Monday, January 30, 2006

Keep on truckin'

For those of us in the "aspiring" category of screenwriters, there is this article from today's Washington Post (registration online required). At the age of 85, Ruth Sacks Caplin has just had her first (and only, apparently) script produced into a movie, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, starring Joan Plowright. It's making the arthouse rounds now.

What I take away from story is this:

1. You're never too old to be a writer;

2. It shouldn't take you as long to finish your script as it took Mrs. Sacks Caplin - she started in the late 1970's; and

3. Make sure one of your children grows up to found a production company that makes movies like the Oscar-nominated Ali and manages the literary estates for writers such as William Faulkner.

Still, the vanity aspects of the project aside, it is refreshing to see that anyone can do it at any time with a good story and good writing. Nobody still knows anything I guess.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Although it's a few months down the road, The Writer's Arc has announced the application schedule for the August 2006 fellowships. I note it only because that one starts on the same date (May 1) by which submissions for the Nicholl competition must be postmarked.

If you are submitting the same script for both programs, no big whoop. If you anticipate submitting different scripts for each, that gives you about a month between May 1 and June 9th (the date that second round full-length feature screenplays are due for Writer's Arc) if you make the first cut.

Because the Writer's Arc fellows are named by July, and Nicholl's not until October, there is also the issue of whether you want to potentially take yourself out of the running for the latter if (knock on wood) you should succeed with the former. But I throw it out there for scheduling purposes nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Join our club

Totally non-screenwriting related but a couple of amazing live shows to keep your eyes open for in the next few months.

First, the best pop band you've never heard of, Saint Etienne is doing a short U.S. tour in support of the forthcoming American release of last year's concept album, Tales From Turnpike House. Rumor has it this may be their final work, so catch them if you can. Oh yes, there will be dancing.

Feb. 13, New York - Irving Plaza - support Mosquitos
Feb. 15, Chicago - Metro - support Venus Hum
Feb. 17, San Francisco - Fillmore - support Every Move A Picture
Feb. 18, Los Angeles - Avalon- support Silver Sunshine

Similarly fab is raver-turned-folkie Beth Orton. With her first album in almost four years due in a few weeks, Comfort of Strangers, Beth is always "up for it" as they say and her loopy stage presence should make these upcoming dates mucho delightful.

3/12 9:30 Club Washington DC
3/13 Variety Playhouse Atlanta, GA
3/15 SXSW Austin, TX
3/19 Gothic Theatre Denver, CO
3/20 Club Sound Salt Lake City, UT
3/23 House of Blues San Diego
3/24 Avalon Hollywood, CA
3/25 The Fillmore San Francisco, CA
3/27 Wonder Ballroom Portland, OR
3/28 The Showbox Seattle, WA
3/29 Commodore Ballroom Vancouver, Canada
4/1 First Avenue Minneapolis, MN
4/2 Barrymore Theatre Madison, WI
4/3 Vic Theatre Chicago, IL
4/5 The Majestic Theatre Detroit, MI
4/6 Carlu Toronto, Canada
4/7 Club Soda Montreal, Canada
4/8 Avalon Boston, MA
4/10 TLA Philadelphia, PA
4/11 Webster Hall New York City

Oh, and holy crap the video for the first single, Conceived, may be the funniest in recent memory. It's like the mutant sequel to Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.

Also, the first great thing I've bought music-wise in 2006 is Thunder, Lightning, Strike by London's The Go! Team. Who knew the real hip hop was over there? A pastiche of Fatboy Slim big-beats, jazzy horn riffs, early 80's Bronx double dutch calls, and a bit of actual cheerleading chants thrown in for good measure. Fun, fun, fun!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

New York stories

Industry Whore recently posted her Dear John letter to New York City. Fun Joel still proclaims his cross-country love for the Big Apple on the masthead of his blog. And Billy Mernit has his "Clouds in My Coffee" reminiscenses from Annie Hall-era NYC. I don't know if everyone in the scribosphere has a New York story, but here's mine, which does have some relation to how I have come to this point in my life.

June 1994. The Summer of O.J. I was two years removed from graduation at the small state university in my hometown. Although I had done well (finished my degree early, graduated cum laude) and could have gone to law school straight away, a last-semester immersion in the East Coast rave scene put the future on hold for a few years. Driving between Pittsburgh on Fridays and Washington, Baltimore, or NYC on Saturdays weekend after weekend was fun, to be sure. But life as a layabout can only last so long and eventually I was going to have to do something with myself.

Fresh out of college and still possessed of an idealism yet to be crushed by the world as it is, I decided to make my next degree a masters of social work. And thinking that I might be able to make a go of it as a d.j./musician, what better place to go than New York City? At the time, for clubbing, techno, and house music, it was the place to be. Venues such as Limelight, Sound Factory (later Twilo), and Shelter kept the party going from Friday night to Monday morning. Years before bottle service and oppressive door policies, you could actually spend under triple digits on a weekend, find yourself dancing next to Moby, Lady Miss Kier, or Chloe Sevigny, and it was still only about the incredible music we were all hearing for the first time.

So off my application to the Hunter College School of Social Work went and I began preparing to make the move. My "job" as a lackey for the Waldenbooks company did have one benefit, namely allowing me to transfer to the chain's store on the Upper East Side. Directly across Lexington Avenue from Hunter College in fact. And as further conclusive evidence that I was destined to find my way to the concrete jungle, one of my fellow lackeys at that store just happened to be looking for a roommate. Her apartment was situated on the edge between upper Central Park and Harlem and, although not an ideal neighborhood, seemed fine for the first place away from home in which I would ever live. Here my troubles began.

Unbeknownst to me, the community organization program at Hunter to which I applied only accepted eleven or so students per year. When a nor'easter blizzard prevented me from driving to New York for my interview with the admissions committee, I should have probably had second thoughts about just how fated I really was to be one of the eleven. When the thin envelope containing my rejection letter arrived about a month or two before I planned to leave, maybe I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was. I didn't really have a Plan B at that point but I hastily devised one.

After all, I had a job and an apartment waiting for me whenever I was ready. I figured why not just move up anyway, audit some classes at the school if I could to get a foot in the door, and reapply the next year. No problem. Well, except for the fact that the roommate and apartment I thought were waiting for me actually weren't. I can't remember exactly where the lines of communication got crossed but when I called up to see when it would be convenient to move in, my soon-to-be coworker was only wondering why I hadn't called earlier to let her know that I had actually wanted the room. Not being able to wait for me, she had already rented it out to someone else. Time for Plan C.

At least my retail lackey position was still intact, so it only remained for me to schlep my meager wordly possessions to Manhattan and somehow find a place to put them (and myself) once I got there. Why, they even had these roommate-finding services that would pair you up with people looking to share apartments. How hard could it be?

And so it was on Friday, June 17th that I loaded up the family truckster with my clothes, books, and a mattress and headed off for the Big Apple. I know that was the date because as I drove from Maryland, through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and reached downtown New York by late afternoon, the events surrounding the attempted arrest and slow-speed chase of The Juice unfolded on the radio. I think the whole thing was probably surreal enough to watch in and of itself. But somehow the experience of uprooting my entire life that same day as it all happened just added to the wierd quotient.

Friday afternoons, as it turns out, are also possibly the worst time to put your name in with a roomate-finding company with the hopes of having a place to live before, say, Monday. The rest of that weekend is a blur to me now but I think I might have driven all the way back home for one night, spent another night in a hotel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and then lived out of my car for another day until I was hooked up with a roommate. In retrospect, I probably should have stuck with living out of the car.

The location of the apartment was actually great. Near Stuyvesant Town in the East Village, it was right in the middle of things. The unit and its tenant, however, were another matter. His friends called him "Ozzy." One, because he came from Australia. Two, because he really did look and act like Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy purportedly worked for that company that used to have information kiosks in music stores where you could look up information on albums, artists, genres, etc. The fact that those kiosks actually seemed to work gives lie to Ozzy ever actually working for their maker. Mostly he seemed to either be drunk or leaving the flat to go get drunk.

And oh what a flat it was. Two bedrooms, of which I would get one. A kitchen that didn't appear to have ever been cleaned, and certainly at least not since Ozzy lived there. Roaches in the bathroom added a nice touch. All of this, he paid $750(!) a month for. For the privilege of sharing in this Shangri-la, I would pay him $500. Being a novice at the whole game, I naturally blanched. Maybe it was the fact that I couldn't even get long distance phone service at the place because he owed NYNEX so much money that made me hesitate. But a look at the mattress in the back of the station wagon, the thought of another night spent out in the middle of a June heat wave, and knowing I had to start working as soon as possible had me plunking down cash on the barrelhead in fairly short order.

Sure, maybe it had been a little bit rocky in the execution. But was I not finally here, really doing it? Really living a New York life? I unloaded the truckster, got cleaned up, and caught the Lexington Avenue Local up to the Sixties for my first day on the job. Imagine my surprise when the manager regretfully informed me that home office had decided not to renew the location's lease and would be shuttering it at the end of July. Again, recollections 12 years out are hazy, but I think it may have been at this point that I started to consider whether this was in fact the path I was supposed to be on. When I showed up on Saturday morning to be informed by the owner of the liquor shop next door that the store had been robbed at gunpoint after I left the night before (the police theorized that the robber had been hiding in the back room waiting for me to leave, with two female cashiers closing up), I had my answer.

I could have transferred to another location in the city, possibly, if there was an opening for me. But I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and started to formulate an exit strategy. If I was going to take on the student loans that it would cost me for an MSW, why not spend that money on the law school degree that I had spent undergrad preparing for instead? In between the midday rushes, I would peruse the guidebooks to law schools and figured that, since the only two in Maryland (of which I was still a citizen and thus entitled to in-state tuition) were in Baltimore, that's where I was headed next. At night, I would try and stay away from Chez Ozzy as much as possible, wandering the streets of the Village and immersing myself in a New York that would soon cease to exist as I knew and remembered it.

I finished my month on Lexington Avenue, abandoned any expectation of ever getting my security deposit back from Ozzy (I didn't), reloaded all my crap into the truckster again, and headed back to Maryland to become a lawyer. New York had fairly kicked my ass, but the truth is I wasn't ready for it yet. I bore no grudges, although I wouldn't return for several years. By then, Rudy and The Mouse were well into their campaign to "clean up" New York. Giuliani's Social Club Task Force would soon wield Prohibition-era cabaret laws to shut down all the major dance clubs in the city in the name of "quality of life." The effect, sadly, was just the opposite.

Quality of life in Manhattan now exists for those that can afford to live there. Non-lawyers/investment bankers got pushed across the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond. The balance between commerce and artistic creation that made New York, well, New York was already a distant memory by the time dawn broke on September 11, 2001. A suit was filed this summer to overturn the city's cabaret laws and make dancing legal again. That would be a good start. And, just as it did in the 80's when it arose from the ashes of near-bankruptcy in the 70s, New York seems to have a way of reinventing itself just when you least expect it. I may not be on the East Coast to see it, but I do hope that it happens someday. For now, though, that's my New York story.

All of which is to say, as I prepare to make an even bigger move, I would like to think that this time I am ready. Not just because I've learned to seize opportunities like available apartments when they present themselves, or because I will be leaving with enough marketable skills to avoid any further Australian roommate entaglements. But mostly because this time I know exactly why it is that I'm going, that I have a reasonably good idea what it takes to do it, and I'm willing to do whatever is necessary for me to achieve that goal. Hopefully, that will be my L.A. story but we shall see.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Thanks to writergurl for tagging me with the Fun Joel meme. My responses:

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:

My father taking me to see Disney's The Legend of Lobo at the Palace Theater on Main Street. I must have only been about three or four. It's about wolves, which on the big screen to a tyke must have looked scary as hell because I apparently spent much of the movie hiding under the seat.

TWO (2) favorite lines from movies:

"Ya, ya, ya!" Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey. Obviously not much of a line writing-wise but the way she delivers it and sells her character as a total loon makes it memorable.

"Get busy living or get busy dying. That's goddamn right." Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption. There are so many good lines in this movie that it's hard to pick one but this moment might be favorite of the film.

THREE (3) jobs you'd do if you could not work in the "biz":


FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside the industry:

Retail lackey
Golf course grounds worker

THREE (3) book authors I like:

Jane Austen
Nick Hornby
P.G. Wodehouse

TWO (2) movies you'd like to remake or properties you'd like to adapt:

Remake: Although the original holds up so well I'm not sure it really needs to be remade, 1987's The Hidden is a sleeper favorite that sort of screams for an update. A little like Men in Black but cooler, Kyle McLachlan plays an alien chasing another alien, which has the ability to jump from host to host as it goes through bodies on a thrill-kill crime spree in Los Angeles. The key would be maintaining the original's low-key black humor, which keeps it from becoming just another formula sci-fi/buddy-cop action picture.

Adaptation: Possibly my favorite book of all-time, On Love by Alain de Botton. Better known for his later book, How Proust Can Change Your Life, On Love is a fairly straightforward "boy meets girl on a plane from Paris to London, boy dates girl, boy and girl break up" story, but filled with varied philosophical musings on the nature of attraction, destiny v. chance, and what in our nature as humans drives us to love another, often despite ourselves. All with spiffy little diagrams and illustrations to visually demonstrate the author's points. A sort of Annie Hall in London, but even smarter.

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated

I'm not sure how underrated he is, but he does seem to fly under the radar while consistently producing a wide range of excellent scripts, original and adapted: John Sayles. Baby It's You captures perfectly that time between high school and college when you realize that person you thought was the love of your life is most definitely not the person you are going to be spending the rest of your life with. Matewan is riveting drama set in the coal fields of West Virginia (state of my birth) as unions attempted to organize the miners, and were met with savage violence by the coal companies. Eight Men Out, his adaptation of the book detailing the Black Sox 1919 World Series scandal may be the best baseball movie ever made. In addition to his own works, Sayles makes no bones about his "other career" as a highly-sought script doctor on more commercial pieces. His collected interviews will be one of my next screenwriting book purchases. I admire the balance he's been able to strike between writing what he wants (and writing those works well), making the movies he wants to make, and still being able to pay the bills in between. We should all be so lucky.

I don't know who hasn't answered yet, but if you haven't, consider this an open-ended license to meme. Tag, you're it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Last week I also received my copious script notes back from Scott the Reader pursuant to his $60 Script Notes offer. Well worth the small outlay and recommended to anyone who wants and appreciates constructive criticism of the latest draft of their script. Scott identified the strengths and weaknesses of my Writer's Arc submission, some of which I had identified previously myself and some that I had not. All in all, great food for rewrite thought and sure to make my next pass at it that much better. A useful scribosphere resource and good value in return.


Taking a writing break for the last week, I spent the time primarily going through my modest baseball card collection to make a rough valuation, with the hope of selling it and purchasing a new computer. My iMac is five years old, teetering on the edge of continued viability without some serious upgrading. And although it has a handy-dandy carrying handle on the top, not really a serious option for working on the go. Despite the worth of many cards evaporating around 1994 (the baseball strike that year dropped the bottom out of the market), it looks like I might have just enough to swing a nice Mac laptop.

Which made today's announcement by Steve Jobs of the new Intel-powered MacBook Pro all the sweeter. As the specs say, four times faster than the top PowerBook G4 models, a screen that is 67% brighter, one-inch thin, and the ability to run both Apple and Win-blows applications. So. hot. Not that a new computer or screenwriting software package will make me or anyone a better writer, but before starting my next script I would rather not have to reeinvent the wheel by drafting in one format and then having to convert to a different format in the future. Now to just find someone to buy those cards . . .

Additionally, taking Warren Leonard's first challenge, I'm beginning to tell people I am a screenwriter. Well, at least that I'm going to move to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. Luckily, everyone I've told has been incredibly encouraging and not at all down on the dream. The judge I clerked for after law school, who ostensibly has no connection to the film industry whatsoever, went so far as to offer to arrange lunch with a friend who "has invested in motion pictures" and "might have some contacts in the industry." The name he mentioned sounded familiar and a quick Google search later revealed, if they are the same person, the judge's friend to be a former part-owner of a major sports franchise. So put yourself out there, whether you really think of yourself as an actual screenwriter or not. You never know what might come back.