An Open Letter to Gwyneth

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You Had Me at Page Four

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It doesn’t require a Masters in Creative Writing to know that you have to grab your audience’s attention in the very beginning. When people flip through the books at Barnes & Noble, they don’t say, “The first page is boring, but I think I’ll spend $19.95 on this thing anyway because maybe, hopefully, the other 99.5% of the book doesn’t suck too.”

And in movies, the opening scene has to be, well, awesome, or what’s the point? If you can’t make the first four pages great, what does that say about the rest of the film?

Last night, my husband and I went out to the movies for his birthday. There wasn’t anything playing that we really wanted to see, so we went to 21 and Over, a comedy about college kids and a debauchery-packed night of drinking. The critics’ reviews were terrible, but the fan reviews were pretty good, so we gave it a shot.

It turns out, all the fans who reviewed it were 14 year old kids who think anything with people getting drunk and the word “fuck” in it is a stellar movie.

We did something I haven’t done in years: we walked out. At page 4. The opening was so poorly written that we figured the rest of the movie didn’t have much of a chance. We snuck into Identity Thief, which was just starting in the other theater (also not an award-winner, but it wasn’t total garbage.)

As written by Michael Hauge in his explanation of Story Mastery, “The opening 10% of your screenplay must draw the reader, and the audience, into the initial setting of the story, must reveal the everyday life your hero has been living, and must establish identification with your hero by making her sympathetic, threatened, likable, funny and/or powerful.”

Here are examples of some movies have opened:

Varsity Blues: We learn about Mox and the football culture of the town

Four Weddings and a Funeral: We learn about Charles and all the weddings he has to go to

Never Been Kissed: We learn about Josie and how she’s never been kissed

Heartbreak Kid: We learn that Eddie wants a woman.

13 Going on 30: We learn that Jenna isn’t happy with who she is

Bridesmaids: We learn that Annie wants to feel good about herself, but keeps putting herself into situations that get her the same bad results.

An example of a great opening (in my humble opinion).

American Psycho:

This opening not only illustrates almost exactly who this character is, but it sets the tone of the whole movie and its bizarre humor amidst creepy character details.

Considering all of the above, I wonder if my opening to my new script is as good as it should be. This script has three main characters, so I’m using the first 12 pages or so to spell out the situation each one of them is in. While the beauty of American Psycho’s opening is in the words, the beauty in Office Space‘s opening is in the visual:

I think I frequently rely too much on the words for description. This subject really should be its own separate blog post. Food for thought. Back to work.

Know What You Write

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When I was 13 I wrote a poem about an old woman. I shared it with my boyfriend who also considered himself a poet. He said to me quite seriously, “Do you know this woman? Do you know what it’s like to be an 80 year old woman? You should write what you know.”

Write what you know

“Writing what you know” is not a novel idea invented by Alex. However, I’ve never forgotten him saying that.

I’ve written many things I didn’t “know”. I’ve written plenty of main characters who are men, plenty of married people when I wasn’t married, people with children when I didn’t have children, and other lifestyles I didn’t “know”. And that’s fine. I mean, if no one wrote what they didn’t know there wouldn’t be any zombie apocalypse movies, right?

There’s also the kind of “writing what you know” when the part you really know is in the subtext- for example, “Big Love“, though not written by Polygamist Mormons, was written by two gay men who said they understand what it’s like to be ostracized in your society, like the polygamists living in the HBO show, because they have lived their lives as homosexuals in a not-always-accepting world. (RIP “Big Love”. We miss you.)

But I recently read that the Writers Guild of America claims that only 27% of their film writers and only 19% of their television writers are female. So what kind of service am I doing to the screenwriting industry by writing main characters who are male? What service am I doing if I don’t write the true female experience? (Men try to, but sorry Judd Apatow, your wife isn’t the only woman in the world.) And as Mitt Romney (though thank God not a screenwriter) said: he knows what women of America need because his wife talks to him.

So my new script, for which I’ve been writing the outline for weeks, is finally ready for page 1. And this one, though intentionally catering to all over-age-13 crowds, speaks the female experience that I understand best: the married one, the mother one, the overworked one, the struggling one, and the hopeful one. (And no, Sarah Jessica Parker is not starring in it and you won’t be left wondering, “I don’t know how she does it!” – though in its defense, was in fact written by a mother of two.)

On to page 1 – see you on the other side!

Mika Brzezinski (and other female stereotypes)

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I need to talk about Mika Brzezinski. Mika is a co-host on one of my favorite news shows, “Morning Joe” on MSNBC on channel 714 (MSNBC in HD, baby.) Almost every time she addresses any of the men on the show (and they’re all men, except for her) she makes biting comments like, “Can we answer this honestly?” or she rolls her eyes at Joe Scarborough, or she talks under her breath. She also sides, unnecessarily, with women, as though just because you’re a woman you’re right, or just because you’re a man, you’re wrong. I believe that she believes she is an example of a powerful, successful, and confident woman for others to emulate. Hey, she wrote a book on the subject. But I believe that she is an example of a self-hating woman who is terrified of her aging body (though she’s a very attractive woman) and puts up a front against men as though being against men is what’s going to make women stronger.

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She makes successful women look like their stereotype: bitches who bitch.

Why do I care? Because she gives us a bad name. On the show, she is resentful, irritated, and a know-it-all. And as a woman, I want her to buck the f*ck up. Cheer up, Mika: it’s not all that bad. Be the example for other women- don’t be what men hate about women. Show us that successful and powerful women are a good thing to have around- not something with a chip on its shoulder.

A few years ago, I helped run a sketch comedy show on the Internet with 5 men. I was the only woman. It was a real challenge for me to feel heard, feel respected, and feel needed, particularly because some of the men had very strong, unforgiving personalities (not you, Mick- you’re lovely). And occasionally I became a bitch because it was the only way I knew how to keep up and feel like I was an equal player on the team. But in hindsight, I wish I used something far more powerful and influential than my attitude… something all women should have in their arsenal… an asset that can get women the real success they want: confidence.

Mika, you don’t need to roll your eyes, or snip at Joe, or talk under your breath to John Heilemann or Donny Deutsch. You’re a beautiful, well-educated, intelligent woman. And hey, if Sarah Palin can look herself in the mirror every morning, then darn it all to heck, so can you.

Day 218 – You WANT to make my movie… YOU want to make my movie… You want to MAKE my movie…

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The script is done. Oh yes. It’s done. And it’s the best screenplay I’ve ever written.

I finally have a script I feel confidently happy with. I’ve had doubts about every script I’ve ever finished. All I’ve wanted was one script that I felt really good about sending out- one I felt I could safely and assuredly use to get an agent. And now I have it. How is it that this is finally that script I’ve been hoping to write? I don’t know if it’s because of impending baby #2 (4 weeks left today), or my work with The Artist’s Way, or just that it took me a few years to really get a grasp on how to write the right script. I’m happy.

So now what? How do you get from awesome words on a page to the film on a screen and money in your pocket?

My husband (who is a DP, cameraman, and video editor) wants to find someone with a lot of extra cash, so we can make the movie ourselves. This idea has certainly worked for a few successful people (including our friend who made the movie Grace.) But honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to that. However, my script is not exactly Transformers or Titanic. It takes place in NYC (where I live) and has regular humans doing regular human things, so it’s definitely feasible that we do it ourselves.

But I’m about to bring an infant into this world to add to our little family, plus we’re broke, so I don’t think it’s the right time to take on a project of this magnitude.

How else do you get a movie made? You get someone else to make it for you. That is, you get a studio to buy it and make it themselves. This is my method of attack today. Studios aren’t interested in 8-month-pregnant-me waddling into their executive offices with 110 pages asking them to make my movie.


But a respected agent calling them on the phone? That’s better.

So I’m going through my teeny tiny list of contacts and asking them to either read my script or give me suggestions on where to go next with it. But one thing I do is make sure I’m being authentic with them, so I don’t finish my day feeling like a career climbing phony (thank you, Holden Caulfield). I try not to be sneaky, or fake. Because at the end of the day, my script doesn’t matter, but my integrity does.

I’m even contacting a couple of people I feel incredibly uncomfortable contacting, as I haven’t spoken to them in years and it’ll be an obvious “Hi… how are you… long time… hope you’re well… please help me?” It’s a sucky feeling, but sometimes it’s what you have to do. These people may end up thinking you’re using them and resent you for it, or they may look at you as lame and desperate… but people do help people and that’s how people get ahead.

So… call them, email them, or Facebook them, and suck it up.