Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

I read a recent article in Philadelphia Magazine (Dec.) that brought up some interesting points regarding the kids of today. Basically blamed Facebook, Twitter, Ipods, etc, for creating a generation of idiots. While I agree that there are kids (and adults) who are addicted to their Facebook, Droids or Iphones or whatever else might be cool by the time I finish this sentence, I also disagree with a lot that the writer said.

Mainly, kids ain't stupid.

First of all, don't blame them. We've armed them with these devices, and we all use them as much if not more than they do. While driving to work the other day I saw a Dad pushing his baby in a stroller, texting. Later, as I stood outside of my sons' school to pick him up, I noticed the five other parents/guardians/whoevers around me all staring at their phones, either texting, waiting for a text, or waiting for something amazing to happen. And yes, I did have my own phone in hand, which I immediately put away, felt a bit silly. Maybe a better subject for the article would've been PEOPLE are Getting Stupider.

So it's not all the kids. It's like that old anti-drug commercial where the kid is being grilled by his dad after dad finds his pot stash, and the kid shoots back "I learned it from watching you!"
The writer also worries that her child doesn't know the days of the week. My immediate reaction is that her kid is indeed, dumb. I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic of not, but hell, there's songs about the damn days of the week that pretty much tell you the damn days of the week, it goes like this - Sunday, Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday Friday, Saturday...." so if her towhead doesn't know them yet, blame the damn school or the teachers. Or maybe the kid should take his head out of his own ass.

The main point that I do agree with the article is cyber bullying. It is easier to cut somebody down, especially if they're not face-to-face. But bullies will always be around, no matter if they're hiding under the bleachers or behind the keyboard. How do we stop it? I don't know that we can and that's scary as hell for the kids today. And as much anti-bullying speeches the teachers give, humans are humans, and there will always be a pile of assholes ready to bully the weak. That goes for adults, too, though, not just teens. For all us nice folks out in the world, there are way too many assbags.

The writer goes on to bring up a mom that was on Facebook, playing Farmville, and her child woke up crying, so the mom shook the kid to death. Blame Faceville all you want, that kid was a goner with or without it. This mom was akin to a ticking time bomb. Mom coulda been scrapbooking or doing laundry or driving or anything else and went off on the poor kid. Condoms or some other birth control should be mandatory until some parents pass some type of test or physical (of the mind - maybe a mental physical!). "Oh, you're actually crazy? Sorry dude, you still gotta bag it." Point is, don't blame some website - instead blame the person who should've put the kid up for adoption.

Today though, some of the technology is simply necessary. Personally, I like the fact that I can call my kid or he can get in touch with me if he needs to or there's some shit going down. I see some of these kids, scanning through their phones or IPads (like Tom Cruise in Minority Report), dumbfounded at the speed and dexterity they can do this. And these kids are stupid? Hell, they're light years ahead.

I think it comes down to adults pointing the finger and saying that kids are dumber than they were. It happened to them, and it happened to their parents, and so on. And the kids that are texting right now at a million characters a second will go on to say the next generation is dumb and don't know the days of the week. But Facebook and Blackberrys are an easy target.

Back in the 80s, we had our own distractions. Not as many, but we still got distracted plenty. Atari, then Nintendo, etc, we're the same. Sure there's more stuff nowadays, but it's not all that different. And the kids that are going to be idiots in 2011 would have been idiots in 1981 or 1951. Can't get around being stupid, the technology (or lack of) that you're wielding doesn't change that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Notes From A (Non) High Concept Guy

I'm not High Concept, and that's okay.

A few years ago, along with an agent I had at the time, I was supposed to write a high concept comedy. The agent was a pretty slick dude, more slick than I probably deserved, he even had an umlaut in his name, which I've always wanted, but he knew his shit and was ready to lob me into the Hollywood scene like a grenade. I had plenty of ideas/barely started screenplays to pick from, and he had his umlaut. We settled on The Stand-In, a high concept comedy.

It had a great hook, a damn good concept, most of which actually came from my brother-in-law from many years ago. Although the finished screenplay had some genuinely funny moments and a couple of great sequences, I couldn't make it work, and there were two reasons for that, methinks.

1. At the time, personally I wasn't doing well, lotta shit going on, going through and especially going down, so writing a romantic comedy probably wasn't the best plan, you know, at all, especially a high concept one.

2. I'm not a 3 joke per page kinda guy.

My then-agent realized this, at least reason #2 - I hadn't really informed him about #1 - so he dropped like I was hot. I was peeved at the time, but I moved on pretty quickly from him (shuffled back to my other agent, still with him today). And I was free of the high concept chain around my neck, so in the end, I felt a lot better.

Because at the end of the day, you have to love what you're writing. If not, you're wasting your time, as well as the time of some reader at a production company/studio who may eventually get his/her hands on your phoned-in script and toss it after 10 uninspired pages, if they even get to page 10.

So, I'm not a straight-up comedy guy. I think I've written some funny scripts, but it's tough to stick to the typical comedy format, for me at least. I usually end up with some type of comedy/drama hybrid that a Wes Anderson more than excels at. And maybe that's why I've only had Options in my screenwriting career but have never sold a screenplay, because I'm just not the high concept type.

I don't think that's a bad thing though, I just need to get one of these gems into the right hands, which is always our goal as screenwriters (obviously) anyway. But I hate even calling them comedy/dramas, to me they're just about real shit going on. Life ain't always The Hangover or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, hell, it hardly ever is. And I have yet to come across a hot tub time machine, but if I did, I'ma cannonball right up in that.

To me, life is Cricket Hill, a pretty edgy script I wrote in 2003 about a family at Christmas, dealing with a multitude of issues. Then there's Union, written in 2008, about a father finding out some pretty surprising things about his kids. Surviving Edwards Avenue (2004) is a story about divorce and how one family deals with it.

Those are some of my favorite scripts, a trilogy of family dysfunction at its best, and some of my most accomplished work. And throughout each of them is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama, and a bit of shit hitting the fan. Because, to me, that's real - heart-breaking, inspiring, life-changing. At one moment life is amazing and you're untouchable, and at the next moment the other shoe drops, and you knew it was gonna drop, but you just wished it had waited a little while more before it hit the floor. That's what I write.

And when I'm inspired, and on my game, comedy/drama hybrid label be damned, I think they're the best damn stories I can tell.

It's funny, too, the different type of scripts I write now as opposed to 5, 10 years ago. At first, I had more than a few screenplays about typical college-age dudes or guys in their late 20s searching for themselves, blah, blah, blah. Now, I cringe at those stories, but at the time, I was just writing what I knew. And now I know more (I hope anyway). Now I write about fathers and mothers and love and marriage and disappointment and things coming to an end, or things just beginning. Kisses that become routine, or kisses that amaze. Children and love and despair. Loose teeth and mortgages. Finding passion. White picket fences. Falling out of love. Soccer games. Careers. Making sure your family is okay, and if they're not, making damn sure they will be.

That's what I think about now, and I hope it translates into a decent script or two. I actually had just started a new script this very week. It's about a man at a crossroads. As always, I've had dozens upon dozens of ideas already started, but I can't go back to them now, this one felt right, it feels like it's ready, and when it's ready, it can almost write itself. It's called Square One.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Surviving Edwards Avenue - Fight Scene - Screenplay Vs. Novel

First of all, excuse the wonky formatting. I'm sure there's a better way to post a screenplay & novel pages on here, but if there is, I certainly don't know it. So what I've posted here is the same scene that unfolds in both the screenplay version (written originally in '04) and the novel version (2010). Just a neat exercise. Enjoy!

SCREENPLAY Version 2004 (Pg. 87-89)

Roger bangs on Brandi’s door. JIMMY, a local tough guy in his 30s, answers. Roger gets in a fighting stance.

C’mon, let’s dance.

Jimmy hops down and nails him in the stomach. Roger falls to his knees.

I’m gonna kick your ass.

Whenever you’re ready, bitch!

Brandi comes to the door.

Oh, no. Roger go home.

Roger stands.

I love you, Brandi.

Jimmy charges him and knocks him against the mobile home. It rocks slightly.

Guys! Watch it! You’ll knock the house over!

They fall to the ground and wrestle. Roger throws dirt in Jimmy’s face.

Ha, fucknose!!!

Jimmy punches him in the mouth and Roger falls off.

I don’t love you, Roger!

Roger barely stands.

Sure you do!

Jimmy puts him in a choke-hold. Roger gasps for air.

I don’t. What we had was kinda fun. But what me and Jimmy have is funner.

JIMMY(still choking Roger)
“More fun” baby.

Don’t correct me, Jimmy. You know I hate that!

Roger gets loose and swings at Jimmy. Misses. Jimmy easily pops Roger again on the cheek.

This is fun.

ROGER(holds cheek)
I’ll take care of you, Brandi. Just tell me what you want me to do!

Jimmy gets another punch ready.

Leave me alone and never come around here again. I will never love you, okay?

Jimmy lowers his fist.

Damn. That was more painful than I coulda done.

What about the baby?

First of all, it ain’t yours. Second, I ain’t pregnant.

You’re not?

No. Daddy said it was probably just gas.

She ain’t lyin.’ I never seen a chick with so much gas. Even when she sleepin!’(imitates fart)Brrrrmppptt!! There goes another one!

I took a test. It was negative.


Stanky ones, too. Damn! Somethin’ crawled up there and died, boy!

Now leave.

Roger takes in his surroundings and nods.

Okay.(to Jimmy)Truce?

Yeah, man. Truce.

Roger nods. He walks by Jimmy and takes another swing. He misses. Jimmy nails him in the stomach and drills him with an upper-cut.

NOVEL Version (2010)

As Roger runs through the rows of mobile homes, he has no idea what he’ll say or do but figures making a plan at this point is useless and decides to make it up as he goes. One thought crosses his mind - what if she’s not home? But that thought soon passes when Roger remembers she hasn’t worked a day in her life and wasn’t likely to start now.

Roger bangs on Brandi’s door, out-of-breath. He tries to compose himself as the footsteps approach and smiles as the door opens. But Jimmy is standing there instead of Brandi, and of all the scenarios that Roger went through on his breath-reducing run through the trailer park, this wasn’t one of them.

Jimmy Durban is thirty-two years old and has been working at Al’s Stop & Gas on the edge of town for six years now. He’s got a neck full of tattoos, a shaved head and two lip piercings. He’s a pretty good looking guy under the paraphernalia and swagger, and he sings lead vocals in a local band called The Devastation that actually had a song on the radio last year. So he already had a head start over Roger, who didn’t have any piercings, tattoos, swagger or a song on the radio.

Roger isn’t sure what to do, so he gets in a fighting stance. He wants to say something bad ass, something tough, but when he starts to say “C’mon, let’s dance“ he doesn’t get all of it out because Jimmy has already punched him hard in the stomach and he falls to his knees. Not only does the punch hurt just about all of his internal organs, but it gives him the instant sensation that he has to take shit. Luckily no bowel movement occurs and the feeling passes, and he stands on his now-shaky feet. “I’m gonna kick your ass, Jimmy,” he is able to get out, and is surprised that he is able to get it out without vomiting.

Jimmy just laughs and readies another punch. “Whenever you’re ready, bitch!”

Brandi comes to the door, popping some gum, to see what the hell is going on. “Oh, no. Roger, go home.” Pop pop. She’s not really all that pissed, having a couple of dudes fighting over her gives her quite a thrill.

Roger smiles and stumbles toward her. “I love you, Brandi.”

Jimmy charges him and knocks him against the mobile home. It rocks slightly.

Brandi screams. Pop pop. “Guys! Watch it! You’ll knock the house over!”

They fall to the ground and wrestle. Roger grabs a handful of grass and dirt and throws dirt in Jimmy’s face. “Ha, fuckface!”

Jimmy punches him in the nose and Roger falls, seeing nothing but stars for a moment.

“I don’t love you, Roger!” Brandi belts out, and it slices through Roger almost as brutally as Jimmy‘s punch.

Roger rolls on the ground and finds his footing, and barely stands. “Sure you do!” he mumbles as blood from his broken nose fills his mouth.

Jimmy grabs him and puts him in a choke-hold. Roger can do nothing but stand there and have his heart broken yet again.

She sighs. “I don’t. What we had was kinda fun. But what me and Jimmy have is funner.”

Jimmy doesn‘t stop choking Roger but offers “’More fun, baby.”

“Don’t correct me, Jimmy! You know I hate that!”

Roger gets loose and swings at Jimmy. Misses by a lot. The pain in Roger’s stomach has spread to his chest, and the pain from his nose has enveloped his face. Jimmy easily pops Roger again on the cheek.

“This is fun!” hoots Jimmy.

Roger stops and lets himself bleed. “I’ll take care of you, Brandi. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

Jimmy gets another punch ready.

“Leave me alone and never come around here again. I will never love you, okay?”

Jimmy lowers his fist. “Damn. That was more painful than I coulda done.”

Roger takes a step toward her. “What about the baby?”

“First of all, it ain’t yours. Second, I ain’t pregnant.”

“You’re not?”

“No. Daddy said it was probably just gas.” Pop pop.

Jimmy laughs and slaps Roger on the back. “She ain’t lyin!’ I never seen a chick with so much gas. Even when she sleepin!’ Jimmy crudely imitates a fart. “Brrrrmppptt!! There goes another one!”

“I took a blood test. It was negative.” Brandi sits on the top step.

Roger sighs. “Gas.”

“Stanky ones, too“ Jimmy continues. “Damn! Somethin’ crawled up there and died, boy!”

“Now leave, Roger, please” she says.

Roger takes in his surroundings - the maze of trailers, Jimmy, Brandi, his throbbing face, the blood on his shirt and hands - and nods. “Okay.” He turns to Jimmy. “Truce?”

“Yeah, dude. Truce.”

Roger nods but decides to end things on a sucker punch. Why the hell not. Not much else to lose. As he walks by Jimmy he takes another swing but misses yet again. Jimmy nails him in the stomach again and drills him with an upper-cut.

Twenty minutes later, Roger is walking home, a beaten man in every possible sense. His ribs are killing him, and his face feels fat with pain. He’s about a block from his house when he stops walking and carefully sits on the side of the road, although he doesn’t quite make it to the curb. A car slows as it passes but keeps going. When the tears come, he’s not surprised, he’d just taken a lot of punches, but the pain he’s feeling is from within himself and has nothing to do with his bloody nose, bruised ribs or black eyes. He lost Brandi, simple as that, and for some reason he was having a hard time dealing with this one. He’d lost girls before, to broken stars and for other reasons not quite as celestial, but losing Brandi was ripping him apart. He cries hard, shaking, gagging and quivering, until he thinks it’s over, but it isn’t. His body isn’t done with him yet, and when the tears don’t stop he realizes it‘s just the beginning.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I first wrote Surviving Edwards Avenue in 2004, as a companion to another script which almost won at Austin '03, called Cricket Hill. I liked Surviving Edwards Avenue, sent it out, it was a bit more edgy that Cricket Hill, but I had no luck with it. So away it went - until this January, when I decided to write a book. A novel. I had so many damn scripts written (55) that I said to myself, "Self, just adapt one of your screenplays."

And now, Surviving Edwards Avenue is almost complete, I'm at 40,000+ words now, working on the last chapters. It's funny, writing a book. For years I've been streamlining thoughts and stories, showing the actions instead of saying. And now, obviously, it's the oppposite.

And I love it.

I can really get inside the characters' heads, and tell the reader EXACTLY what they're thinking.

As I was writing the novel version, something was changing with the story. When I first wrote the screenplay 6 years ago, it was much more comedic, but as I write the novel version, it's less so. I find myself scaling back the humor, going in more for the drama of the situation (the plot is 3 kids dealing with their parents divorce). What seemed irreverant before now has taken a turn, but it feels right. And certain things that happened in the screenplay seem ridiculous now so I've had to do a bit of plot modification. Actually, if I ever did want to send out the screenplay again, I'd have to do some major tweaking & re-writing - and I only really discovered this when I started the book.

The plan is to finish it this week, let it digest a bit, then go through it and fix what needs fixin.' Not the usual way I'd suggest handling a re-write - writing a book first - but it's working this time, and I can't wait to finish it.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Creating Moments

In my most recent script, Zombie, NJ, I tried to make a certain sequence really stand out. I tried to make it a moment to remember. I could have written it pretty easily, a quick scene that gets the characters from Point A to Point B.

But I wanted it to be memorable. Like one of those sequences that you'll remember as your favorite part, sequence or whatever. It's a scene in a crawlspace, the main characters (three 15 year olds) are hiding under the house as zombies rip apart the house above, searching for fresh meat. I tried as best I could to draw out the tension (the horror above them, their current dark & wet surroundings). On the page, I made it last about 2 pages, when it could have been easily half that. It's my favorite scene in the screenplay.

In the last year, we had some fine moments in theaters:

(500) Days Of Summer - You Make My Dreams sequence.

Up In The Air - The scene where they're firing the older employee via teleconference, and he's actually in the adjoining office.

The Hurt Locker - Many moments here, but one that sticks with me is the sniper scene - Bigelow really draws out the drama here. I think the scene was like 15 minutes long, ever wrending second was amazing.

Up - The opening montage.

There are certainly others, but you get my point. When I started writing I didn't pay as much attention to these things, was simply worried about dialogue, structure, story (things we obviously need to worry about!) but after the script reader/agent/assistant/Spielberg puts the script down, you want to give them another reason to pick up the phone.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Screenwriting 2009 - Fail

Why? Because I only finished 1 script. Zombie, NJ. Don't get me wrong, I like the script, but there are SO many other ideas/scripts already started that I want to get into my Final Draft folder. I did finish a decent re-write of another (Goombah, formerly called Family Values).

And the contests/festivals/lost causes that I entered went nowhere - do they ever?

I had about 5-6 script requests that I sent out. Nada. I'm still waiting to hear about one of those, but it's been 3 months, so I'd call that a wash.

I'm looking at new places to list scripts. I've had stuff on Inktip & Movies-bytes for years. Where else is there to list? I've come across a few sites here and there but I dunno.

I did try to start a new script for 2010. Yes, I still have the 20+ other ideas in my head & hard drive, but I thought a new year should bring a new script. Maybe it'll be the one.


Best TV of 2009 - Breaking Bad; Modern Family; Glee; 30 Rock; The Office; Mad Men; Lost, Dexter; The United States Of Tara; The Middle; Big Love; True Blood; Men Of A Certain Age; Fringe, It's Always Sunny In Philly

Best Songs of 2009 - Youth Group - Friedrichstrasse; East Hundred - Plus Minus; Passion Pit - Moth's Wings; Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition; Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commander; Kings Of Leon - Notion; The Dears - Money Babies; Julian Plenti - Unwind; One Day International - Not Over You; Matt & Kim - Daylight (for me, Daylight is my song of the year).

Best Albums - Passion Pit - Manners; Matt & Kim - Grand; Youth Group - The Night Is Ours, East Hundred - Passenger

Best Movies of '09 - The Hurt Locker - Up In The Air - (500) Days Of Summer - Fantastic Mr. Fox - Up - I Love You, Man - Where The Wild Things Are - District 9 - Star Trek - The Hangover - Away We Go.