Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Hello, creative folks and friends:
Once again my top fave five of 2009 for books, movies, and music.
Sudden Fiction (Various) Anthology of great short shorts. This is the fiction writer’s version of poetry. Sure some of them are gimmicky, but I don’t mind the occasional card trick.
Kill Your Friends (John Niven) Dark, dark satire on the music industry in the 90’s. Hookers and blow and laugh out loud funny. Seriously. Snot flew.
Coming Through Slaughter (Michael Ondaatje) Dense and loose and jumps around like good jazz. Even if you only catch every fifth note, you’ll catch the beauty. Reminded me of Cormac MaCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It rewards close reading. I plan to make my way through his backlist (though probably skipping The English Patient).
Last Evenings on Earth (Roberto Bolaño) Great short stories. Especially for creative types.
Jelly Roll (Kevin Young) Jazzy, earthy poetry. I even read some of them outloud. I never do that.
Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates) Haven’t seen the movie. Don’t want to see the movie. But hardly a few pages didn’t go by where I tagged, flagged or marked a line, or paragraph. Brutally insightful into relationships and the ability to manipulate others and ourselves. I even wrote a paper on it.
Okay that was 6. It was a good year. Interesting to note that 3 of my favorite reads were required reading in my MFA program. Those cats know their stuff.
Synechode, NY – Easily dismissed as pretentious, but I found it to be a commentary on artistic pretension and filled with much black humor. It lingered with me weeks after I saw it. A lot of people got lost in the Rubic’s Cube of it all, but I think I have the simple answer for it. “Courage in art, but not life.” Feel free to email after you’ve seen it. (simply a man trying to impress a girl.)
Star Trek – Brought out the kid in me. (yeah, Bana is no Khan, and there was some silliness, but at a certain point I didn’t care.) I have since watched this on DVD three times. Love it. Cannot wait for the next one.
The Hurt Locker – Wow.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson without being too obtuse. Funny, witty, wry and endearing. Will probably buy it. Nothing like the charm of real stop-motion. This one I think will continue to gain an audience as word of mouth from everyone who sees it seems to be quite taken with it.
Man on Wire – Who knew a story about a high-wire walker could be so profound and beautiful? (This won the Oscar last year for Documentary, but I’m a bit behind.)
Official Rejection – A great indie doc on getting an indie film through the indie film festival. Disclaimer: I know the writer/producers/director. I met them on the circuit when they were shooting all their experiences. I was out with Hard Scrambled, they were out with Ten 'Til Noon. Paul crashed with us while suffering through the Chicago Indie Fest. I had to have a few stiff drinks while watching this. It was like watching an alternate reality homemovie of my own experiences. I have a two second cameo... barkeep!
Best Live Music Show:
The Hoyle Brothers – True honky tonk country. Covers and originals. They place Happy Hour every Friday at the Empty Bottle from 5:30 – 7:30. I always being my Texas friends and they always give a seal of approval. And you can request songs they don’t play and they’ll give it a go. “Streets of Bakerfields” for example. Twice. Nice guys too.
Springsteen – The Boss. As good as advertised.
The Guggenheim Grotto – It boasts the band’s same signature mix of timeless, multi-instrumental pop/folk, but offers a greater maturity and a higher sense of self-consciousness while delving into more sampling and electronic techniques. – Nic Harcourt.
The first song they sang was just vocals and a ukulele (which I guess you can get away with if you’re Irish) and won the crowd over immediately. I listen to this smart, haunting music all the time. Great live, and good background, but the lyrics are intelligent and catchy. Listen closely. Another great opening act discovery at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.
The Tillers – A twentysomething trio. One mic and old timey/bluegrass music. They were nervous as this was their first gig in the Chicago area., so they churned through their songs and at the ½ hour mark asked the soundman how much time they had. Answer 20 more minutes. You should have seen them relax. Even told a story or two about their new VW bus called Gus and then they jammed the rest of the way through their set. Great guys. Great music. (Later I was told they had to beg for the gig—I’m sure they’ll be back. Crowd loved them.). Yet another great opening act discovery at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.
The Flaming Lips. Floor seats (standing, who sits at a Lips show?). Another transformative experience. I usually just sit back at shows and take in all the music, but this one I got lost in and I’m not just talking about the copious amounts of confetti. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. You just can’t watch a Lips show passively. Especially on the floor. You gotta love a band whose first song is about two scientist racing for a cure and staged with all the wonderfulness and joy and theatrics of other bands’ finales. Joy over anger. Oh Yoshimi...
HONORABLE MENTION: Queensryche: met the band backstage with Carrie Hill (whose wily ways got us backstage passes). And through some quirk of conversation, Geoff Tate believes I have fathered both of Carrie’s daughters. We sealed the deal with a fist bump (Geoff and I). Awe. Some.
Thanks for reading. Happy New Year.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Fucking soul crushing.
I'm talking broken spirit epic. And yet, it happened with a quiet email.
And so I quit. I quit writing.
See in the couple of years from when I started to get the script into fighting shape, several Iraqi themed movies tanked. Actually, all of them. So there we are excellent script and dick in hand. And no movie.
So I quit the biz. I quit writing. I told myself to live a year without the fucking pencil or staring at a computer screen or blank page. But what to do now? So many thing... so I learned the bass guitar. I joined a cover band. I gardened. I experimented successfully with and made my own BBQ sauce (DBQ- Red Eye Jack ad Smokey Bee). I lived an external present in the moment life and it was amazing. Huh... so this is what regular people do.
But you know the script is just sitting there and someone mentioned the Nicholl Fellowship contest the big Academy sponsored screenplay contest. I remember thinking when is that deadline only to look it up online and see that it was THAT day. Through a mishmash of electronic shuffling and faxing, credit cards and dropped elevator calls Mark and I get both LA and Chicago signatures on the application and submit the script at the deadline.
Cut to: a few months later. We make the QF. The first time I've/we've done so. It's 50/50 for the next cut and for whatever reason we don't make it. We'll have to be happy with the top 5%. But getting that first letter and reading it to Mark over the phone was a nice moment. A few months later we start getting emails asking to read the script. It's flattering, but know the end result: it's not commercial enough. It's actor'award bait, but not the time.
But the thing about screenwriting and movies is nothing is ever really dead. And the path is never clear or predictable. At my shitty day job, a junior broker here and I chat occasionally and he mentions his buddy from college is in the biz. Turns out he's a successful screenwriter having been Joel Schumacher's assistant for many years. Before he wrote himself into a room with Vince Vaughn. I seemed to recall this fact about his buddy 18 months earlier, but the timing was wrong and I didn't have anything ready to go even if I could get him to pimp my stuff. Again, timing.
But it comes up in conversation again and I asked if he'd introduce me, I had after all just placed in teh QF of Nicholl and he'd know what that meant. He got my stuff and shortly thereafter called me and offered to help out. Going against my better judgment I sent him a comedy. It went to William Morris and came back with shitty coverage.
(FYI, fart and dick jokes are added after the script's been sold.)
But he was cool about it and I talked to him again and said I have this drama, kinda dark and it made the QF of Nicholl so would he take a look at that. He agreed (there are some cool cats out there). I sent it to him and he forwarded it to William Morris for Coverage. Well, I guess he got bored and before the coverage came back read the script and really, really liked it. It helped that the coverage came back with a thumbs up within the next day or two and he asked if it was okay if he could forward it to Joel Schumacher as he knew they were currently looking for this kind of material. He asked me. if. it. was. okay.
(BTW by this time: I have been suckered out of my hiatus to write Straigtht Razor Jazz -- see other blog. I vow to take a hiatus every year, a spiritual purging, if you will. I botch this by going to grad school.)
Within a couple of weeks we get a nice email from Schumacher's company. Who are these guys? Great writing. I’d love to meet them.
A trip to LA where the meeting doesn't happen -- rescheduling is the name of the game, we finally nail downa lunch, butI"m back in chiacgo so I phone in my hellos and banter. But we manage to pitch our next piece ADAM PROPHET, he likes the idea enough and we have an open door for submisison. Now we just crack that script. (Draft number 7 coming up...) Aaron or Jeremy, if you're reading this you're either laughing from pathos or recognition, regardless at least you're laughing, right.Who knows what will happen, but my name is known in some professional circles and in a good way. And now we're one step closer to the danger zone.
And that motherfuckers is how you get in the room. Easy, no?
How did this happen?
We wrote ourselves into that room.
I'm not a political person. At least in my writing. I seem to be more interested in personal issues such as survival, loyalty, redemption, half-realized dreams and whatever else they wrote in that profile of mine a few years ago.
That changed with the Iraq war, or police action or occupation. It took a while as I admit I was in that camp of I've read The Hot Zone or Cobra Event and I know Saddam's got the WMD. But now like everyone else, I know it was grade-A bullshit. This is what happens when you're just smart enough to be a danger to yourself and those around you.
So I decided to say something. I'd write a screenplay. And so I did: AWOL Blues.
But see that's-- now that I'm really thinkin about it the way it happened, that's not the spark point for the idea. Actually, I was contacted to pitch a small character drama for a director here in town. He mentioned he had a visual of sailors in Chicago and suddenly they're getting into a jam, those kooky sailors.
Well, I grew up with an ex-Marine father and didn't know squat about sailors, so I pitched the idea incorporating Marines and two locales the director had lived in, making it a small State-side version of Going After Cacchiato, a book I reference but only have read the book jacket thus far. It was a moment of inspiration where the whole thing fell into place. I typed up the outline, registered it online with the WGA and I pitched it with enthusiasm as if it was the only possible movie the universe would accept now and at the end of the pitch I pointed at the director and said, "and that's your fucking movie."
He smiled, said "wow."
At the end of the night, he said: I think we can make this happen." But it didn't. He balked at my quote and really wanted it to be about sailors.
Cut to: a year later, and I'm on the indie (ie B) film festival circuit with Hard Scrambled and am hearing nothing but BS about the war. My Hard Scrambled producer and I start talking about doing a political movie. I pitch him my idea. He liked the story, but sees students, not Marines, or kooky sailors. But I have a clear vision with the piece, so we agree to go our separate ways on the project and I go off and in a rare moment of "this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life," hole up in my hotel room between screenings and start writing the script.
Nine months later, my producer asks hows it going? (seems his Iraq movie script has stalled). I send him a rough draft. He says we have to do this. This is important and we have to do it. By hook or crook. Now.
But "now" as we all know in movie speaks, means "after a lengthy script development process, also known as Development Hell (actual term)." A year and half of frustrating rewrites and finally we get the script to a pretty solid point. It's a bit loose, but it's a road trip movie. I like it.
And then the Nov 06 elections change everything. People started resigning, and now my fresh script seemes very dated. So I cut more and more of the political outrage and make it more and more about the characters and add a personal dilemma as a result of the war. The process is painful and scream-worthy frustrating. My producer and I have a different sensibilities regarding a number of things, though he sends me book and documentaries and keeps the grist for the mill going.
I don’t remember the impetus (maybe I've blocked it), but after one particualr set of notes, I call my buddy Mark Glinski and cry, bitch, moan and groan and say I need fresh eyes and writing and we have to get this script turned around so we can shoot it now.
So I do that thing I've never really done. A Page One rewrite.
Mark and I take the essence of the script, the main character and cut the rest. The original structure had a marine going AWOL and his other marine buddies coming after him. We cut the posse and made it more about spiritual conflict, patriotism, and family. And add a chick. It could have been set in Vietnam, Korea, WWII. Once we have the spine in place we divided up scenes and write. Mark proves his worth as always and comes up with some great suggestions and some truly heart-breaking scene work. Even our producer with renewed enthusiasm add a few notes and suggestions I would call brilliant.
It was, I think a breakthrough as a writer for me, this script. And I think Mark would agree. We finalized our deal with the producer. Exciting. Did I mention I'm directing? Fuck yeah. Everyone who's read the script loves it. It's very, very solid. We're shooting ASAP, we're hiring a casting director, and once we get actors attached (I have some already interested in the supporting cast pool) the rest will fall into place. And we will quit our day jobs to do Something Important. Two weeks before we're to go wide with the script to land a casting agent, the producer drops the script.
Drops. As in don't quit your day job.
To be continued...
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It's a satire.
And a mediation on human rights, the creative process, the artistic life, survival, loyalty, the state of media, etc. We follow The Critic, The Hack, The Artist. They all have names, but you don't get them just yet.
And yes, Dear Reader, it has generous dollops of sex and violence and hopefully the energy of Trainspotting the movie.
I'm about 2/3 -3/4 of the way through a first draft. This is my MFA thesis project at Queens University of Charlotte where I'm currently workshopping it under the mentorship of wildman Pickney Benedict.
This is my first novel (first one in about ten years). I'd sworn off them finding some success with stage writing and then screenwriting, but of course had a lighting flash of an idea while prowling about at the MCA silently cursing the hip art students all in black. I wrote a bunch of scenes and chapters without rhyme or reason, but usually in response to something I heard or read or saw while on other projects and then one day last winter decided to get serious about it finishing it. I started with that scatter shot collection of material and have been revising and writing like a madman ever since. So far so good. It's been a nice process of fear, confidence, cracking myself up and the constant whirly brain. Did I mention fear? Just a touch.
The workshop process has been enlightening. You really do get a sense of what works with another reader's particular sensibility. Some folks want more detail, more handholding. Some are fine with the minimalist writing. This awareness is a def asset. But I also realize that on a project like this-- it seems-- that a brief introduction is neccesarry to steel the reader. Noone really picks up a book at the bookstore without reading thee book jacket so they can get a hint of the story/genre, etc.
Nowadays it's rare (my mom excluded) for anyone to read a book or see a movie without knowing what they're going to get. The last movie I walked into cold was SHINE. I had no idea what it was about other than the lead actor was supposed to be amazing. It was a little disorienting, but rewarding as the brain tried to figure out what kind of movie it's going to be, what role the charcters will play, etc. Then you settle into it. This is why when writers do public readings they do a brief set-up with the audience to give it come context. The purist in me thinks it's not neccesarry, that the writing should carry its own weight.
And there's the rub.
But as I wrote earlier above, you know the context now for The Fountain, and I just might have post the prologue here in a bit...
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I think I'm pretty good at them.
Sometimes they come easy. Sometimes not so much. While I can't remember this project being titled anything but Straight Razor Jazz and maybe Denmark, I found an old email where I listed some possibilities pre-SRJ:
A DECENT DEAD MAN
DENMARK (Humphery Denmark, friends call him Den. Now in the script as Abraham Denmark)
MURDERING A DECENT MAN
MURDER AT THE NIGHTSHADE HOTEL
GENERIC LOCAL LOCATION NAME
Kind of old school, but snoozers, right?
This is a quote from an email to SS from me.
"I don't see doing a ton of drafts on this. I think it'll be important to write fast and keep a certain energy in the script, think Jazz and not math."
How appropos. Sometimes they're right in front of you.
We debated about keeping the word "Jazz" in the title. You know, cuz, people might think it's a style of music and this would lead to vertigo or some shit. But SS came up with a winner in how to incorporate "jazz" into a whole new meaning in the script. F'in brilliant. And now when people ask AM our savvy producer about what it means, he's got a nice zinger.
And people go "ahhhh...."
Saturday, June 20, 2009
First: they paid me.
Second: they treated me with respect. They treated the work with respect.
Third: they made me a full partner.
Fourth: they're doing everything they said they would do to get the project going. And thus far are doing it according to schedule.
WTF? I'm a writer.
I'm supposed to hike my skirt up in gratitude. It's a Brave New World, kids... and about fuckin time. This time last year I was enjoying a self imposed hiatus from writing. It's been a shitty long winter and AWOL Blues had just been dropped two weeks before the hiring of a casting director (yet another blog). So I spent my spring and summer learning the bass guitar. Joined a band. Gardened. Started making my own BBQ sauce (Smokey Bee and RedEye Jack). You know, living life like a regular person.
Until I got an email from SS. SS is a kick-ass filmmaker out of LA whom I met on the festival circuit in 2006. We'd kept in contact as we dug each other's work. (The year before SS asked me to do a "polish" on a script he'd optioned. Well, that turned into a half page one rewrite and a massive rewrite. All for free, cuz, well, I dig him and the project.
Unfortunately he was unable to renew the option.) I remember it being a very simple process, getting started on this gig. Well, the process is always more involved than you remember it, but the simplified version is SS had a kernel for a thriller, but already had a writer down in Texas. He said he had some doubts about the project there and I told him to keep me in the loop. And, of course SS is a smart man. I'd get a few crumbs here and there. Just enough line and bait to keep me coming back. I pitched some ideas for fun.
They liked them. Hell, I liked them.
Finally, it came back that that writer was not going to work out. They came back and said I was the guy. I was on hiatus and said make me an offer. They did. Full partner. And before I received my first payment they sent me a little bonus check.
This is not how this is supposed to happen. You're not supposed to be treated with respect and paid for your time like this. And serendipitously my buddy Joe Reno called and said get your ass out here, I'm house sitting in Venice. A brief conversation with E and my boss and I bought a plane ticket for a week of sunny beach side writing. One week. A full outline and the first thirty pages. Living the dream. And my producers paid for my airfare and the dinner check. And trust me there were a lot of Cadillac Margaritas on there.
And because of this attitude, I delivered the best script of my life.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Welcome to the new spew bucket.
A lot of you have been asking for this (there's my first lie right there).
I'll be updating as frequently as I can regarding the growing number of projects that seem to be heating up. I wish I'd done this for AWOL Blues, as that script just keeps coming back up like bad Mexican. Actually, that one is more bittersweet. Hangman... now that's a script that won't go away.
Updates soon on the following:
Straight Razor Jazz