216 Years

Do you know your rights? Have you ever actually read the Bill of Rights? How familiar are you with those first ten amendments to the constitution?

Today is the 216th anniversary of its passage.
Read it, and know your rights.

Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Taking a Moment to Weigh in on the Strike

I've seen the devaluation of the writer.

I've seen it happen as a copywriter. There are sites where a person can pick up a page of web content for a penny. Yes, it's generic and the same content is being sold to 50 or 100 people, but writers in India crank out pages of content on multiple subjects and people buy it for their websites and customize it (or not.) Most of that content gets thrown on pages whose only purpose is to display Google ads, and is never meant to be read - and the quality reflects this.

A step above in pay scale and quality are the college students. Desperate for a little cash and recognition, they write web content on the cheap, cranking out pages for $25 or less - no matter how long it took them to write it. It might even be decent work. It might even be relevant. It's rarely good from the standpoint of a marketer. That is, it might be well-written and interesting, but it doesn't get picked up by the search engines and it doesn't lead to sales. Good copy is not well-written. Good copy is effective.

As a result of the flood of cheap writers available on the internet, I saw the pay scale for professionals drop by nearly 50% over 5 years. And the hostility of those hiring professionals increase by about the same percentage - the feeling that they were being "ripped off" and the expectation for the results to blow them away in order to justify the extra expense.

Copywriters are now largely disposable. Picked up for a little work here and there, their work tinkered with after they hand it over - and then they are blamed for the lack of success in driving sales. They are not, largely, respected as knowledgeable and skilled professionals with a craft, and they are often blamed for failures that are not their fault wile the praise for success usually goes largely to the art department - the creative director and the design team. Sounds a bit like screenwriters.

The Writer's Guild is fighting to ensure that writers don't become a disposable commodity in the movie industry in the near future.

I'm not sure, honestly, that screenwriters have ever had a lot of respect, save the writer-directer auters. I think that producers resent them. A movie needs a writer to begin. (There are exceptions, but they are few.) It's something that many people think they could do themselves "if they had time."

Writers are already brought on board and thrown away with more casualness than any other key component of the filmmaking process. There is, largely, no concept that a writer's vision need be respected, or that it is important to the final product. Vision is a director's business to purvey.

I have a theory that the reason for this is because writers themselves have not demanded respect. We tend to be insecure, solitary, and so desperately happy that someone likes our stuff that we undersell ourselves. Yes, there are professionals who understand their worth, but there is also a vast flood of college students and dreamers who send their work to Hollywood every day. Like the copywriters, this flood of people willing to take the minimum, who may also lack and understanding of the commercial side of the process, devalues the professionals and makes their job harder.

I suppose actors may suffer this, but actors are more visible. Re-cast a role in the middle of a film and it's obvious. Hire a new writer - well, that's invisible, at least it seems to be.

The internet only exacerbates this problem.

Writers are the most invisible part of the process. They are a dime a dozen. They are readily available. And now, in the age of digital filmmaking and online downloads - it's an arena where production companies may feel like they can streamline. They are already scared by the ease with which their work may be illegally downloaded and in fear are trying to divide their profits as little as possible.

But insistence on recognition and fair payment for use of previous work or creation of new work in the "new media," is essential if anyone is going to be able to be a professional writer. Digital downloads and internet broadcasts are going to make up a larger and larger part of all movie and TV profits in the future. As people move away from the theaters with their overpriced popcorn and into their home theaters, as they integrate their home entertainment systems and connect large screen TVs to their computers - there is going to be little distinction between DVDs and downloads, between TV broadcasts and online replays.

What the industry at large fails to recognize is that undervaluing writers is to their own detriment. Talent will seek other avenues of expression. You will be able to get a page of screenwriting for a penny, but it might not actually make any sense. Or for $25, and it might be eloquent and lovely - but noncommercial.

Writers need to insist that they are included, now. Or there will be no way they can ever make a living as screenwriters.

Oh - and in my personal opinion - writers need to be bigger divas, too. As a woman, I've learned that if I allow others to treat me as disposable, as unimportant, then they will. But if I refuse to waste my time on anyone who does not treat me as a star, then more people than you would have ever imagined will recognize me as an outstanding individual worthy of respect. This doesn't mean being a bitch. It does mean being willing to promote yourself, being in the public eye, and never apologizing for your work or allowing others to take credit for your vision. (And yes, it also means not getting in bed with the first person who praises you, but holding out for an offer with a little more quality.)
Eating disorders suck.
I know more about exercise, nutrition, and the body than most of my clients, even the athletes, but I can't seem to get my own house in order.

I've gained 15 pounds in three months. Can't seem to shake myself out of this binge cycle this time, and I know it's because I have emotional issues that I haven't been able to deal with. (Overwhelming problems with my father & brother - and with the guy I was dating...) I had hoped that getting enough rest would be the key to getting a handle on this, but it's not enough.

Don't think I'll be able to conquer this on my own, but am not comfortable with the religious tone of Overeaters Anonymous (and other 12-step groups), especially here, where people tend to not understand the concept of non-denominational.

Something Good

I got my baby back.

I just realized I never posted here about what happened with my doggie. It was hard for me to talk about... He started mutilating the paw that needed to be amputated, and it became infected - and I didn't have the money to do it. (A minimum of $1200)... The vet said the limb had to be amputated right away, or he had to be put down. This was about two months ago.

I contacted every rescue organization in the area, and found one that could take him and give him the operation - but I had to give him up.

Today, my sister and a friend went and adopted the dog I had to give up - to give him back to me. He's adjusted just fine to being a tripod, and is happy to be home.

I'll have new pics of him soon!
In Mystery Man's blog, he recently reviewed the script for Hitman - a screenplay based on a popular video game.

I don't know the video game, and have always been more into role playing games (yes, I play WOW) than shooters - but I have some words of advice for the author of Hitman as he works on rewrites (hopefully, he still is): go see Shoot 'em Up.

Shoot 'em Up is just what the title says it is. It is shooting. Lots of it. Sometimes funny. Sometimes outrageous. The lead character is never well defined, his story is never explained. He has a handful of characteristics which remain consistent and are enough to drive him. The female lead is introduced when the protag (and I use that term a bit loosely) needs her.

He stumbles into the plot, but is thrown deep into it when he makes a choice - a very simple and clear choice. She is at first unwilling to go along, but is forced to when the bad guys catch up.

There's a convoluted story that doesn't matter much, and it's a pretty outrageous one - but it doesn't matter.

It moves non-stop. It has genre gags. It has a completely absurd and wonderful sex scene. But mostly, it's non-stop action. More fun than Crank was, which is similar. The protag is more over-the-top in his skills. The story bigger, and more absurd.

It felt like a shooter game.

And MOST of the movie would not have looked like much on the page, because it was a lot of choreography. But man, there were some great moments with the fight choreography.

It doesn't try to be important, or impressive. It doesn't try to explore the implications of anything. Plot and character really only exist enough to serve the action. But what is there, is great stuff.

And the fact that the antag speculates about the protag's life story, as the audience must - but not one word of his speculation is ever confirmed - is great because anything that is confirmed would just seem cheesy and wrong. We don't really care why or how he became a super-shooter. We just want to see him shoot.

And we want him to win.

And did I mention it's fun? He shoots people while delivering a baby. He kills people with carrots.

But then, one of my favorite films of all time is Buckaroo Banzai, so I appreciate absurdity.


I watched "The Sting" last night, and was interested in how well they integrated information into the story. They had a lot to communicate, a whole world and it's rules to set up (the world of the "big con") and they did it without any noticeable exposition dumps.

I'm reading the screenplay now, and will give some specific examples soon.

Now that's over with

Well, now that I have one less complication in my life, and am highly unlikely to be pursuing a relationship again anytime soon - I can dispense with the mental distraction and get my head back on track with my writing.

Look forward to some posts this week.


Been dealing with some stuff.
It's worked itself out, and I should be back to writing more soon.

You are The Empress

Beauty, happiness, pleasure, success, luxury, dissipation.

The Empress is associated with Venus, the feminine planet, so it represents,
beauty, charm, pleasure, luxury, and delight. You may be good at home
decorating, art or anything to do with making things beautiful.

The Empress is a creator, be it creation of life, of romance, of art or business. While the Magician is the primal spark, the idea made real, and the High Priestess is the one who gives the idea a form, the Empress is the womb where it gestates and grows till it is ready to be born. This is why her symbol is Venus, goddess of beautiful things as well as love. Even so, the Empress is more Demeter, goddess of abundance, then sensual Venus. She is the giver of Earthly gifts, yet at the same time, she can, in anger withhold, as Demeter did when her daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped. In fury and grief, she kept the Earth barren till her child was returned to her.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

what's goin on

New job and a new relationship - doesn't leave much time for writing!
I'll settle into a new routine soon, but in the meantime, I'm just not online much

We Are Powerful Beyond Measure

Because sometimes I need a reminder...

"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'who am I to be so brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are we not to be?

You are a child of God: Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

~Marianne Williamson

1000 Films

The Guardian has published a list of 1000 films that "best sum up the dazzling achievement and variety of the movies." It's a good list, because it is varied. It's clear that they were trying to find films to represent just about every type, tone, and style - as well as the "greats."

While there may be some I would have chosen differently (from Roeg's films, I'd have chosen Performance rather than Don't Look Now, and from Luhrman I'd have gone with Strictly Ballroom rather than Romeo + Juliet) - and a few missing that I would have included (Cat People, Gods and Monsters, Bound, Secretary) - there were enough of movies I was delighted to unexpectedly find on the list such as Buckaroo Banzai, Repo Man, Robocop, and Hot Fuzz (and two Greenaway films) that I'm generally impressed by it.

After going over the whole list, and taking a tally, I've watched just under 400 of them. Probably more, but since most of the westerns I would have watched with my dad when I was a kid, and many of the European films I watched when I was in grad school and was, erm, "altered" - I wasn't certain which I'd seen. I'm sure there's another dozen or more that I'd remember as soon as I started watching them.


More Good Stuff

Got the job at Massage Envy. Start next week. Scheduled for lots of hours - we'll see whether I'm actually booked for most of them.
(Now I just need money to pay my insurance. It's current, but only 'till the 5th.)

And here are some new pictures of Rebound.

In the first pic, he was a little uncertain. I haven't taken pictures in a while.

a good day

This was a good day.

Had an interview with Massage Envy that went well. I'm going back Wednesday for my practical, but I pretty much have the job. Pay per massage is a little low, but they are very busy so I'm sure to stay booked up.

And then I had a brief visit with someone I always enjoy seeing... and he gave me good reason to think that he's interested in spending more time together.

a good thing

I had a massage gig today. Moderate pay, just a few hours, with a company that does corporate massage. There will be a few other gigs coming up, and potential to become a lead or manager... Not enough to get by, but enough to buy groceries.

It was four hours, hard work. (Chair massage is much harder on the therapist than working on someone who is laying down.) I did about a dozen brief massages. And I loved it.

Y'know what really rocks about being a massage therapist?
People are happy to see you.
They look forward to it.
They smile about it.
They are grateful for it.
They thank you, and bless you.
I get all kinds of warm fuzzies from making people feel better, too.

Man Who Fell to Earth

A little while ago, I bought a copy of the Man Who Fell to Earth on eBay. Just as I was wondering where it was, I got an e-mail promising that it had been shipped today priority mail. Seems it fell through the cracks.

It's been ages since I've seen it, so I will wait to discuss it at length until I have the screenplay (written by the same man who wrote Croupier, The Last Samurai, and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence). I saw it when I was about 13 or 14 (my parents didn't realize how much sex was in it) - and some of it went over my head, but as an adolescent I certainly could relate to the sense of loneliness and isolation that he felt, and still consider this the central theme of the movie. In fact, the themes of being in the wrong circumstances, of having to pretend to fit in, of feeling isolated - these recur in other ways in some of Roeg's films.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to taking a look at the screenplay... now I just need to get a copy of the movie... preferably the uncut version... (but first I need to get a job. Rapidly running out of money and trying hard not to stress.)

Three Colors

I recently watched each of the three films in Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy. I've been meaning to write about them, but haven't been able to focus my thoughts. (I get like that when I'm stressed. Which is why I never get much writing done when I'm unemployed, despite having so much time. Too worried about running out of money.)

At any rate - I'm sitting down to make my attempt.

Usually, before I write about a film, I read up on it and listen to the commentary. I didn't listen to the commentary on these, because I wanted to simply experience them - all three - as a whole. Eventually I'll buy them and listen to all the commentaries, but for now I'm just going on my own impressions. I have read a little about them, did before watching them. I'd originally heard of them through the commentary on Heaven, which was written by Kieslowski as part of another trilogy, but not made until after his death. It was directed by Twyker, and I found it after watching Twyker's The Princess and the Warrior, which was a wonderful portrayal of the differences in the way men and women communicate and relate to others. I watched Heaven, knowing nothing about its history, which was only alluded to briefly in the commentary.

So I looked up the Three Colors, and found that many people believe Blue is among the most finely crafted, perfect films ever made. When approaching movies these days, I try to learn very little about them in advance. I find that I am more likely to enjoy them if I go in without many expectations of what they should be... and sometimes I end up disliking a film that others I respect are saying is brilliant.

Well, in this case I am in accordance with those who think that Three Colors are brilliant.

I am glad I decided to watch all three films within a few days of each other. Though the stories are not a trilogy in the sense of being three parts of the same story with the same characters, no "part II & III" here, they are thematically related, and there is a definite emotional and spiritual progression across all three.

The theme of Red, the third film, is in fact the theme of all three - though it approaches it more directly: the human need for connection.

Each film uses color thematically, though Kieslowski employs it in different ways in each.

In Blue, it represents her grief. Some people have said it represents her moments of peace, but I think that's wrong. It's her most intense moments of feeling, when she immerses herself in the grief. And in some of those moments she finds a kind of peace. The color is tied to the memories and feelings she's trying to cast away. Ultimately, she's unable to disconnect herself, and it's only through accepting her connections, and through immersing herself in memories that she is able to move forward. The completion of her husband's final work, a piece about unification, is the act by which she
a) remembers her husband on a personal level
b) memorializes him in the public sphere
c) channels her emotions into a creative work
d) uses her connection and memory to move forward into the future and establish herself as her own person

Blue is almost meditative. Powerful and intense, the protagonist spends so much time alone that there is very little dialogue, and the music and the images (including Binoche's superbly subtle acting) tell the story.

Grief is difficult to portray. It can become melodrama so easily. This film, however, perfectly captured something quite close to my own experience of it. Even for those who do not go to such extremes to leave their old life behind, you do feel very much alone. You feel like your grief separates you from the world, from everyone around you (ironic, since it's a universal experience - the loss of loved ones.)

I must confess - as much as I was appreciative of the film and recognize its genius (a word I don't use casually), as much as I love the poetry of its images and deftness of the acting... I did not love Blue. I found it too difficult to watch, too unnerving, too uncomfortable. All of which simply underscore the brilliance, but it was simply too close to home for me.

One of the three screenplays I'm working on now centers around a young widow who is afraid of being touched and who must decide whether to memorialize her husband's legacy as an artist, or to let it go and move on with her life. And it does so, because that is my own story. My own process. And it's one which still continues and is still quite sharp and painful (even after ten years.) So, no - I was not able to really enjoy Blue as much as it deserved.

White uses the thematic color to represent an man's idealized vision of his wife. She is blonde and pale, and he has a bust which reminds him of her white skin. He remembers, over and over, her in her wedding dress. It's a little harder to spot the use of color in white. It doesn't saturate the way that Blue and Red do, but it's still a frequent presence.

Of the three, White has the most external story. It's funny - and makes light of dark subjects. The protagonist spends the film trying to get back home, make himself a "better" man, and re-capture the love of his cruel but beautiful wife. If this were an American film, we'd spend the movie psychoanalyzing why he would want to win back such a bitch, but Kieslowski never bothers to ask - because the answer is obvious. What man doesn't want the love of a beautiful woman? To impress her with his success and make her belong to him?

Her cruelty and capriciousness is no different from the cruelty of the world itself. She is a force of nature, an ideal which he strives for. She doesn't ever become quite real, and this is exactly how she is meant to be.

Whereas the protagonist in Blue goes to great lengths to run away from her connection with others, the protagonist in White goes to great (even absurd) lengths to assert his connection to one specific other...but his path to her ends up creating and strengthening his connections to the rest of the people in his life.

In Red, there's no mistaking the presence of the color. It's there in almost every shot, sometimes a spot of color, an accent, and often in great washes of red that take up most of the screen.

I found myself puzzling over the specific thematic correlation. In the other films, the titular color was used in very specific ways, to represent the emotion at the core of the story. In Red, it's so pervasive, I wasn't able to find any common thread. But by the end of the movie, I realized that was precisely the point.

Red is about connections. Chance, or purposeful. The ways that we brush up against one another, and suddenly find ourselves looking into another person's eyes and really seeing them, listening to another person's words and really hearing them. It's almost a shock when it happens, and yet it has a pleasant warmth - much like the color red.

Of the three, though I can recognize Blue as more finely crafted, I personally enjoyed Red the most. It is a story driven by chance. The characters seem buffeted about by fate or some other mysterious force. They do not make their most meaningful connections by choice... but it is by their choices that they are taken to them, and by choice that they recognize and nurture them.

All three films employ chance in a way that could easily ruin a story in lesser hands. Coincidence is tricky. It usually feels too convenient, too pat. It feels forced. Three Colors, however, are a study of what happens to people in the face of the random (or is it) whims of fate. It is through random chance that we find our most meaningful moments. The protagonist in Red seems to embrace this fully, and in the end is led to the possibility of love.

I could go on more about the symbolism in this last film... the seven puppies, the seven stones, the seven survivors. Several specific instances of chance, the similarity to Amelie... but I just noticed it's 3:55am. I really ought to go to bed.

Perhaps I'll further amend this in the future, but not likely.

One more word, though... I found Red to be one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen, and I'm such a sucker for that.

POV Character

I've recently been hearing and reading about the point of view character in screenplays. Now, my first assumption was that they meant protagonist. But no, the POV character is rarely the protagonist - it's the character who is telling the story, the one who wrote the memoir, or who represents the writer's perspective.

I'm having a little trouble getting my mind around how these characters function and how to develop them.

Joss Whedon refers to Serenity as "Mal's story as told by River." It's River's perspective on Mal and the other characters on the ship. Now, having pointed that out, I can see it (kinda) but I certainly didn't get that the first two times I watched the movie.

In Screenwriting is Storytelling by Kate Wright, she describes the POV character thusly:

...a character within the story who represents the writer's own point-of-view throughout the story and offers an understanding of what the story is about. The point-of-view character is crucial to the movie-making process because in order to understand the story as a movie on-screen, the audience must understand the transformation of the main character. If there is no point-of-view character who helps the audience define this transformation, the audience does not have a dramatic anchor for the story on-screen and consequently, does not know how to follow the inner emotional story.

She states that Titanic is from Rose's POV, The Fugitive uses the investigative team as a kind of Greek Chorus so they are the POV "character" along with Gerard. In Tootsie, it's Julie.

I don't know, I guess I always thought of the camera as the point of view, which guides the audience through the inner emotional as well as the outer story.

OK, I'm going to pick some movies and consider this.
Looking up on my wall at the movie posters -

Moulin Rouge! is Satine's story from Christian's POV.

Belle et la Bete - is it the Beast's story as told by Beauty? or vice verse? (I'm leaning toward the former)

Black Snake Moan - again, is it Rae's story as told by Lazarus, or vice verse? Or is it the Reverend telling the story about both of them?

Amelie - clearly Amelie' story, that's easy... and the fragile painter is clearly the POV character. He is used quite cleverly, his pointillist painting becoming more complete as the story comes together - also a nice reflection of the photo collection of the love interest - people who try to understand themselves by obsessing on images of strangers (as Amelie herself is.)

Blade Runner - Deckard's story... as told by Rachel? by the other detective? by Roy Batty? In a way, it could even be seen as Roy's story as told by Deckard. If we consider the POV character as expressing the writer's perspective on the story, then Roy seems to encompass this the best, though my instinct leans more toward the Olmos character even though his role is small.

Dead Again - Roman/Mike is definitely the protagonist. Grey Baker seems the POV character for Roman/Margaret storyline, but I have no idea who would be the POV for the present story. Pete?

Yeah, I'm nowhere near ready to use this device consciously.

the collaborative process: sharing a vision

Well, after several e-mails back and forth with my writing partner, I was beginning to be frustrated with his lack of excitement about any of my (obviously, of course) brilliant ideas. I really loved making each of the three main characters a different example of how selfishness leads to loneliness. I had several wonderful visuals.

He wasn't seeing the story, so I outlined how each of the characters would relate to one another - so that the story would come out of that. He finally saw the story but said that it seemed like a RomCom without the com.

Well, yeah. That would be a romance. And horror films (not slasher movies) often have a strong romantic element.

He's not liking this, or my description of the protagonist as a hedonist driven by her passions - he says that indie films need something "extreme" and that violence, not sex is what tends to appeal to people.

It's with this comment that I realize the source of the problem.
He had said early on that he wanted something that could be the director's and writer's calling card. So I was thinking of the auteurs I love... Greenaway, Kieslowski, Vadim. Visual, sensual stories about the human soul and the intersections of pain and love.

He was thinking of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Roth.


So what do you do when your writing partner has such a vastly different vision than you? In this case, he's also the man with the production company and the potential to make this script into a film... so what I do is change my perspective and do my best to take up his vision. I can do violence.

I'll save my artsy-fartsy ideas for my own screenplays.

off topic: Helping them to Death

I used to favor aid to poor nations. "Feed the World" sure seems like a good idea, and wealthy nations have the resources to make it happen...

But a friend told me exactly how sending food aid to South America is harmful, (from the perspective of a special forces officer who has been in the trenches - both giving aid and fighting the drug war.)

In South America, this is what happens:

We subsidize our farmers to grow more corn and grain than they can sell, and buy it off them. Most of this subsidized grain becomes food aid. The corn gets shipped to a country like Colombia.

In Colombia, we encourage farmers to grow cash crops other than cocaine and marijuana... one of the main ones used to be corn. But now the market is flooded with corn that's sold for less than it costs to produce. The local farmers can't compete. They can't even buy what they need to keep their farm running. They turn to growing the only thing in the country that's profitable.

And those crops remain profitable in no small part because the war on drugs keeps prices high.

Now, I've read an interview with a Kenyan economist that describes similar effects in Africa.

Here's the article:
For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid

Keeping them dependent on aid is crippling their ability to become strong, independent, modern nations.

(For the record, I personally favor micro-loans to individuals. The weaver, or potter, who can sell their wares on the international market. Help them develop a business, encourage trade, and make the loan in a reasonable, small amount so that it will be repayable.)

finding the spine

I'm working on a collaboration, as part of a dare on Triggerstreet - and I was fortunate to be paired with a writer who owns a small production company in Spain, and wants to write this as a possible feature for himself to produce.

So far, we've been bouncing back and forth some very general ideas. There is a Japanese myth that I wanted to use as the basis for a screenplay, and which I had some notes, characters, images, scenes developed for... but that idea was an epic fantasy, hardly suitable for a small indie. So, using the same myth (heck no I'm not telling), we looked at setting it in modern-day southern Spain.

I had a trio of characters at the center of my other idea, and I kept those same basic character relationships, but found myself wanting them to be very different other than that. I found a characteristic for the protagonist which lent itself to a good arc, and that told me what I needed from the other two in order for them to push that arc... but I was still lacking something that would make the idea gel.

I was lacking a thematic spine - the idea behind the story, which connects all of the characters and shapes the direction they all go as they come into conflict.

And it just came to me. A single emotional thread which runs through each of the three central characters and motivates them, and defines them. As I did that, more details about the characters, their relationships, and some of the major plot points clicked into place.

Which, again, is so very much like writing a poem. In a poem I might not have characters - but I would have different images or phrases, and it's when I find the common emotional thread that they all come into clear relationship to one another, both in harmony and in contrast.

Ah, that is so satisfying.

Now, assuming my writing partner digs my ideas, we have the basis for a powerful screenplay.

the Decision - a very long poem

My mother died from breast cancer one year ago. This is a poem I wrote not long afterward.

the Decision

How do you decide when?
How long is long enough?
When do you stop trying,
and let nature run its course?
For every step forward
she fell further back,
and we knew
the decision
was imminent.
The most difficult decision
anyone will ever have to make.

I'm being vague
and I know that's the death
of a poem, talking about
not showing.

Let me try
to give you a picture:

it started with wheezing,
as she stepped up the curb
to go into the hospital
to visit daddy,
who was lying attached to tubes
machines pumping
air into his lungs
food into his stomach
medicine into his veins
piss and shit into bags.
He was sedated
so he could "rest"
and tied down
so he wouldn't
unplug himself,
Swollen like
the balloons
in the Thanksgiving day parade
that he slept through.

We thought it was a cold.
I had a cough, too.
We were all stressed.

Two months later,
he was home,
barely able to stand
but still having to
wash the dishes
because she
was wheezing
He must have known,
really. I think he knew.


There I go, being vague again.

OK. Another picture.

She's showing me her bone scan.
She smiles.
She says she thought
all the bright spots
were cancer,
but it's only these.
Pointing out which
bright spots
are arthritis
and which
are cancer.

I know my mother.
This is her brave face.

It's in both lungs.
It's in the a remote site.

But it's not until she says this:
"Stage IV"
that she cries.

Saying it, it sinks in.

We are alone,
a rare thing –
she always has visitors.

I hold her,
my hand on her head,
feeling her tangled bed-hair
(I'll have to brush it)
I pull her gown together
in back, so she won't
moon anyone coming by.

We are sitting beside each other
on the bed.
She can still sit,
though standing
makes her pulse crash.

We look at the flowers
set in the window.
The stuffed giraffe
her "adopted" daughter brought.

She tells me –
when she was in the support group
during chemo
(nine years)
they wanted to have a separate group
for those with metastasis,
but she (my mother) insisted
that all of them
needed to hear
needed to know
needed to see
because it could be
any of them one day.

Stage IV
She knows, better than I do,
that this does not mean if,
but when.
Not better,
but how many months.
(average 16-24,
with better chances
if the disease is contained to
a single site,
which it was not.)

But there was
hope – it could me five years.
New drugs,
the one whose name
sounds like a barbarous word of evocation,
the one the doctor
said was a miracle drug:

So we made plans.
breakfasts on the front porch
dinner parties
walks in the park with the dogs

and that vacation to Cancun.
Asked my best friend
how many people
could stay in his timeshare.
Looked into the cost
of a flight.

Of course,
it would have to wait
'till the chemo was done.

Looked at scarves
for her head,
found a chocolate-colored
velvet one
I wanted to give her
for her birthday…
she would need it by then.

Then one morning
she couldn't breathe.

Same as my dad.
But alert.
With the tubes,
and wires.
The whirr of machines,
the beeping of monitors.
Hooked up.

The nurses said,
"I'm so sorry,"
because they knew us,
knew her.
After all,
we'd spent a couple of months
here already.

Do you know what it means
when they come and close
the doors to all the rooms
while you're visiting?
Peek out the blinds,
and watch them wheel
someone away,
face covered.

But see, she was alert.
And we still had hope.

Visitors. Laughter.
Careful questions,
how was my father's heath, really?
how were we doing, financially, really?
how were we holding up?
The answer to all three:
getting by.
You find a way,
because you just have to.

And she became frustrated,
wanting the tube to come out
so she could talk,
really talk,
to us.
As her hands swelled, and
her arms atrophied,
it became harder for her
to even write messages.

So much can be said with the raise an eyebrow.
and So much cannot.
She wanted the tube out so she could talk to us.
But even a minute without it,
and her oxygen levels
They discussed a trach,
but her heartbeat
had become unstable
(a rare complication
from the miracle drug)

I knew her. And I saw,
before anyone else.
She was starting to give up.

She stopped
doing her exercises,
her circulation
her bright moments

I love my mother,
but she was not a fighter…
well, not on her own behalf
(though plenty if it were
one of us)…

and she started to,

Swelled up,
so bad,
you could touch her hand
and it would leak
clear lymphatic fluid
out of the pores.

A lung tube for the fluid,
draining pink and yellow
into a box.
Beside the bags of piss
and shit.

Her pain increased,
her lucidity faded,
it was not long before
she was sedated.

And I hadn't had a chance
to be alone with her again,
and ask her
what she wanted us to do
if we had to make
that decision.

I knew it would come,
and no one else had thought about it

I was afraid to ask,
afraid of putting dark(er)
thoughts in her mind.

And then the doctors suggested
she might not ever leave
the ICU.
It made my father angry.
It made my sister cry.
My brother hid his feelings.
But I knew already.

So I asked the hard questions.
Life insurance, the will, "options."

Daddy knew what I meant, and said
it was too soon…
but a week later, he knew
we might have to make that decision.
We signed the orders.
The first time around,
they had discussed it.
So I felt OK about
the DNR.
Comfort care.
Keep up the drugs,
and the machines,
but don't stop arrest.

She became fragile.
They couldn't even turn her,
her heartbeat
would become chaotic.
So her bedsores worsened,
skin splitting open beneath her.

I was glad she was sedated.

And nothing was making her better,
every day a little worse.
Every treatment a new complication.
And she had to be in pain,
somewhere deep in there,
under the medication.

She no longer
even fluttered her eyes
to the sound
of my voice.

They asked
how long we wanted
to continue treatment.

That was it.
The decision.
How long do you continue
chasing away thanatos,
and when do you let nature
take its course?

We told them not yet…

and she held on
for their 37th,

and then started
slipping away,

heart rate slowing
to almost nothing.

I was at work,
and was told
I needed to come.

It was time.

I delayed.
They called again.

I said, OK.
Go ahead.
I will be there soon.

They turned off the machines.
Stopped all drugs
but the lortab.

And when I arrived,
there was only a wisp
of life

We felt like we should
be there, at her side,
when she passed,
but I was frightened
of how it might be,
the body's last gasp.

We went to lunch.
And she died while we were gone.
I think she chose it.

We returned,
and sat with her body,
in the room.
Her husband,
and all of her children,
including the "adopted" one.
We looked at her,
we made arrangements,
we remembered
and we laughed.

Until it was time to leave.

How do you decide when
to let someone you love
die? It's impossible,
and yet,
you find a way,
because you have to.

on the walls

A little while ago, I snagged a full-size movie poster for Black Snake Moan. I liked the movie - but I love the poster. I put it up on the wall in my office, near my desk... and then decided I needed more.

So I started searching out the posters for some of my favorite films. Trouble is, some of the posters suck (Buckaroo Banzai) and some are expensive (Pillow Book), others nearly impossible to find (Manchurian Candidate). In some cases, I found alternate versions of the poster that I liked. But I now have lined one wall with movie posters and I'm quite happy with the ones I've ended up with.

This is what is across my wall - with the second poster directly over my monitor. (Most of them are 27x41, a couple are slightly smaller. Yes, it is a long wall.)

gourmet therapy

When I'm stressed or depressed, one of my favorite ways to deal with it is to cook. It's also a chance to experiment. Cooking is very zen for me. I'm totally present, and forget everything else. There's also a kind of dance to it - moving around the kitchen to the time of the dishes as I prepare them.


carrots sauteed in brandy and honey mustard

salmon poached in white wine with sweet sauteed onions and tarragon, finished with a splash of cream and chambord

to drink: kir (the white wine with a touch of chambord)

The carrots were OK, but the salmon is amazing.

(massage, cooking - why am I single?)

change of direction

Well, I have enjoyed the last few months. I've been working from home for a company that was paying me a salary but not giving me much work (Pay-per-click advertising campaign management.) I knew it wouldn't last, but they've decided to end the contract... so now I need to start doing massage full time. And I need to make that start paying the bills within a couple of weeks.

I wish I had money saved up so I could lease a space, but it seems I may be doing outcall for a while. I hate outcall, even though it's what I thought I wanted to do, because I've found that 99% of outcall clients think they are getting something I don't do.

Oh, well. I'll make something work.
I always find a way to get by.

random brain spurt

I've had too much caffeine (which for me, is not much - I don't consume it regularly so it's easy for me to get wired on the stuff) and so you get another post from me before I go try to fall asleep.

I wrote a rather enthusiastic but perhaps not entirely relevant review of Mystery Man's The Toy Maker. Hey, it was fun, but if you looked at the first link, I think you'll see the effects that caffeine have on my thoughts are rather similar to the effects on the spider's ability to spin a coherent web. Or at least, it feels that way at the moment.

Then I read this tidbit on Jane Espenson's blog:

I'm reminded of one of my first jobs. We were working together as a staff on a script. We had just put in a stage direction: Fran enters, walking on eggshells. After a moment's thought we changed it to something like Fran enters cautiously. The show had a very eager and very literal crew, and we feared that actual eggshells might appear on the set.

Which reminds me of something totally not related to screenwriting.
When I was a chef in Prague, one of the keys on the register was "misc food." When someone wanted extra dressing, or a side of bacon or whatever - the waitperson would ring it up as "misc food" with an appropriate price, and then was supposed to write on the ticket what the item was before giving the ticket to the kitchen. But, well, sometimes they would forget.

Cooks are troublemakers. Incompetent waitstaff are their favorite toys... and the tricks can be cruel, because incompetent waitstaff make our lives difficult and make us look bad. It's not uncommon for the cooks to stick a plate under the broiler and "forget" to warn the disliked waitperson. Which is not funny - it's downright dangerous. As a chef, I encouraged a little creativity among my staff in order to avoid the more extreme or nasty (such as spitting in the food, or dropping it on the floor) commonplaces. Misc food was our favorite.

One particularly vapid and annoying waitress (whom we had nicknamed the "Barbie Doll for her blonde hair and the cause of her glassy-eyed smile) was constantly making mistakes, who kept her job because she was a consummate brownnoser. Once she was so busy following the owner around, she had a table walk out on her. She never, ever wrote down what the misc food was supposed to be. So, we would set out a small side plate with her order - containing miscellaneous food. One olive, a crust of bread, and, usually - an eggshell.

She never did get that right. She ended up getting arrested when she ran out of happy pills and tried to slit her boyfriend's throat with a broken mirror. Yes, while she was on shift. Fortunately, it was in back of the kitchen rather than out on the floor. Barbiturate addiction is a terrible thing.

Oh, yes - my days as an expat are full of colorful characters and dramatic stories. It'll take a lifetime to weave them into my work... (so I don't need any more tragedies, OK universe? I'll be perfectly content to have happy stories from here on out.)

Page One

I'm going to blather about my process, and talk too much about my story - because I'm working things out in my head.

Not long ago, I posted about the Script Frenzy writing project. I intended to participate, writing a new screenplay from scratch during the month of June.

Instead, I've gotten stuck on my rewrite of "From the Ashes," a script I wrote the first draft of three years ago and then lost, and found again. I love the imagery. I love the characters, and the protagonists arc. I love the theme... but I've realized that it's, well... boring.

I write my first draft by hand in a notebook, and as I type it up, I tweak it - solidifying the character's voices, improving action lines, smoothing out progression in scenes, adding transitions in or between scenes. As I was working through my hand-written draft, I realized that I had written the same two scenes over and over again, with tiny variations. There's no progress for the first 2/3 of the story - just tiny revelations about the characters. Not surprising, because when I wrote this - I was stuck myself, and the theme deals with my own issue. My own attempt to rise from the ashes. So I have a 70 page character study about two messed up people and one somewhat stable one who doesn't do much.

Great. Solid characters, but not a film. At least not one I would go see.

So I added a new opening with more on the backstory, because it's the protag's past which makes her present dillema so intense. But, well, it's backstory. So I took it out. Then added it back, and considered bringing more of that story into the present - making the two timelines overlap.


She was a model for a controversial fetish photographer, who was her husband. He was abusive, and that abuse became part of his art. She took it, because he was a "genius." Until she couldn't. Then he died - under circumstances she could have prevented but made the conscious choice not to.

Secondary character's backstory (not the antagonist, as the antagonist is herself): a kid, who, tries to show off for his mom who is a bit permissive and a little drunk at the time, has an accident which nearly kills him - and leaves him badly scarred, and (as we find out) epileptic.

The story opens with these two, a few years later, encountering one another. He's a teen and trying not to need his dad so much, mom is an absent parent - gone off to chase an adolescent dream. She is closed off and trying not to need anyone... but he latches on to her, and she finds herself befriending him. She needs to help him, but doesn't trust herself - worries that her baggage means that she'll do him more harm than good... but she also needs to redeem herself, and so, when she realizes the extent of his problems - rather than tell his father, she tries to "fix" things herself...

which is all I've really got for the first two acts.

So, next thing I do when I'm rewriting is to take all the scenes I have so far, write them on cards and shuffle them. I add new scenes, and take out scenes and set them aside. In reality, I do much of this in my head.

I've been writing poetry for nearly 30 years. My process with that is thus: I write it once on paper (sometimes, now, I do write it electronically.) Then, I write the whole thing again, simply transcribing it, making small tweaks. This may be on paper once more, or may be typing it into an e-doc. Same as I do with the screenplays. Next, I take every line and I put spaces between them, making them into separate entities. I may leave a few stanzas together, as I do sequences of scenes in a script - because I'm confident that the progression there is exactly as I want it. Then I shuffle. Sometimes a random re-arrangement gives new energy to tired lines, points to a new direction. Sometimes I end up putting things back much as they were. Sometimes I cut out most of it, keeping only a fraction of the original. And sometimes I add in a great deal more.

And often, I do all of that in my head - juggling images and lines. I've been doing it long enough that I can manage much of it that way, see the effect without actually executing it. (I do the same with recipes when I cook. I can taste how certain ingredients will effect one another before I put them in the pan together.)

So, while I haven't typed or written much in the last couple of weeks - I've stripped down and re-built this thing in my head several times. I scan the draft - and re-consider. Make a note or two. I've figured out which scenes contribute nothing new, and which are essential to the theme and the characters. Only a couple are essential to the plot, as thin as the plot is. I've merged two characters (in an already small cast.)

I decided I needed a strong subplot to liven things up.

I had the seed of one, but hadn't really brought it out - related to her modeling, rather than focusing on her as the widow of an abuser.

I looked at the logline again, and realized that the fact that she's a widow is nowhere near as interesting as the fact that she's a former fetish model. (Mentioning both makes it a bit clunky.) But if I call her that in the logline, I need to bring that element into play earlier.

And that's when the whole thing turned inside out.

I'm now switching my A story and my B story. Which means cutting way back on the boy, who I've written so many pages about. Simplifying his dilemma - so that I can focus on an entirely new dramatic conflict for my protagonist. One which is actually external. One which involves a real antagonist. And which externalizes the theme, so that the B story can be the internal struggle.

But that means I'm scrapping all but about ten scenes, and starting from scratch.

So it is: a page one re-write. Back to the outline. I hope to have the outline (an actual written one) complete by Friday, and "From the Ashes" will be my project for Script Frenzy.

Yes, I've talked a lot about my ideas. Am I worried someone might steal them? What, are you kidding? Because the story of a widowed fetish model and abuse victim and a troubled epileptic boy is so commercial? Even if I had the nearly 12,000 people reading this blog that I have as friends on my poetry profile - I doubt any of them would have the personal experience to elucidate those characters even if they wanted to. And I've not said anything about my new A plot, except that it ties back to the modeling.

Nah, this one's mine. It's personal. And now that I've found the key to making it a movie, I'm excited about it again, and making progress on paper and not just reconstructing in my head.

Modulating Tone: Comedy and Its Functions in Dead Again

So, after I watched Dead Again, I had all kinds of great thoughts circulating in my head about this subject... but I hurt my back, and then I got a flu or maybe food poisoning (yes, the drama never stops in the Deerfield house) - and am only just now feeling up to sitting at my desk for more than a few minutes... and I've lost most of my sharp insights.

Nonetheless, I will attempt to touch on the points briefly.

One of the difficulties of the story in Dead Again is that there is a tremendous amount of exposition. Not only do we have a mystery in the present day, but a whole second storyline in the past - plus we have to learn about reincarnation and about hypnosis - at least as they work in the universe of this story.

The primary tool Scott Frank uses to help us over these expository chunks is humor. He has an entire character, played by Robin Williams, whose function is essentially to explain the rules: "Thanks to fate, the only cosmic force with a tragic sense of humor, you burn someone now, they get to burn you later. That's the karmic credit plan. Buy now, pay forever."

Because we're entertained by the speeches, we don't mind them so much.

In fact, there's another comic relief character whose primary function is to bring in exposition: Mike Church's friend Pete. He explains, through a story, how traumatic amnesia works. This scene is at once slightly creepy, amusing, and even a little bit touching. This complexity of tone helps distract us from the fact that we're getting expository chunks.

Another use of humor is as a distraction. When we are introduced to the character who will prove to be the antagonist - he seems like a harmless kook. It is the light humor in the scene which makes this work, because he is, in fact, borderline creepy. He is, in fact, casing the place. He recognizes the period furniture and so likely surmises Mike's connection to his own past. His hypnotism without permission is a violation, but he deflects criticism of his behavior by commenting that the water tastes a bit like bourbon. He picks up the glove (a crucial plot point, the fact that we know he saw it there) but then deflects attention from his action by commenting again on the furniture.

Another writer may have played this introduction of the character much differently, but using humor to deflect in this way works to keep our suspicion off of him for longer.

One more use is the "calm before the storm,"... OK, so this is where my memory fails me. I know that I noted this as I was watching it - but it's been a couple of weeks and I don't recall the moment.

There are even small injections of humor into the middle of the most dramatic scenes: in the final confrontation, Pete walks in with a pizza. Here humor helps to ratchet up the tension one more degree.

While all of these examples are about humor in this drama, the importance is really the modulation of tone overall. The placement of slower scenes before the most intense ones, of a mix of humor and concern and curiosity and romance and danger - all in the same scenes. Rarely is anything played for one note. Rarely is a scene about one element of the story, or one aspect of character development. This modulation helps make such a complex plot work by packing more into each scene.

from the "just wrong" department

In this week's Entertainment Weekly, I saw two snippets:

Elijah Wood is to play Iggy Pop in a biopic (oh dear)

The new Rodriguez version of Barbarella will not be campy in any way (double oh dear)

Storytelling Objects: Props as Story Devices in Dead Again

I watched Dead Again for the umpteenth time. It's one of my favorite movies, but it's been a while since I'd seen it - and I've never listened to the writer's commentary on the film.

There were two aspects of the screenplay that he discussed which really interested me: the use of objects as storytelling devices
the modulation of tone in scenes

The plot of this story is complex. If you haven't seen it, you won't be able to follow my discussion... so go watch it already. It's great fun.

I think that the first subject is interesting, because as a writer, I find it easy to get too much in my head - and the real 3-D world of plastic, material objects can be overlooked. In Dead Again, objects are used as clues, as character development, to imply relationships between the present and the past, and to reveal plot points.

Minor objects include the gloves and furniture... The gloves. Grace has only one glove when Mike meets her. It's a clue - both about her, and it ends up being a clue about who is behind her attempted abduction. (Who could know she was missing a glove?)

Furniture - specifically chairs. Grace blocks her door at night with a chair. Mike collects furniture that could have been in Roman's home, and comments specifically on a chair (which she then uses to block her door.) When the adult Frankie comes into his home, he comments on one of the chairs, also subtly revealing his connection to that period. Couches - the first time Roman and Margaret have sex, they are wet on a couch, and the sex scene with Mike and Grace mirrors this.

The most important are the scissors, and the anklet.

The story revolves around a murder that was done with a pair or scissors. "Grace" (aka Amanda) dreams about them. We see several around Mike's house. In one scene, he uses them to cut up bacon while he's cooking.

They've been shown and we've built up fear around them - so the scene in which he tries clumsily to assure Grace that he's not dangerous works well. He storms around the house, pulling her along, picking up each pair of scissors and giving them to her, forcing them into her hand. This is also a nice way of showing that it was not he, but she, who held the scissors which were the murder weapon in the past.

When we finally take Grace/Amanda back to her house, we see that she's been obsessed with scissors for a while. Suddenly the three or four pair that Mike had don't look nearly so ominous as compared to the dozens of paintings and sculptures she has.

Then there are the actual scissors which were used in the murder. We see them in the memories, used to cur hair, sitting on a dresser... as well as in Grace's nightmares - where they threaten her, and finally in the scene of the actual murder. When the antiques collector pulls them out, and shows that he owns them now, we already know that it was he who used them to kill Margaret. The other scissors have all just been echoes of this pair, and none carry the threat that these do.

The anklet: This object has a myth attached to it. It becomes a symbol of their love, of their romance. When Frankie considers stealing it, it is a threat to the couple and not simply the theft of an object. When she wears it in to the party, and Gray Baker admires it - he is, unconsciously perhaps, not admiring her only, but admiring them as a couple. It connects Roman and Margaret for all time, two halves of one whole, so that they return to one another in their new life. When Frankie kills her, and takes the anklet, he pulls it - snapping the clasp, as though breaking the bond.

When Frankie's mother pulls it out to give it to Mike, it is as though she's been the guardian of the love for all these years. She was always the protector - of Frankie, but also of Roman... and despite his love for another woman, she preserved the symbol of his happiness. She returned it to Mike, and the return of the anklet precipitates the resolution, and thus ends the artificial separation between the lovers.

But before that can occur, of course, justice must be done and the murderer is done in by his own weapon - the original scissors are buried in his back.

Thus the two central symbols of the film are opposites - the scissors which divide, and the anklet which unites.


In a comment on another blog, I remarked on my experience studying with Allen Ginsberg - and someone asked me to talk more about that.

Ginsberg himself was more a presence than a teacher - he was at some of the parties, in some of the performances, had some conversations... in fact, he was one of those gay men for whom women do not really impact his reality much. I was introduced to him four times (the school's director thought he'd enjoy my work,) and each time he looked right past me. I wasn't offended so much as amused.

At any rate - this was my response. It ended up being pretty lengthy, so I thought I'd put it here as well.

Well, I took the MFA course in Writing and Poetics at Naropa University. The writing school there was founded by Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg - and named (somewhat absurdly) the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics - the latter half of the name being a reference to Gertrude Stein. I say absurdly, because I always considered Kerouac's work to be very much embodied, very much physical... but that little contradictory bit of excessive name dropping was very much in the spirit of the beat poets.

It's a small school, and the writing department, graduate and undergraduate, was perhaps 60 students, so there was a wonderful intimacy with the instructors. Ginsberg was there in the summer, and others like Hakim Bey, Adrienne Rich, Jerome Rothenberg and Diane diPrima taught courses. Anselm Hollo was on the regular staff. Other people came and spoke, performed or visited - including Philip Glass, Gregory Corso, Ed Sanders, and Ram Daas... I did a fundraiser with Ferlinghetti for a minority students' fund and got chewed out by Amiri Baraka for the same.

Really, it was an incomparable experience. I have several stories.

What I learned (and can apply to screenwriting,) and this may seem as contradictory as the school's name, was the value of structure. I wrote more formal poems while I was there than I ever have. I found that using the structure of a defined form was freeing to the imagination, it gave inspiration a lightning post to be drawn to. It allowed you to direct and craft the raw idea.

I was particularly fond of repetitive forms like the pantoum, which taught me how an image can be repeated to tie a poem together - and can change meaning slightly every time it recurs.

It also inspired me to go out and get life experience, to travel and have adventures - rather than become an academic. Nothing against academia. If I had gone that route I'd probably have a small measure more recognition as a poet, and a literary critic or theorist... but I think I've lived a far more interesting life.

For some of my poetry (I no longer write in form much, but it still influences my work):

The Big Bucks to the Men

Not surprising since I've already noted the lack of women overall behind the camera in Hollywood, such as the abysmally low percentage of women directors (4-5%)... but I was curious how much was the most a woman had ever been paid for a screenplay.

Look at the following:
Top 11 Highest Paid Screenwriters
Screenwriter's Salaries
Highest Paid Screenwriters

In the first list, there are no women.
In the second, there is one woman's name attached to a produced screenplay - but the other (2 or 3) mentions of women on the second two pages are all for unproduced work. In fact, the highest amount offered to a woman was offered on the condition she step away from a project she'd written for herself - and she refused. (It hardly counts if she didn't even take the money.) All of the women on the list had male collaborators. The single produced script was co-authored by Anne-Marie Crichton and her husband - Michael... I feel somewhat certain it would have sold for as much without her name attached.

In response to this, I declare my intention to have the record for the most paid to a woman for a produced screenplay. So there.

Perfect Toffee

I just had the perfect toffee. Not too hard or too sweet. A soft crunch with a buttery finish and a nice saltiness. It is rare to find toffee that's the perfect consistency.

Vosges Caramel Toffee

What's this got to do with screenwriting?

Well, we all need a little inspiration from time to time.

the Long Shot

Several examples of the long shot used well:

I'll add to this list Dead Again. There are a few long shots in it, notably one which was filmed as a single long shot but got edited down - the first hypnotism scene in the antiques shop. It was actually a dolly shot, because they wanted smoother movement than a steadicam could provide, as it circled slowly around the room. The challenge was to make the room big enough for the camera and the track, but still make the space feel small and close.

There are other long shots as well... I may have to watch it again to note some of them. Been thinking about writing on the use of objects as narrative in film, and Dead Again has some wonderful examples of that.

Personal Context and Movies

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike the movie Birth.

The main one is the creepy burgeoning relationship between Nicole Kidman's character and a 10 year old boy. No, it never crosses the line, but they do discuss sex, and behave in other completely inappropriate ways.

The other is the fact that the characters all seem socially retarded. As though none of them has ever been around a child, and they have no idea how to react to one. As though they have never been presented with a preposterous story and had to engage their minds to question it in more than the most shallow way.

Some folks found the pacing too slow, but that didn't bother me. I thought that the pace was as elegant as the cinematography and music - which was stunning. I re-watched the opening scene twice after the film was over.

The acting was powerful, though there were times when the dialogue seemed to be trying too hard to sound like Mamet and came off as choppy and tongue-tied. Unsure if that was a problem with the script or the actors.

Some folks were bothered by what they perceived as loose ends, but I didn't care that the ending is not neat.

In fact, there was much about the film that I enjoyed... but on the whole, my gut instinct is deep, visceral hatred. Yes, I hated this movie. I avoided watching it for a long time, because I knew I would hate it - but then I read something about it which intrigued me. (A review which said it was neither a con artist story nor a reincarnation movie.)

I should have simple passed on it.

You see, I am a widow. About the same length of time as Nicole Kidman's character, Anna - ten years. Like Anna, it took me several years to even begin dating again. My own grief was complicated by the fact that my husband as also a complete bastard (and that's being nice about it)... but I can relate strongly to the character.

I knew how much this child showing up just as she was ready to marry another man would destroy her. I knew how hard it would be. In fact, I saw it as a metaphor for the feelings that would come up in her as she prepared to marry - that the husband she thought she had finally let go of would come back and "haunt" her and she would behave in a foolish manner and even think of running away.

But what pissed me off was having her interact with this child as though he were an adult. It's one thing to believe that the kid is her husband. I can imagine being faced with this. I cannot imagine, from that point, discussing sex with this child. Allowing this child to take off his clothes and bathe with me. Allowing a kiss that has the tenderness of a lover. It simply would not happen. I would want to keep the child in my life, yes - but I would not consider making this kid my partner.

Crossing that line makes her entirely unsympathetic. Not only because of the pedophilic implications - but because it makes her weak. In fact, she doesn't grow or change. At the end of the film, she's still hung up on him, and has not been able to move on. She's crippled by her grief. I want to slap her and tell her she's not the only widow in the world. I want to medicate her. I want her to grow the fuck up and stop being a selfish, whiny little nit.

This reaction interested me, because I think it's the first time I've disliked a film because of my personal relationship to it. I've loved movies irrationally before.

I love The Long Kiss Goodnight, because it strikes a chord with me. I spent most of my life as an adventurer, traveling and pursuing goals that most people never consider. I may not have been an assassin (was never that cool!) but I definitely lived in a way that was antithetical to the PTA-mom universe. And part of me longed for that world. Part of me wanted to just put my past aside, pretend it didn't happen, have a kid and bake cookies. I make great cookies. And she's eventually able to integrate this other side, and live happily as uber-mom... Well, I do admit that the fact that I had taken a few magic mushrooms before watching it the first time may have enhanced my sense of the films profundity. (What? I was in Prague. It was legal.)

Another film I have an irrationally soft spot for is The Fifth Element. This was a decent movie. I recognize that it's not fantastic. That it's a fun ride and entertaining - and for most people not much more... but the circumstances under which I watched it the first time mean that it effected me profoundly. No, I wasn't tripping - I was grieving.

My husband and I were staying at a friend's place in the country, and I had to go into the city to work. I slept in the office at the bar where I was the head chef, because the commute was too long... I was scheduled for three days of double shifts over the weekend, and then he was going to come into Prague and we would go watch the movie together Sunday night.

Instead, our friend came to see me at work on Saturday to tell me he'd died.

Dazed, I went to see the movie a few days later. Sitting in the back of the balcony, in a mostly empty theater, I knew my husband would have thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I was moved deeply by the message that the fifth element is love. I cried a lot. And the movie still affects me more than it reasonably should.

But that's part of the wonder of art. As a poet, I long ago stopped worrying about whether people understood what I was trying to say - and became more interested in whether they came away from a poem touched or moved in some way. The poems became less about expression and more about connection. A movie becomes a collaboration with the audience. They receive it according to their interests, knowledge, abilities, circumstances - and transform it into a personal experience that makes it unique to them.


I named him Rebound, because the first night in my house he leapt from the couch, bounced off the coffee table, and flew three feet through the air to land by my feet.

I found him by the fire hydrant in my front yard, very young, a little scared, happy to see me. No one in the neighborhood was missing a puppy. His collar was too tight. His paws had no dirt on them, and were as soft as his belly - as if he'd never walked on a hard surface in his life - so I'm pretty sure he was dropped there. (I'm on a corner near a major street.)

He's recovering well. Still has pain around his ribcage and shoulders, but has figured out how to walk on three legs (though only for brief periods - the front leg that works has a cracked scapula, and it tires quickly.)

Last night, he used those springs in his butt to leap onto the couch. The couch is as tall as he is, but he just leaned back and sprung up - landing on his back legs and then letting himself tip forward onto the cushions so he wouldn't impact his front legs...

Looks like one of his legs is completely dead, though - and it will likely have to be amputated.

But he's going to adapt just fine!

Script Frenzy

I've been taking care of my injured baby, and haven't had much time to do more than that - but a have gotten online a few minutes here and there...

Came across this:

I'll be doing it. I did get about 70 pages of a novel written during National Novel Writing Month (though I didn't finish it - should have outlined.) A screenplay in a month seems much more achievable.

Besides - I love deadlines.

Pray for my puppy...

My puppy got hit by a car tonight. Knocked out cold and dragged several feet...

He's at the emergency clinic right now, under observation.
It's going to cost me a hell of a lot of money, but it looks like he's going to be OK. He might lose the use of one leg due to nerve damage. There's still the possibility of more serious neurological damage, or blood clots.

Right now he's in a lot of pain, and scared...

I'll pick him up in the morning and take him to the regular vet to talk about surgery and rehab.

I don't have any children, so he's my baby and means a lot to me.

(pictures: http://new.photos.yahoo.com/empressgate/album/576460762395594812 )

Cache: What's Hidden Here?

If you are looking for an example of subtext, Cache (Hidden) is a must-see. Not only do each of the scenes speak volumes by what is not said, but there is a subtext underlying the film as a whole.

In all honesty, I rarely like minimalist filmmaking. Usually it comes off as pretentious and boring. It communicates too little, does a poor job of engaging the viewer. And while there are many viewers who no doubt think the same of Cache - Haneke's tale of guilt managed to keep me mesmerized.

It starts off so quietly, I was about to stop the disc and see if something was wrong. There is almost no sound as the opening credits roll. No music (either here or elsewhere in the film,) no dialogue, and just the barest hint of ambient sounds. The camera is still, watching a house from the street. A car passes, a person leaves.

And then staticy lines appear on the screen, and we realize we're watching a video tape. The characters begin talking about it. It's been left on their doorstep.

Through the course of the movie, we realize that the protagonist hides more than he shows. He may interview intellectuals on his TV show, but he does a poor job of communicating in real life. The vague threat posed by the tapes they receive serves to throw a light on the problems that existed already between the two - and at the same time point to an almost-forgotten incident from his childhood.

He feels such guilt (despite denying it) over this incident, he won't talk about it. Won't even put words to it. It's hidden, buried. Not such a horrible thing, a simple childish act of selfishness - but with horrible consequences.

In once scene, his wife comes into the room - and they argue. He says almost nothing. She's frustrated with him. Behind them is a wall of books and videotapes with a television in the center. On the television is news footage. Photos of faces, presumably missing or dead men. Tanks, fighting - as they argue, a war goes on between them.

In another, when the mother confronts her son - he indirectly accuses her of adultery. All he says is, "ask Pierre, he knows everything" - but the pouting, and her reaction, say it all. She insists Pierre is only a friend, and the audience is left with their doubts. Perhaps she complains to her husband so much about the tapes to distract from her own hidden guilt. It's never resolved, one more tense string played through the story.

At the end, nothing is resolved - and this feels utterly right. Because the story was not about the tapes, but about guilt. About long-hidden actions and their repercussions.

Ultimately, its about national guilt for a long-repressed act. In 1961, in Paris, the French police killed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unarmed Algerian protesters. It was not until 1998 that the police chief was convicted, and 2001 before a plaque honoring the dead was put up. According to the director, it's a piece of French history that is rarely spoken of, hidden - much like the protagonist's past.

It is precisely by approaching the subject so indirectly that Cache succeeds.

On the Edge of Blade Runner

I have mixed feelings about the news that Ridley Scott is re-shooting scenes for Blade Runner. Tinkering with something so long after the fact, well, it seems like it would be hard to retain the original vision - much less match scenes to the older movie.

But I'm also intrigued. Blade Runner is easily one of my favorite films of all time. In fact, I've watched it more times than any other single movie. (Though Buckaroo Banzai comes close.)

There is a good British documentary about Blade Runner, called On the Edge of Blade Runner. It runs about an hour total. Enjoy.

Communicating with Color

I am among the minority who figured out the "twist" in Sixth Sense well before it was revealed. Now, to be fair, I did go into it looking for clues - because I knew there was a surprise - but people had done a remarkable job of keeping silent about the nature if that surprise and I had not been given the slightest hint.

I believe I figured it out because I'm very attuned to color. I tend to link my memories to the color someone was wearing, or the color of a room. I noticed all those little bits of red Shyamalan placed at key moments.

Now, red does not inherently have a meaning that would associate it with the dead, but by using it consistently, the filmmaker imbued it with his own meaning. He does the same again in other films: red and yellow in The Village (where it was explained explicitly - and thus became too heavy-handed), in Unbreakable it was green and purple (which really gave me the sense of the comic-book world of the movie.)

Shyamalan uses it almost like a blog tag. Every time we see X we see color A.

I'm wishing I had sat down to re-watch Kurosawa's Ran before writing this blog. People comment all the time on how visually striking the color is, how it made the battle scenes so powerful, with the movements of the armies swirling against one another. But I would be interested to see whether the colors assigned to each son were purposeful. For instance, the faithful son was blue. (I have no idea whether there is a similar Japanese association as in the west - "true blue.")

Many directors use is to help set a mood.

American Beauty is an excellent example. Using the emotional associations we already have with red, the color is used to accent passion and sensuality. The red rose posy that is so tightly arranged is like Carolyn's restrained and controlled sexuality. Lester fantasizes about those red rose petals falling, coming loose, slipping wetly from a mouth...

David Lynch uses color in heightened ways to create his exaggerated moods and often a sense of uneasiness or surrealism...

But the director who comes to my mind most when I think of the intentional use of color as a storytelling element is Peter Greenaway.

Greenaway is a former painter, and his films show a strong visual sense, shots carefully framed. He exemplifies film as a visual storytelling medium better than any director I can think of - using the images themselves to convey meaning as much as any character or plot element. Nearly all of his movies use color in interesting ways. The film that most exemplifies this is probably The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover.

The Cook, The Thief is a rich and intense film of social and political criticism. (Among other things.) Each of the four characters represents a strata of society, and their relationships are how these strata interact with one another.

The Thief, who bullies them all, is consumerist capitalism - Thatcherist England. He's crass and abusive and greedy. His wife is society - kept tightly bound and dependent, mostly inured to the awful things he says and does to her. She seems icy, and yet yearns for something rich in all the ways her wealthy husband is not. The object of desire between two men. (But don't ever confuse one of Greenaway's women for a victim. They are vicious in their own way.) The cook is the working class and/or the artist - he's French, an immigrant, humiliated by his employer and yet he needs him in order to have a place to both earn his bread and practice his art... and the lover represents the intellectuals, carefully skirting consumerist society, trying to taste the good things without being destroyed by the greed. It's no accident that he reads about the French Revolution, and the chef whose art inspires him, who ultimately defies the Thief, is French.

(Greenaway himself likes to leave his work open to interpretation and comments little on meaning. The most he's said about this film is that it is about a "claustrophobic European situation" and that he compares to the baroque through visual cues. He wants to force the viewer to be an active participant in the art.)

Color is a major structural element, as much a part of creating the meaning as framing or editing.

The domains of these individuals are each color-coded. The ladies' room is white. All purity. The heavenly escape. The dining room is red and pruple, lurid and oppresively ostentatious (red: the "power color") - hell itself, where the devil reigns. The kitchen, which is the creative and fertile center of the film, is lush greens. The parking lot is in blues, not calm here but dark and otherworldly, almost menacing. This is a borderland between the restaurant and the ordinary world. The book depository (the lover's realm - away from the restaurant) in modest browns, leather and wood - things of true wealth and lasting value as opposed to the flashier and more temporal riches of the dining room.

There is also a brief use of yellow in the hospital, where it is used as a symbol of fertility and healing - as the yolk of an egg.

As the characters pass from one room, one realm to another - their clothing changes color to match. A dress that was red in the dining room is white in the bathroom. They are a product of their environments, changing easily. One exception is that the lover retains his brown clothing while in the restaurant - he is not effected by the lavish surroundings, does not belong to this realm - is only a visitor in hell.

Interestingly, the wife - who is the protagonist of the film, the one who undergoes a transformation in the ladies' room, is the only one who ever changes here. Though her lover meets her here, he is unaffected - and no one else enters. The room is so bright, it's almost a transformative fire.

The other character who retains his own color throughout, though he does not often leave his realm, is the cook (white, though his realm is green.) Despite his circumstances, the artist retains his identity. Perhaps he is already transformed.

I could go on a great deal longer about this movie - but the copy I ordered last week turns out to have been the wrong format, so I can't pop in the DVD and make notes and am relying mostly on my memory and a little research. (Couldn't recall what location was yellow, and whether the parking lot was blues or greys.)

But Greenaway's use of color makes clear that this element can be used not simply to make something pop on screen, or to make dramatic images - but to create meaning and structure in cinema.

(crossposted here)