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.

A Whole Foods Vacation



The Whole Foods on Columbus Avenue and 99th Street in Manhattan has a large dining room for customers to eat their goods recently purchased from the behemoth “Whole Paycheck” grocer. This dining area appeals to me greatly. I get to sit and work on my computer with no fear of (a) annoying a waitress who wants more than a tea-drinking customer; and (b) feeling guilty that I’m taking a table that someone else wants. There’s no table service here and plenty of tables for everyone, and then some. I buy my tea and I sit, unafraid of imposing on anyone. Free of guilt. There’s another type of person who loves the Whole Foods dining room: women taking care of small children.

This dining room is practically overrun by stay-at-home mothers and nannies, all with children under 2 years of age in a stroller. The children either sleep in their strollers while the nannies chat with their nanny friends or the toddlers sit in their little booster seat (thanks for providing, Whole Foods) while their mommies feed them mashed up and small pieces of food. I’ve never brought my kids here. The older one is too old now (sitting at a table in a big room she could otherwise be running around in = no fun) and I’m never alone long enough with the little one to require a place to go.

Do these women absolutely love the California Rolls at the sushi bar? Do they dream of the cous cous at the pre-made foods bar? No. They’re looking for a place to go. Yes, I’m making a grand generalization. They need a place to be OTHER than the living room. God save me from being at home all day with a small child.

On a rare day, you’ll meet a woman who looooves staying home with her kids and not working. On a rare day, you’ll meet a woman who looooves working a 9-5 and only seeing her kids for bedtime and on the weekends. But the majority of us yearn for a happy medium: lengthy, quality time with our little ones as they learn everything in front of them and time away to build our careers, our sense of independence, a sense of being something more than a mother.

Note: one of my tag words for Search Engine Optimization on this post is “stir crazy”.

I get two hours every day at the Whole Foods to work on my script. Not bad. I could use a lot more time, but childcare is too expensive for us right now. So I sit here in the morning, surrounded by women looking for respite from the howling on the living rug or the flashy noise of PBS Kids programming (on the Upper West Side, we watch PBS Kids. None of that Disney Jr. for us educated folk… okay, maybe a little Handy Manny and some Charlie and Lola.)

handy manny cover

30 minutes gone while writing this post. Now back to work on my screenplay. I’ve got 90 minutes left to find my career, my independence and feel like I’m not a liar (or a poser) when I say: My name is Awesome, and I’m a writer.

-77 days: Babyland

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77 days since Phoebe was born, and you know what? I’m still not Joel OR Ethan Coen. However, I’m closer than ever before.

11 weeks old and all grown up

That awesome, so awesome, script I finished in the beginning of July is still awesome. In fact, I made some changes that made it even more awesome. I spoke to my manager on the phone yesterday, and he really liked it. Sure, I have some changes to make, but he liked it. And in my opinion, that’s the most important thing. Cuz if the script doesn’t make any money, he doesn’t make any money. So, this means that he believes in it enough to spend his valuable time on it.

I’m prepping to start the changes today and he and I will work on it together in the next day, or two.

Do I want to be a super celebrity screenwriter? Sure. Do I want to take my family on five huge vacations a year? Yes. Do I want to send both my little girls to the private school I went to, which starts at $34K for kindergarten (yeah, per kid)? Totally.

It was $15K for 12th grade in 1996. Yeah. Inflation much?

Would I just like to be able to buy my family Christmas presents this year and feel like I’m going somewhere with my writing career? Abso-tootin’-lutely.

Day 80 – Where’s the Guy Who Hands Out Jobs?

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We spent all day Sunday looking for work, in one way or another. Last Friday, we exhibited our work at a bridal expo, and I spent half of Sunday emailing everyone who came to our booth. My hubby spent a good portion of the day designing a new brochure for us, so we can broaden our client base, and go out on foot to various stores tomorrow to see if they’ll let us display them. We’re doing all this because, for lack of more poetic words, mama and dada are gonna be broke by March.

However, my writing career was not completely forgotten this weekend. I received my Hollywood Representation Directory in the mail and started circling agents. I picked them by the following criteria: (1) They’re in NY; (2) They represent screenwriters; (3) They’re affiliated with the WGA. And every now and then I ignore one because the name makes them sound like they’re Joey Tribbiani’s agent, Estelle Leonard, from Friends.

I also emailed my friends and family in the NYC area and some from a 4-5hour radius to subtly remind them about our business, in case they come across someone who needs our services.

Pride swallowed. Food shopping list awaiting next paycheck. Hollywood Representation Directory open.


Day 2 – How I’m Totally Famous and You Don’t Even Know It


Geraldo fame

According to my folder on my computer, I’m a writer of ten screenplays. According to William Morris, I am a writer of none.

According to the Internet, I am a sketch comedy writer and performer worthy of 3.2 million viewers. According to Lorne Michaels, I am who?

My writing career thusfar:

  • I’ve produced two productions of my own plays in Hollywood, CA
  • I wrote for a sketch comedy show on the Internet for about four years
  • I’ve taken Robert McKee‘s obnoxious screenwriting seminar (eh hem, minor douche bag)
  • I was a member of a screenwriting workshop for a few years
  • I had (still technically have) a literary manager in LA
  • I blogged for a pregnancy website, which was fun, as I think I was still pregnant with my daughter at the time
  • I was “hired” by my manager to do a rewrite on a Chinese-English script, which never got made
  • I’ve written a few pilots that never made it out of an agent’s hands
  • I’ve written a few spec scripts for Scrubs and My Name is Earl, which made it just as far as the aforementioned pilots
  • I have even tried my hand at a coffee-table book pregnancy guide for dummies and a slightly less funny novel
  • I’ve written a large handful of screenplays, some by myself and some with my former writing partner

So that’s my writing career up to date. Except for a few dollars made on the pregnancy site that I blogged for, I haven’t made a penny. But we live in Manhattan, have a daughter who’s about to start preschool, another baby on the way, and a home business that is still huffing and puffing its way into a place of stability, and goddamnit I love to write. All that being said, it’s time to sell an effing screenplay. Fuck that, my daughter can’t read this – it’s time to sell a fucking screenplay. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, I’m fucking ready!

stuart smalley

I’ve got two new screenplays to find people to send them to and I’m working on a rewrite of two one-acts I produced in LA that I’m turning into full-lengths. I need to find either new representation for my screenplays, or someone who wants to make them, and a theater company that wants to produce one of my plays (once I’m finished with the rewrites.) Everything I write is dark comedy and has some fairly fucked up relationships in them. That’s about all the info I’m gonna spill at this point.

It’s 5:12pm on Day 2. 35 weeks and 6 days left. Haven’t done any writing since yesterday. Today’s goal… work on rewrite of play #1. Produce either two more pages, or get much further in my thought process about how to add another 15 minutes onto the damn thing.

And somewhere in the middle, get my daughter ready for bed, feed her more than just the slice of bread she’s been gnawing on, and kiss my husband (all while dressed like Donna Reed.)