheating with the mailman. A-HA! A MAJOR PLOT POINT! But if Steve had never gone out to get that gallon of milk, then Belinda wouldn't have had the opportunity to seduce the mailman. So really, him going out to shop was just as important as him discovering the affair. Everything is of the same piece. One moment leads directly to the next.

Ah, but watching a guy buy milk - BORing! Can't we just cut right to him discovering her having the affair? Maybe. Depends on the rest of your script. But let's assume you need to have that scene in there. Here's the REAL trick they don't tell you in screenwriting classes (BUT I WILL TELL YOU IN MY NEW SEMINAR "SPEND YOUR MONEY ON ME!" ONLY $12,500.00 FOR A TEN MINUTE PITCH PRACTICE SESSION! BUY NOW!): Make the regular scene just as interesting and exciting as the plot point scene.

How? All scenes should do one of two things, but preferably both at the same time: Reveal character and advance the plot. Steve's already buying milk. That's advancing our plot. So let's reveal character. We show the guy reacting poorly to a mishap. A poor, Dickensian street urchin has taken the last gallon of milk, and Steve chest-kicks Oliver Twist to steal it for himself. But he gets caught and has to come up with an intricate lie to extricate himself from the situation. At the end of it, it's the newly asthmatic urchin who is hauled off by the police instead of Steve, and he triumphantly leaves with his gallon of milk only to discover - dun dun DUNNNNNN!!! - his girlfriend sleeping with the mailman!

So now we've taken a mundane plot point - buying milk - and turned it into its own little mini-story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It was funny and entertaining - well, to sick bastards like me - and also showed us that Steve is an enormous asshole. In fact, we've also inadvertently fleshed out Belinda. After seeing Steve act like a prick, we can better understand why she would choose to cheat on him with the mailman. (He's probably just as self-absorbed in bed.) And when Steve sees her getting completely railed and loving it by the postal worker he's never tipped at Christmas, he can now realize that he is not as awesome as he thought, leading to his journey of self-discovery wherein he learns the true meaning of life via the power of--

Well, you know how this one goes already.

20 September 2010

Project Twenty1: Old Fashioned Trash Talkin'

In a couple of short weeks, the Project Twenty1 Film Festival will be here. To help promote it, my Hard Boiled Productions partner-in-crime, Chris Kapcia, edited together a short trailer for our movie, Patient Zero. Please watch it and get excited:

We are certainly not the only ones with a trailer out there. In total, 57 films will be premiering during the festival as part of the competition, and many of the teams behind the films have created trailers to entice audiences to the screenings (show times and tickets here!). These are the films that Patient Zero will be battling for awards and prizes.

As many of you are well aware, pointless conflict generates interest in more or less anything, whether it deserves it or not, so I've decided to crack open a bottle of whiskey, watch these other trailers, and talk some good old fashioned trash about our competition. That's right! I laugh directly in their faces, like a manly hero laughing at danger! HAW HAW HAW! I belittle both their filmmaking prowess and their ability to attract and mate with their desired sexual partners! Especially Team With No Name!

Here we go!

Team Adjective Noun - K

This trailer seems primarily designed to make me jealous about the awesomeness of their shooting location. It says, "Look what we got access to!" Is that a mall? A convention center? A luxury spa that caters to the OCD? The truth shall await a screening of the film, but ultimately, it does not matter. What does matter is that it looks very cool. The teenager in me would like to stage a shoot out in it. Then again, the teenager in me would like to stage a shoot out in just about every location.

Team Crackerhammer - Immoral Desires

When I first saw this trailer, I really dug its retro-risque look and tone. The voiceover guy sounds both appalled and titillated, which is probably what the proper audience response should be. Truth be told, I was very much looking forward to this. Was, I say, because then I found out that it's an affront to decency that must be banned and destroyed. Guess I'll just have to skip it. Too bad, because I usually dig scenes of women making out. You'd think a vociferous religious organization would have bigger fish to fry. I wonder what drew their attention.

Team ? - Between the Blinds

Gotta be honest here - those dolls in the background really freak me out. I know, I know - it's a comedy/drama about a writer seeking inspiration, one that looks very attractively shot and edited. But a part of me is worried it's going to turn into a horror film when those dolls turn out to be sentient and burst through the screen Purple Rose of Cairo-style, cackling as they inexorably prance their way toward me in the audience. And when they reach me....well, I always wake up at that point. I...I'm not sure what they'll do to me. And that's why I'm packing a crossbow and flaming arrows to the showing.

Hey, half the whiskey in this bottle has disappeared already!

Team Mad Men Productions - Thank You For Holding

This trailer doesn't give me a lot to go on, so I'm just going to go ahead and make a bunch of "Mad Men" jokes: This short is about Don Draper finally abandoning the fake life he's fake built for himself to start a whole new fake life. He stages his death, which goes well but unfortunately leaves his daughter Sally thinking it was her fault, so she grows up to be even more damaged than you thought she would be, joining the Symbionese Liberation Army. She's eventually arrested and sentenced to a lifetime in prison. Then Don hits the road, Beatnik-style, but when he comes across actual Beatniks he beats them death because he can't stand them and they should have turned into hippies by this point. He bangs a lot of blondes provided by television writers living out their fantasies and says "I think we're done here" after punching out - and earning the respect of - Steve McQueen. Don becomes a popular stunt man and inspires both "The Fall Guy" and Hooper. After his retirement, he learns that Sally's latest bid for parole has been rejected yet again by a crooked board, so he rallies the surviving members of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (they have a solemn moment where they pour whiskey and vodka on Roger's grave) to go bust Sally out in the most audacious jailbreak in recorded history.

Uhh...I guess that's Don calling in the trailer. And Christian Rivera is the "tech guy" they need to build and operate their insanely complicated jailbreak equipment. THIS MOVIE IS GOING TO BE AWESOME.

Team Pandamonium - Drawn

I just realized that I haven't been talking nearly enough trash about these movies yet. So Team Pandamonium, you're about to get a big ol' helping of snark! Yeah! Uh...ahhhh...hold on a second....Oh! Nice outfit, guy! Did your mom dress you? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!....Oh, she did? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend. Actually, I think purple isn't worn enough by men these days. I wish I had the guts to pull it off but...I don't know. I think everyone is always judging me. I lack confidence in myself. That's why I lash out. Oh, God, I just had a breakthrough. Someone call my therapist!

You know what I really like about this trailer? The panda logo. He looks cool as a cucumber. He's the Fonz of pandas. Then again, most pandas are too lazy to even procreate, so I guess they're all pretty laid back. Dare I declare pandas to be the stoners of the animal kingdom? I dare.

Team Justice Productions - Love Bytes

Team Podcast--er, Team Justice Productions returns this year with what looks like an 8-bit inspired beat 'em up. If I stand tall for anything, it's violence in cinema, so I can't wait to see what kinds of ass kicking they have in store. Especially if that banana and that gorilla go head-to-head. Man, I bet that banana hands the gorilla its ass on a silver platter. I'm taking bets, everybody! Six to one odds on the banana! Thirty-two to eight on the gorilla! Sixteen by nine on the guy in red! Zero to two on Johnny Cage! 400 quatloos on the newcomer! Green M&Ms to a bowl of Booberry on The Surprise Appearance of Timothy Dalton! The Magna Carta to a warm cardigan on The Reanimated Corpse of Benjamin Franklin! George Burns' cigar to Sammy Davis' glass eye on Clint Eastwood's Squint!

Whoops, this bottle is done. Please enjoy this musical break while I open a new one.

Team Scumberland Productions - Hollow

I'd talk trash here, but this movie is about firefighters, and we're not supposed to say anything bad about them ever. This movie is therefore "critic-proof." In fact, I've heard that anyone who trash talks it will end up burning alive in a fire set by Ignatius Sparkplug, the Patron Saint of Firefighters. THE RUMORS START HERE, PEOPLE.

Team House That Hate Built - The House That Hate Built: The Midas Touch

This film is not screening as part of the juried competition, so I won't bother to hate on it. Good thing too, because I am not one to hate on hate. Being a hateful person myself, hate largely propels me in my day-to-day life. It provides me with most of my motivation. This film is also, apparently, the first in a series, so to get on the good side of a promising enterprise, I'll provide them with a blurb they can use in their promotional materials: "A Laurel & Hardy for a new generation! This comedy team makes all the others look like complete dickwads! Quit your job and devote your entire life to 'The House That Hate Built'! It's Hate-tastic! You'll love hate when you see 'The House That Hate Built!' Everything that came before this series was a complete waste of your time! If you don't watch this show, commit seppuku! Abandon your family and friends and meet your new overlord!"

I'm sure there's something in there they can use.

Team The Toxic Avengers - Kill 'Em Off

Wait. Is this film about killing off cute girls? Or is it about cute girls killing off guys in suits? Or is it both? Whichever it is, something better be getting killed off in this movie, or I'm going to be very disappointed. Like that time I saw Reservoir Dogs. There were no dogs! The characters never even went to the pound!*

*Joke provided by the Association of Hack Sitcom Writers of America.

Team Art Party Pictures - Uncertain Harvest

I live in New York City, as I like to tell everybody who doesn't live in New York City, but sometimes, when I'm tired of the constant city struggle, the concrete skyscraper prisons, the unceasing hum and noise, the hours upon hours of always having something to do, I yearn for the countryside. For the sound of crickets. For a sky lit by stars and not porno theater signs. For undulating fields of wheat drifting in the late summer breeze. For the vacant stare of a cud-chewing llama.

I have a feeling that Uncertain Harvest is telling me that's all crap. It proves the old aphorism I just made up: It's better to be a tourist in the country than a farmer who has to shovel shit all day.

Time for another refill, kids! Here's something to amuse yourselves with until I get back.

Team That Ain't RIGHT! Films - Life Lines

This trailer asks a provocative question: "If you could change the future ['It involves a small procedure, but it's gonna cost you.' 'I don't care, I can pay.'], would you do it?" None of us can ever really know the answer, which is "Yes, of course. Let's do it right now." Hey, I'd change the future just to say I did it, even if it turns out worse for me when it's over. How badass would that be as a pick-up line? "Hey. What's up? You look good. I can change the future." Who could call you on that? They don't know the future.

You know what the problem with plots like this is? There's always consequences for people doing things that go against God and Nature. Why can't things turn out cool for once? "The monkey's paw will grant you anything you desire, but it will cost you....five dollars." And then everyone in the world gets to have a monkey's paw, and they have wish-offs against their enemies! Right there's your dramatic conflict. Get me in touch with Jerry Bruckheimer! I know how he can recoup his losses on The Sorcerer's Apprentice! I've already got a tagline: "With great power comes awesomeness. Seriously. It's really awesome. Like...really."

Team Troglodytes - Between the Lines

My prediction: This lady ain't gonna make it, so don't get too attached to her. It'll make it that much harder to say goodbye...How the hell did they get a car crashed anyway? I'd hate to be the production assistant in charge of that. "Robert. Thanks for helping out. I'm going to assign you...uhh...no, we've already got someone fetching coffee...hmmm...ah, here we go: Crashing the car. Just go ahead and get it up to about forty, fifty miles an hour on the highway, then turn the wheel really hard and let that sucker flip. Cool? You do want a good reference, don't you, Robert?"

Team NERDPOP - Introvert

Here's a trailer that asks us a series of thoughtful questions. Luckily, I know the answers. They are, in order:

1. Your CD collection.
2. A little of both.
3. One of those old people who keeps all the baseballs and frisbees that land on their lawn.
4. No.
5. Yes. Definitely.
6. A crossing guard's. But not The Crossing Guard.

Team Synthetic Human Pictures - Tension of Skin

I wasn't sure how this trailer made me feel. Horny? Disturbed? Hornily disturbed? So I cheated a little and read the summary in its YouTube description: "Love is not always affirming, fulfilling, or compassionate. When Michael (Mario Guzman) and Sharon (Davina Joy) come together, the mix is potent, brutal and bad. Fighting for possession of their feelings and each other, will they destroy themselves before they learn to read between the lines?"

I hate to be one of those people who compares everything to whatever is currently going on in pop culture, but that description makes me think of that Eminem/Rihanna song. Which is AWFUL. Just a truly crappy and tedious song. This movie can only improve on that, therefore I am inclined to enjoy it already. Go for it, movie!

Team Drop the HAT - Total Rewrite

This isn't technically a trailer so I don't feel obliged to comment at length on it, but that introduction was so enthusiastic I had to at least include the video here. I hope they beat the shit out of that Pierre guy!

Team Liberty Bell Films - Asphalt Heart

My favorite part? When "VENGEANCE" appears on the screen. No, that's not the title of the film, it's what happens in it. It quickly and efficiently relates what the film is about in a matter of seconds. Two women, in a Charger, getting vengeance on Tanner. They didn't even need a voiceover guy! All trailers should be this succinct. Most of them get boring after the first minute or so anyway: "In a world where..." Violence, violence. Exposition exposition exposition. Violence. One liner. Conversation with the bad guy. Violence, violence, violence. Premiere date. YAWN.

That appears to be the end of the Competition trailers as of the current date. There are more previews on Project Twenty1's YouTube channel for several Filmathon movies (including Handlebar, which I highly encourage everyone to see Saturday night because it's very hilarious and because I came up with the title), but I won't comment on those because they're not the competition.

This, then, is the end of my WRATH! Feel my scorn, competitors! Bring it the weekend of October 1st through the 3rd, at the International House in Philadelphia, for there shall be a RUMBLE! the likes of which has never been seen before on this EARTH! And all parties interested in witnessing such a TITANIC! battle should purchase an all-weekend festival pass NOW! before they sell out and you'll have to buy individual tickets for each show, which is very ANNOYING! and not particularly COST-EFFECTIVE!

25 August 2010

Project Twenty1: "Patient Zero"

I am proud to announce that Hard Boiled Productions' official entry into this year's Project Twenty1 Festival is complete. We have submitted it and received word from the Project's organizers that the film is safely in their hands and will be playing on the big screen down in beautiful Philadelphia the weekend of October 1st through 3rd. What's the name of our flick?


How much can I tell you about the film? Not much at this point. We want people to be surprised when they see it, after all, and it's less than nine minutes long, so information comes at a premium. Nevertheless, I can share certain information as conveyed through ACTUAL SCREEN SHOTS FROM THE FINISHED FILM! HOW ARE YOUR PANTS STILL DRY?!

Our main character is this lad, Sean.

As portrayed by Chris "Lil' Don Draper" Kapcia

Sean is very sick. He's stuck in his apartment, where a mysterious trio are tending to him as his condition worsens. This trio is:

Dr. Crosby, as portrayed by Jennifer Fouche

Dr. Oxford, as portrayed by Aundra Goodrum II

Leonard, as portrayed by Jeremy Goren

(Yes, all of the characters' names were chosen for a reason, but you will never guess that reason, and I will never tell you...Okay, I might tell you, but not now. Later. If it comes up and I remember.) WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHAT DO THEY WANT? Whatever their intentions, they are stopping Sean from seeing the one person he desperately needs to talk to, his girlfriend Megan.

You can see higher quality versions at our Facebook page, where we will eventually post more photos, including images of our high-larious behind-the-scenes hijinks. Also a trailer, but only if you behave.

For me, editing the film was relatively easy. I got to sit there and make jokes while Chris did all of the actual work. Sometimes I would say, "Let's put this shot here," or "Let's use this voiceover clip," and then I would leave the room for the half hour it would take him to actually do that and not make it look and sound like scratchy balls. He did a fantastic job with the sound design; it's one of those instances where you won't notice it because it's so good, stealthily sneaking into your ears and getting all up inside your brain.

Our job was made much easier, naturally, by the fantastic performances, and my hat goes off to all of our wonderful actors. They were fun to work with, tolerant of our artistic pretensions, and genuinely insightful towards the characters. When a script is only nine pages long, there's not much room for fully fleshing out three-dimensional people; you rely on your actors, and they delivered in a big way. Watching the footage, Chris and I would crack up in delight when we saw a small gesture, a carefully shaded look, a perfectly timed movement, and we would say, "Awesome! That's going in!"

The film's tone is pretty dour and serious, but if you watch us while it plays, you won't know that. We'll be smiling and nudging each other, whispering our in-jokes and pointing out our favorite moments. Hopefully, though, you'll be too engrossed with the drama to notice the two jackasses in the back of the room.

What's next for us? We'll be promoting the hell out of the film, putting the final touches on Time In and beginning the edit on One Night Strange, and submitting some more of our stuff to festivals across the U.S. of A. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be trash talking some of our Project Twenty1 competitors in this space to drum up controversy and attention.

10 August 2010

Project Twenty1: Taming the Beast

Barring any unforeseen complications or utter disasters (knock on wood!), our shooting for Project Twenty1 is now complete. Last year we had a gargantuan schedule packed into two days of improvising endless scenes from angles ad nauseum. (Here's the result. LOVE IT!) This year, we managed to be a bit easier on ourselves: one long ass day in a single location to capture three short scenes and a few insert shots, one short ass day at a local park blessed with beautiful weather. I even had time to finish the rest of "Deadwood." Reviewing the footage, we believe that yes, Virginia, it will all cut together into a short film we can be proud to call our own.

"Lens cap?"

What's it about? I'm not telling you yet. Here's a clue that isn't helpful in the slightest, but it is a great song, so you should download it and put it on your newfangled music playing device. Frankly, I don't even feel comfortable telling you the title at this point. Mostly because we haven't settled on one. We have a working title that may change if we can think of something better. Titles have never been my strong suit. Anytime I bump into a word or phrase that is the right combination of catchy and apt that also hasn't been used before, I fall to my knees and give thanks to the al-ighty gods of art who cast their blessings and curses down upon our heads. But only because I don't have a full length mirror to chest bump myself.

"What do you mean I can't spike it like a football?!"

In due time, we'll be sharing photos and providing a bit more information. For now, we hold our cards close to our vest. I find it's best not to overshare until something concrete is ready to be unleashed upon the world. Though filming is done, we still have to edit approximately two and a half hours worth of footage into something like a ten minutes or less narrative movie. I'm feeling confident and hopeful now, but that's only because we haven't started yet. Once we get balls deep into editing, you will find me a more harried man. 'Tis a mighty beast that must be tamed before we can reap what glory may perchance come our way. We shall begin upon the morrow!

Hide your womenfolk: Hard Boiled Productions is in town.

06 August 2010

Project Twenty1: Preparing for Battle

Tonight I shaved my head. That, in and of itself, is nothing special; but when I do it before a film shoot, it takes on a more mystical air. I am no longer a balding man trying to hide the obvious; instead, I am a warrior preparing for battle, like Kambei at the beginning of Seven Samurai, becoming more streamlined and ready for the filmmaking struggle to come.

Yes, this weekend we will be shooting our brand spankin' new script for Project Twenty1. This year's theme: "Between the Lines." After receiving it, my collaborators and I withdrew into our heads, imagining various stories, images, characters that might, in some way, if you squint and turn your head, fit that theme. We talked, pitched ideas, talked some more, debated, agreed, disagreed, went back to the drawing board. On Monday I wrote two ten-page scripts, one a drama and one a comedy. Both were rejected for being too talky and intricate. On Tuesday I was struck with inspiration while on the train. Something like an original idea broke out in my head and rushed to escape. That night, I translated it into a nine-page script. The transmission was garbled, however, and on Wednesday I listened to comments and insight, then broke out my trusty red pen and went to town. I rewrote it that night into a version that just might be ready for shooting. Close enough, at least.

And so we're moving forward. On Saturday, Hard Boiled Productions and our cast and crew will convene to begin shooting the motherfucker. We'll go all morning and afternoon, then break until Sunday, when a much smaller group will be meeting for further shoots. And then we'll be done with filming and move into post-production. If all goes well, that is. (I just knocked on wood - I don't consider myself superstitious, but goddammit, I just have to do it sometimes.)

Today, tomorrow, we prepare. On my lunch break I went to CVS to search for props: surgical masks, latex gloves, insulin syringes that I hope will pass for their bigger, more hardy cousins. (They were surprisingly cheap at $3.00 for a ten pack.) E-mails were blasted back and forth discussing characters, moments, wardrobes, music. A select few - seven, in fact - agreed to take on this challenge and meet it with the best they have to offer.

It's stressful, nerve racking, difficult, exciting. I love it. But a part of my brain frets about everyday life. Deep down is a voice that keeps saying, "You only have five more hours of 'Deadwood' to watch! Then you'll be done with the entire series! Can't you take a break?" No. At least, not yet. Maybe tomorrow I'll find time, or the night after that. But "Deadwood," as excellent as the cocksucking hoopleheaded fuck is, will have to wait.

The only bit of ease I really had today was grabbing a drink with one of our actors. We went to the rooftop bar at the La Quinta Inn on 32nd Street, which sits in the direct shadow of the Empire State Building. It was populated by tourists and the young New York middle class, those who have one to three roommates, enjoy cable, hold down Midtown white collar cubicles, and are too plain and/or broke to get into the pricier places around the city. It was a grand ol' time. But in the back of my mind, competing with my "Deadwood" voice, was another one: "You really should get home. You still need to go over your props and make further plans. And, of course, shave your head, you ugly motherfucker."

That's the voice I try to heed more than the others. There are many competing for my attention, but that one tends to cut through the noise. I guess I could call it my Al Swearengen: "Pain or damage don’t end the world, or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man — and give some back."

To be continued...for better or worse...

29 July 2010

Project Twenty1: The Preamble

I'm never certain how often I have to reintroduce Project Twenty1 (P21) to readers of this blog. Random people who wander by may see an offhand reference to it and wonder about it in the flicker of time before they move along to find the actual naked Saffron Burrows pictures they were looking for. (Also, if you're here about Paul Kinsey, I am sorry to report that I do not know whether he will be in the new season. I certainly hope he will be.) Meanwhile, the 4.36 regular readers probably have the gist of it by now, and would like me to just move the hell on. Here's a brief summation to split the difference:

P21 is a film competition where the goal is to create a movie lasting ten minutes or less in 21 days. The films must somehow incorporate a theme; previous ones have included "light" and "key." In one way or another, I have participated in every previous edition, and am about to embark on the journey once again for its fourth year. Last go 'round, I posted a few blog entries updating readers on our progress. As I hope to do the same again, I'm hereby kicking off the festivities with another throat clearing before the shit really hits the fan.

The theme this year won't be announced until Saturday, July 31st. In the meantime, I've been waiting for general inspiration to strike me, not just for P21 but for scripts in general. The closer it gets, however, the more my brain wants to dwell on certain story ideas I've discussed with my collaborators. I can't actually write anything until the 31st, though, so I'm stuck twiddling my thumbs and wondering if I can fit in dick jokes and oblique references to bullshit no one will understand or care about. My thoughts are helping me out at the moment, carefully examining each component of the stories and pondering how they can be made more memorable, more efficient, better. But until I get that element, I'm stuck in neutral, hoping the car won't stall out when it actually becomes time to punch the gas.

As usual, it's humid as balls here in New York City, and us what come from more frigid climes are suffering under the heat. I lay in bed and I sweat. I brush my teeth and I sweat. I wait for the train and I sweat. The only time I'm not covered in a wet sheen is when I am blessed with air conditioning, or have a fan pointed directly at me. At night, I stick my fan two inches from my head and let it blast; the hell with electricity bills, I'm miserable now.

Tomorrow night, we of Hard Boiled Productions will occupy ourselves with an honest-to-God job documenting an evening of festivities. It will be a nice distraction from the looming presence of P21. We are marshalling our forces, preparing our equipment, musing on locales, securing cast and crew. But what are we actually going to do? We have ideas we can build on and flesh out, yes, but who knows what inspiration will hit and make us do something crazy and complex and difficult. We're like divers who can win medals doing simple backflips, but decided to challenge themselves with Triple Lindys; if we can pull it off, everyone will be stunned and amazed by having seen something new. If we don't, then we're just a bunch of assholes (and we probably still are if we succeed). Here's a question: What if we do pull it off and no one notices? After all, sometimes when we see something new, we don't recognize it for what it is, and become tempted to dismiss it.

Or is that just an artist making excuses for his past catalogue? Sounds like a whole other blog post to me...

20 July 2010

New Developments and Old Problems

So the bastards finally corralled me into this Twitter thing. I don't really have time to be prolific on it (I hope), nor the means to instantly update with whatever random thought seems witty or poignant at the time (I do not have a mobile device with Internets access). Nevertheless, several trusted marketing types have told me in the strictest confidence that this is what the kids are using to self-promote these days. And if there's one thing I need more of, it's self-promotion. I suck at telling the world of my existence. I'd much rather sit in a corner and be left alone, cobbling together movies and releasing them to accolades and deep piles of money. But to do that, I need the means to cobble, and the means to let everyone know my masterpiece IS worthy of their time and attention and cold hard cash, and the means to tell them No, that interpretation is incorrect, what I have made is not a piece of crap, you just can't see it for the genius that it is, you stupid!

Anyway, if you want to follow me on the damn thing, here's my profile.

As for actually making movies, like I'm supposed to be doing, that's currently something of a mixed bag. I'm in between major writing projects at the moment. There are many short things I have been and will be working on - we just shot another short this past weekend, post-production is nearly complete on Time In, and, of course, Project Twenty1 is swiftly approaching. But in terms of feature-length, epic scripts I pour my heart and soul and madness into, I'm still in the process of searching for my next great IDEA. And I haven't had one for a while, and it's starting to make me nervous.

When I finish writing something, there's a genuine sense of accomplishment. "I have created this!" I shout to the heavens (and my apartment ceiling). "It shall live beyond me forever!" Or until the Internet implodes. With shorter projects - like my scripts for Radio Hound Productions - there's that feeling of self-satisfaction, but it's a quick hit, not as long lasting or full of promise as an ambitious feature I can fling willy nilly at agents and execs who will promptly ignore it. If I'm not working on a feature - whether I'm still noodling around the plot in my head, or fleshing out a treatment, or revising a first draft - I feel like I'm worthless and wasting my time.

I used to always be working on a feature. That's because I didn't know how to recognize weaker ideas and let them go. Now that I do (maybe), the thought process goes like this:
  1. "Hmm...that could be interesting."
  2. "Oh, wouldn't be awesome if instead of a typical hero, it's a half-human mutant wooing the zombie fighting cheerleader?"
  3. "This might have real potential..."
  4. "Wait...it sounds familiar...."
  5. "Oh, shit, the set-up is too much like Eagle Eye. Fucking shitty movies stealing my goddamn thunder...Maybe it's not shitty, I didn't see it, I shouldn't judge...Fuuck-ing Eaagle Eye."
  6. "Maybe I can change it so it's different."
  7. "No, it's still kind of lame. What about this other idea?"
  8. "Ehh, it doesn't have enough of a hook. Too complex to explain. Not concepty enough."
And back to the drawing board I go.

I'm a bit pickier than I usually am not only for quality control reasons. I'm starting to realize that I probably shouldn't waste my time writing something if me and my collaborators can't make it anytime soon, and if Hollywood wouldn't be remotely interested in buying it. Seeing as how I have a pretty good back log of scripts for us to shoot on a relatively low budget, and we don't exactly have the means to move them along the production line like hotcakes, I've decided that the next extensive project I tackle will be my Hollywood Script.

You know - the one that gets sent to screenplay contests, agents, producers, other high-up muckity-mucks I may or may not meet eventually. It will be high-concept, yet fit into the traditional three act structure (complete with pinches! and midpoints! and inciting incidents!) and character and plot arcs (the same thing, but different). It will be written specifically to appeal to the unimaginative, looking-for-a-buck executives who will like it, never produce it, but maybe hire me for other projects.

I've decried this sort of thing before, but dammit, it's time. I need something in my portfolio that's going to be immediately accessible to a broad audience. The problem, however, is actually coming up with a new idea that fits the Hollywood parameters AND jumps my bones enough to get me interested in actually writing it. Each time I come up with a possibility, either the imagination train runs out on me before it gets fully fleshed out, or I run through the gamut of thoughts detailed above.

It's come to the point where I've started raiding my past notebooks and paper scraps for a hint of something that might zap my brain in a different way this time. But something always comes along to kick it in the balls. For example, one of the ideas I've been carrying around for a while involves Superheroes. And recently I came up with a further "twist" on it that made think it could become something new and awesome. But then I second-guessed myself. Aren't "Superheroes" and their various deconstructions and reconstructions more or less played out by this point? Shouldn't I be looking for whatever the next fad is going to be that will make Hollywood take notice? Vampires? No. Zombies? No. Werewolves? No. What is it going to be? Post-apocalypses? Space travel? Post-apocalyptic space travel? (Hmmm...) And/or, can I find something unique and unexplored enough that will then go on to BECOME the next faddish thing, should it exceed even my own rather limited expectations?

This is a tough route to take for brainstorming, because it's approaching the situation in an ass-backward way. While searching for some little germ of a factoid that jazzes me in a way that I go "Maybe..." and "What if...", I'm also thinking in terms of what will goose another person who is a fictional construct built out of stereotypes. And I'm trying to keep in mind the maxims of "What you find interesting, others will find interesting," and "Write what you're passionate about," and "Blow yourself and rainbows will come out of your dick," but I'm still enough of a cynic and realist to know, "You have to make what you find interesting interesting to people who probably do not give a shit. And you may have to change what you find interesting about it to do that."

The challenge is to meet somewhere in the middle. To find something that I enjoy AND is new and fresh and unique to movie makers and movie-going audiences alike. To tap into both my and the nation's subconsciousnesses (?) and find a way to exploit them so that I benefit artistically and financially.

I'm hoping the rush of Project Twenty1 jolts my mind into action. I need inspiration, dammit, and I'm not going to find it staring at this computer screen. It's time to move my duff and live life to the fullest. Kick enough ass and the stories will come to you. Yeah! YEAH! That's the spirit! I'm the man! I can do anything! I will not go quietly into the night! I will not vanish without a fight! I'm going to live on! I'm going to survive! Today, I celebrate my--

Wait...this sounds familiar...