Sunday, May 28, 2006

Now I have a blog . . . ho ho ho

Submitted without comment.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A tale of two Toms

The summer blockbuster season is well under way heading into Memorial Day weekend. Ignoring Warner Brothers' Poseidon (everyone else did, apparently), the results of the first round are interesting. In one corner: Maverick, he of the $25 million-dollar smile and bulletproof opening draw. After the first two installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, with initial weekends of $45 and $57 million respectively, Paramount must have believed that MI: III was a pretty safe bet to at least equal, if not surpass the series's past performance. Especially with wunderkind J.J. Abrams behind the helm and recent Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as the, er, heavy.

In the other corner, Joe Banks himself: Mr. Everyman. Also a member of Hollywood's $25 million-per-picture club, the second Tom brought his neo-Jimmy Stewart persona to Sony's adaptation of The Da Vinci Code. Although his teaming with the Grazer/Howard combo worked well in the past, see Apollo 13, he was also the star of one of the biggest flops in moving a best-selling book to screen, see also The Bonfire of the Vanities. Factor in the religious controversy that surrounded the book (causing the Vatican to call on viewers to boycott the movie), some brutal early reviews at Cannes, and Da Vinci's prospects were far from clear, despite the built-in audience of the book's legions of fans.

What happened? One Tom's movie premiered to so-so reviews but a healthy $77 million first-weekend take. Right where a studio wants its summer tentpoles to be. Word-of-mouth seems favorable and it's a good bet to reach $200 million. The other Tom's movie, while generally praised for what it was, came up thirty million dollars shorter, opening at $47 and limping across the $100 million dollar mark three weeks into its U.S. run. Neither studio nor star will likely be hurting at the end of the day -- especially factoring in the film's international box office, which has performed much better than domestic -- but at least one of them is probably wishing there had been less jumping over chairs on Oprah, on-air meltdowns with Matt Lauer, and placenta-eating pledges. When the dust settles, one Tom will probably still be sitting atop the $25 million-dollar pyramid, but the other Tom could find himself in a seat next to Jim Carrey on slow road down to $20 million and box office mortality.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mr. Bubble

Occasionally, a vestige of my swiftly-receding east coast existence will intrude into the bubble that is life with (near) constant pleasant weather in a city built on a foundation of illusion as way-of-life. To wit, the Craftsman-style bungalow I noticed on a recent walk to the post office:

The structure itself is not particularly unusual -- you can hardly swing a dead project around southern California without hitting a Craftsman house -- but it is rare to see one completly decked out in good old Baltimore Formstone. Throughout the '50s and '60s, the concrete-like faux stone finish was de rigueur for any self-respecting rowhouse owner in Charm City. Barry Levinson's second film in his Baltimore trilogy, Tin Men, was originally about Formstone salesmen but the studio had him change their job titles because it was scared that nobody outside of Maryland would even know what Formstone was. Probably correctly. Alas, the city's gentrification over the past twenty years has resulted in the fake facades usually being the first thing that goes in any property renovation or rehab. Although, in truth, most residents aren't unhappy to see the underlying brick revealed. But lament the disappearing Formstone nonetheless as another sign that the city they grew up in has been lost along the way. Guess they'll always have Hollywood though.

For those who do live here in the bubble, local musical duo The Ditty Bops will be appearing in-store at Amoeba Music on Sunset next Tuesday (May 23) to promote the release of their new album, Moon Over the Freeway. Followed the next evening with a record release party at The Derby on Los Feliz. And if you don't live in the bubble, the Bops will be biking (literally) their way across the country on a tour in support. If you haven't heard them or seen their cabaret-style show, Amanda and Abby mix traditional folk with jazz, western swing, and skiffle to great and fun effect. For those so inclined, check out the site for details on joining the Bops in their cycling (which is supporting a few good causes, in addition to being good for you and our country's crack-like addiction to oil). Bop on.

Friday, May 12, 2006


For users of Final Draft 7, especially anyone on the new Intel Macs, head over to the Final Draft website post haste for the 7.1.2 update. Nothing apparently new feature-wise but the upgrade does now make Final Draft universal. Which means that if you're current on either a PPC or Intel Mac, you'll be running the program at optimal performance. Just using it briefly this morning, I am glad to report that all of the crappy scrolling issues and screen refresh/redraw issues that made 7.1.1 so annoying on a MacBook Pro seem to be long gone. It feels stable, you can use two-fingered scrolling to your heart's content, and text stays where you put it after you put it there. Other than these noticeable differences, Final Draft also claims "many improvements to product stability." And if you for some reason use a Windows Tablet PC to write your screenplays on: "Final Draft Windows® now allows Windows Tablet PCs to set where the scroll bar is positioned (for left or right handed users)." So there's that. Which is nice.

The upgrade is free to registered users of version 7. If you've been holding on to Version 6, the cost of becoming current is now just $59, the advantage presumably being a much more stable program at 7.1.2 now. I love the feel on my MacBook but welcome any input from PPC Mac users that download the update (pro and con).

While waiting for this development, I have also been beta testing the pre-release version of Montage, the new Mac-only screenwriting suite from Mariner Software. Any Mac user who has been less than thrilled with Final Draft should contact them through their website to see if they can take a test drive as well. Although there are still some bugs to be worked out, I like the direction they are taking their program. The addition of dedicated outlining, synopsis, and research functions to the traditional word processing elements is a clear improvement. And the use of "Scenes" to construct a script scene-by-scene, rather than merely inputting text uninterrupted from start to finish, is in practice what the index card features of Final Draft and MMS aspire to be in theory. I'm interested to see how well the release version ultimately stacks up against the big hitters.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In between days

On things musical, I was saddened to see the passing of Grant McLennan, founder and lead singer of the Australian band The Go-Betweens at only 48. Although the band had been inactive for several years, they had recently reformed and released Oceans Apart last fall to renewed acclaim. Sort of an R.E.M. but with even stranger, more poetic lyrics (if it can be believed), I first got into The Go-Betweens back in the late-80s with their album Tallulah. And even dusted the old cassette off to revisit on my drive across country. If you enjoy melodic pop with obscure literary references -- and really, who doesn't? -- then check them out.

Also flashing back to the 80's after picking up St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley. Although having nothing to do with the best t.v. drama ever, the album pairs Danger Mouse (the beatmaker behind Gorillaz) with Cee-lo Green (from the Goodie MOb). At their best, Gnarls Barkley fuse the dirty beats and samplecentric production of the 21st century with the timeless soul sounds of 20th-century Motown. And they throw a cover of "Gone Daddy Gone" by the Violent Femmes in the mix just for fun. Some tracks work better than others -- "Crazy" became the first song in the U.K. to top the pop charts on the sole basis of online downloads -- but there's enough good stuff in there to make it well worth picking up.

And across the pond, Fundamental, the latest album from Pet Shop Boys, gets a U.K. release on May 22. Q's early review says:

"Fundamental is much like 1987's Actually or 1990's Behaviour (i.e. it sits right alongside the duo's very best work) . . . Britain's great pop group? Absolutely."

To be followed on June 20 by Under the Iron Sea, the new album from piano-rockers Keane. The former available only on import initially, while the latter to be released domestically in the States. Tours apparently to follow as well. Yippee.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Making it

Variety notes today that DreamWorks has greenlit production on Things We Lost in the Fire, with Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro to topline, as they say. The screenplay, by Allan Loeb, did have the recent distinction around town of being the "best spec script not to have been produced." IMDB describes the story thusly:

"A recent widow invites her husband's troubled best friend to live with her and her two children. As he gradually turns his life around, he helps the family cope and confront their loss."

So with this one now apparently moving off the top of the pile, I'll throw it out to either the readers or the other scribes in L.A.: what is now the best spec to not yet make it to the screen?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Think different

Why this deadline was better than my first deadline:

1. I worked more from an outline in rewriting my script this time. The value in knowing specifically where you want/need to go with a story, what you've said, and what remains to be said cannot be understated.

2. I had extensive notes in hand for the rewrite. Some of them identifying flaws I already knew were there, others giving me new directions in which to take the story. Don't try and fix everything yourself; get another set of (competent) eyes to take a look at your work.

3. I put the script down in January and didn't pick it up again until April, partially by the necessity of coordinating my move but also somewhat by design. It helped to gain some distance from the piece after spending about four months with it exclusively. Not that I wasn't thinking about it in the interim, but only letting those thoughts simmer on the back burner until I was ready to dive back in with both feet.

4. I purchased a dedicated screenwriting software package (see previous post) and a laptop, which freed me to write where I wanted when I wanted. No more fussing in WordPerfect with the format, but still able to maintain a regular routine that produced several pages a day over the month. I finished all the substantive drafting and editing the night before everything was due.

5. I also purchased a printer to go with the new computer and software. Attempting to proofread on a monitor screen is no substitute for printing something out and marking it up with a good red pen. I know I caught several egregious errors that I probably would not have if not for reading them on the page.

6. I used a proper script printing service for the final version. Double-sided, card-stock cover, and good brads. The works, and got a good-luck "no charge" for the job to boot. Plus, no running around at 9:00 on deadline eve, making desperate phone calls to colleagues for emergency printing assistance. I reached the post office to mail my submission with hours, not minutes, to spare (two versus ten).

7. I actually liked this draft. The first time around I mostly just wanted to get something out there to see if I was even in the ballpark. I thought the spine was solid but also knew it was still a first draft. This time, the changes -- I think -- improved the story, tightened up the pacing (down to a lean 122 pages now), and took it from "not completely hating" to "like." Still not at "love" or "LOVE love" but it's getting there. There is no good screenwriting, only good screen-rewriting. Unfortunately, the pudding containing the proof won't be ready until August 1, when the quarterfinalists are announced.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Joey Five-Cents!

"He took the script and studied it with a sullen frown. Watching him, I realized what a ghastly job it must be writing plays. I mean, having to hand over your little effort to a hardfaced manager and stand shuffling your feet while he glares at it as if it hurt him in a tender spot, preparatory to pushing it back at you with a curt 'It stinks.'"

P.G. Wodehouse, The Mating Season (1949)

Here's hoping that any Nicholl submissions on their way to 1313 North Vine Street are received, and received better than poor Bertie Wooster's by the newt-loving Gussie Fink-Nottle (including my own).