Archive for August, 2009

This Week’s Sermon Brought to You by Quentin Tarantino

Today’s sermon at Pacific Crossroads Church was called “Single Like Jesus” and it was all about being single. Which I am. The pastor referred almost exclusively to 1 Corinthians 7, which contains a lot of guidance on the matter. “ The over-arching point of the sermon was that there are times in life when we are called to be single and single for a reason. There may be something God wants us to do that we can do better uninhibited and unattached. If a given person is called to do this or that, it might be easier to do single. They can give it more attention than if they were in a relationship. And if they can do that, great. But maybe that person can’t do that, because they also really want to be with someone; well, that’s another division of focus, and they can either fight against that and maybe they’ll overcome it, maybe not, maybe their plans will change, who knows? But one thing is for sure, and that is that there is a division of focus when two people are together. It’s not good or bad, it just is, it’s just true.

I saw Quentin Tarantino’s new film, “Inglourious Basterds” on opening day, which was a little over a week ago. Since then, I can’t get the movie out of my head. It keeps coming up, and I find myself pouring over reviews and interviews, and the other day I found a new Charlie Rose interview with Tarantino (click here to download it for yourself). So, I’ve been watching it, and I finished it this morning before church, and during the sermon, it hit me. Tarantino has talked about this very same subject in the interview. I’ve copied down what he said, though this is not a 100% accurate transcript probably:

 

Charlie Rose: What would be the greatest impediment to achieving the things that you want to do?

Quentin Tarantino: If anything, I’ve learned not to get distracted by side things…For instance…I’m not married, I don’t have kids…I had a couple of situations that if they had worked out in a different way maybe I would be married now and maybe I would have kids. And that would be fine. But you know, I wouldn’t be sitting here at this table talking about “Inglourious Basterds.” But those little things could have made it very very different. Truth be told, I would rather, I don’t want anything to be more important than my movie right now…This is the time to climb Mt. Everest…

Charlie Rose: But you don’t want to do anything right now that divides your focus.

Quentin Tarantino: No, I don’t want to serve two masters.

 

I think about this often. I am a different writer when I’m in a relationship. I don’t become a bad writer, it’s just the focus thing. I don’t write as much. I spend time with that person, talking to them, thinking about them, I’m just not as active in some ways. My junior year of college was my most productive year by far in terms of how much I wrote, the progress in the quality of my writing, and how much I was reading. That was the only year I was single.

But I am also different. I’m perhaps an angrier writer when I’m alone. Part of that is because I may have the instinct for that. Partly, it’s because I’m usually mad about the relationship, if in fact it is the same relationship it’s been forever. But I don’t think that’s all a bad thing. That anger can be a drive. Rather than just unravel a person, it can focus and direct. Anger can create additional energy, and a great way to use it is to point it at a screenplay or at editing or any artistic endeavor. Does it change the way you view things? Maybe, but so does being happy. So does having a cold. Some people shut down in this situation. I like to think I’m more active.

There are things I want to get done. I used to think I’d have a family by about now. Wife. Kid. But those were a 20 year-old’s thoughts. They were misguided, but perhaps understandably so at the time. And things have changed. For now, there are things to be done. There is writing, there is editing, there is filming, there is directing, there may be acting. There are projects and projects and projects. Maybe I’m a bit cold. Maybe I’m a little bitter. But maybe I can use that to my advantage right now.

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Apatow Enters Adulthood

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Oh to be a fly on that wall

I saw “Funny People” last night, and I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s the new movie from writer/director Judd Apatow, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll probably have to wait for DVD, because unfortunately it’s kindof come and gone in theaters. Maybe it wasn’t the movie people expected when they heard Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Adam Sandler were making a movie together. Maybe they saw the trailer and were turned off (most of that material isn’t even in the movie, either. Bad marketing team…bad).

Apatow’s 3rd film is his longest, at about 2 ½ hours. It’s also the darkest, meanest, most grown-up, and least crude. I don’t know if it is his best film, I like them all, but something has definitely changed. His other movies were simpler and more direct. I’m sure there was some improv, but I never got the sense that the movie was being put on hold to watch friends joke around. If it had, this thing would be 4 hours long.

Apatow has a penchant for writing male friendships, but until now those friends have been aimless man-children and the movies have formed the path to adulthood. Here, he grows them up, and instead of six or seven, there are three ambitious friends, who are all trying to start careers in LA as actors or comedians. Kindof my place in life… RIGHT NOW.

To me, the movie is all about notions of success. Different kinds. Different ways to get it. How are you supposed to feel when your friend is the lead on a sitcom? Do you hate him for the success, are you proud of him, do you try to get a guest spot on there? How do those feelings change if the show isn’t any good? Jason Schwartzman’s character is the sitcom star (see sweet fake clip from it below), he leaves his paycheck stubs around, he blabs about wanting a role in the new Tobey Maguire movie, he’s just realized he may be just successful enough for women to throw themselves at him. In many ways, Schwartzman’s is an early version of the Adam Sandler character, who’s done countless awful looking comedies because they pay, and has become as egomaniacal as he is lonely. There are a couple of moments where both characters show someone their work, and no one is laughing. Sandler has stopped caring, he knows it’s just a paycheck, but Schwartzman tries to play it off and makes excuses for it.

Then, there’s Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, trying to make it as stand-up comics. They do gigs for free, they just want to be recognized, they want some small inkling of success to get them by. Rogen seizes the opportunity to write jokes for the Sandler character, Jonah Hill jumps at the chance to be on his friends’ lame sitcom.

At dinner before we went to see the movie, my roommate Adam and I were talking about the downfall of Charlie Sheen, and the sad reality that more people watch “Two and a Half Men” (which is like a real version of “Yo Teach!”) than “The Office” or “30 Rock” and I asked, “What would we do if someone wanted to hire us to write for “Two and a Half Men” ? Because we’re nobody and we just want to get our foot in the door, wouldn’t we take it? Isn’t that what you do? You write or direct or act in or get on-set of anything you can stomach, hoping to get far enough to do the things you really want to do. 2008’s Apatow-produced, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” where Jason Segal was doing music for a CSI type show, and the titular character talked about doing movies that were the “right move” for her career. Even the Tina Fey character on “30 Rock” has a past where she was one of the ladies of the night, advertising for a phone-sex hotline.

The list could go on forever, because among TV and movies that deal with this idea, there are always horror stories of how people got their foot in the door. It’s a string of unfulfilling prospects until you find your break. IF you get a break. It’s not guaranteed. And the question is, how are you supposed to be proud of yourself doing this, particularly when this may be all you ever do? One side says you have a job and at least attempt to bring something to it. Therefore, you should be happy with yourself. The other side says that it can be a fool’s errand, buying exclusively into the business side of what you used to do because it made you happy and wanted to do because you felt you should.

I go back and forth with these competing notions, and maybe the reality is somewhere in between, but the fact is I’m not even in a position right now where I can figure it out. “Funny People” is sortof about all of these things and different stages of success, embodied by different people. Sandler’s character has lost something, and the movie traces his attempts to get it back, from his health, to his career, to the woman he loves.

In the credits for the film, Paul Thomas Anderson is thanked. I learned that during the editing process, Apatow brought in a few directors to get their input, among them Anderson (who directed Sandler in “Punch Drunk Love” and James L. Brooks (who directed him in “Spanglish”). It shows. Perhaps Brooks helped him balance the personal drama of the final act with the film’s comedic sensibility? And though it is pure conjecture, it’s not ridiculous to assume that P.T. Anderson helped him with one of the most surprising aspects of the film: its meanness. Many of Andersons’s characters have an edge to them that is painful, hurtful, and hilarious all at once. Think of how much verbal abuse Seth Rogen’s character takes from Sandler. This isn’t the light-hearted ribbing from “Knocked Up,” there is a real darkness and cynicism to this character that was fascinating to see, particularly because of how nice Sandler is in real life. For me, this was like a warning. The character isn’t mean because of his fame. He’s mean because he was a mean person to begin with. Becoming rich and famous just gave him a lifelong excuse not to change. This is one of Sandler’s best performances, and it isn’t all negative. He modulates his anger with actually caring for one or two people, and he does respond when something is genuinely funny. And in maybe Apatow’s most brilliant and surprising move, the film begins with old home videos of Sandler doing funny voices and prank-calling people. Reminds you why you have to like Adam Sandler, even if it’s in spite of yourself, even when he makes bad movies. Luckily, this is one of the good ones.

New Place News

Been in new apartment about a week – many cool things. 

1. Found a great running route that doesn’t cross too many busy streets, also found a huge lake/park a few blocks away with tons of running trails and no stop-lights for cars to kill me at. 

2. Apartment building has Courtyard with pool and hot tub, both of which are actually – wait for it – CLEAN!!! Overheard some neighbors talking about being actors in LA – maybe I’ll chat with them another time. Nothing better after running for an hour than a dip in the pool. Also, Courtyard has 3 entrances and circular halls – this seems ripe for one of my beloved long takes in a short film that I may have to start writing. Camera moving in and out of building, across pool, pausing here, there for some conversations. It’s a little Boogie Nights, but it’ll be a good exercise if nothing else. Party-sized cast + extensive camera movement = awesome

3. Looking for a car. Went with Tyler and Jen last week, need to go again this week. Talked to the salesmen at the used car place, and since I have good credit, I should be able to get a car without a current source of income. Looking for good gas mileage above all.

4. Am blogging for Tyler’s new podcast More Than One Lesson, which is very good and interesting (Check out my most recent blog). I may be appearing (in voice) on this show very soon.

5. Meeting some good people, including new friend Josh who also writes for the website and is the only person I know who’s actually finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. And as he doesn’t know anyone else who’s finished it, I feel compelled to move it up my list and begin it as soon as I finish Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which shouldn’t take too long. For all her shortcomings as a writer, that damn J.K. Rowling tells compelling stories that are easy and fun to read. You could do worse. 

6. Met some AFI students over the weekend, two of whom are Production Designers. This could come in handy, especially with aforementioned possible new short film rattling around in brain. One of many.

7. Have been looking at filmmaker’s website Without a Box – awesome. You can get information about thousands (yes, thousands) of film festivals – including the major ones – for submission deadlines and costs. You can create a profile and add projects so the site can more easily point you toward those festivals that fit your film. You can create press kits with all sorts of promotional materials. Lucky for us, we have most of that stuff already, so it should be even easier.

So, all in all, things going well so far. In the midst of writing this, I was even called back for a job I applied for today. Ain’t that something!

Two Things Too Good to Not Share:

Thing 1: “Bored to Death”

I love HBO. Really do. Their shows are just better. You see a million commercials for new NBC dramas or TNT’s new show that’s more suited to 1998 (aka B.S. aka Before Sopranos). And even though I don’t at all get the craze over “True Blood,” I’m totally psyched about their new show coming Sept 20th – “Bored to Death.” Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis – show is about a writer who’s read too many detective novels and decides to become a private eye. It sounds a little like the recent (brief) Andy Richter series “Andy Barker, P.I.” except I think this one has the legs to make it. I like the look of it. (Side note: I’m very pleased by the number of solid film actors who are jumping over to TV for a few seasons to do great work. I think Alec Baldwin has really lead the charge (although Mary Louise Parker was there a few years before).)

Thing 2: “Legion” trailer

Check out this 5 minute movie trailer below and see if you can spot one actor who didn’t laugh his ass all the way to the bank! There is no way this movie is going to be any damn good, but I can’t wait to see it. We’ve come to the point that campy movies are just as well made as the good ones (check out Granny Foul Mouth, though. Hilarious!), but the dialogue is uproarious. Dennis Quaid as diner owner!? Paul Bettany as an Angel?! Movie studio, take my money now, give me some popcorn, and let the good times roll. Notice the name of the diner? Paradise Falls diner. Outstanding. God is pissed, but lucky for us, it only takes bullets to bring down the rest of heaven’s angels. I know there’s a movie where they dip the barrel of the gun in Holy Water and then blast away the demons. I get that, that’s because they’re evil. How does it work when they’re angels? (Ohp!!! Or maybe that’s a hidden commentary by the filmmaker!) Thing is, it looks completely blasphemous in concept, but my spider sense is telling me I betcha they bring it all around to be some sort of test by God or something. Either way, my friend Adam has it right: I’m going to see the shit out of that movie.

And… We’re Back

As I write this, it will be another two days before I have the internet in my new apartment. I haven’t been keeping a regular, hand-written journal for over a month now (am eager to start back up), but wouldn’t you guess it, life hasn’t stopped.

I moved to Los Angeles, by the way. It was time. It’s a huge leap, but I felt like I had to. I wanted to. I needed to. It was time.

Los Angeles, I'm Yours...
Los Angeles, I’m Yours…

Adam has moved with me (blogs about movie premiere in KC / driving to LA to come. Amazingly, we haven’t killed each other yet). We arrived on Wednesday, moved in on Friday and have been scrambling ever since to get the apartment in shape. We made our first trip to IKEA on Sunday, and let me tell you, this store is amazing. The layout alone is worth the trip (even though ours is only about 25 minutes away – HA!). It’s high quality stuff for about what you’d pay at Target. Spent a little money, got tons of stuff (our DVD shelves are badass).

It is no small thing to get accustomed to the city this big. Its scope is overwhelming. I’ve been sleeping for 10 hours a night, just because my body isn’t used to this. It’s hot during the day, but not the stifling humidity of the Midwest. It’s cool at night, from about 6:30 or so on, you let the breeze in and it cools the whole place down.

I went running here for the first time Monday, had planned about 20-30 minutes, since it had been over a week (ick), ended up going for about an hour. Felt great. We went to a Men’s Group with my good, great friend Tyler. It’s a great group of guys, almost all of them guys who moved to LA to do something with film. It’s just a mindset, and it’s very refreshing. I’ve been watching movies like crazy, I had forgotten the unending joys of watching a terrible movie, eating pizza, and tearing the movie apart for two hours (Thanks, “Fireproof,” for sucking SOOOOO bad). Things like that bond people together, to the point that the guy who came and watched and mocked with us ended up helping us move in to our place.

Last but not least: we have a kickass local diner right across the street; a 50’s styled place, all sorts of food. This morning, Adam and I ate there. My meal: 2 large pancakes, 2 pieces of french toast, 4 pieces of regular toast, 2 eggs, 2 bacon, 2 sausage, and skillet fried potatoes…Cost: $6.99 It’s more food than one person can eat and I didn’t even try to finish, I just ate all I wanted and laughed and laughed. One of the best breakfasts ever. Also found a great donut shop called simply “Best Donuts.” They were. Apple Fritter and Large Twist style glazed donut, with crumbled bits on top (what were the crumbles? No idea! Delicious!) Run by a little Korean man, it’s about 10 minutes from our place, and we will be making the trip at least once a week.

First week in LA has been a success. But a week, that’s only like a vacation. We’ll see if I can actually survive for a while. That’ll be something.

FML

Friend showed me a great new little website – http://www.fmylife.com/ and I’m addicted. It’s a website built around 1-2 sentence anecdotes of some personal foible, screw-up, or unfortunate event, which ends in “FML” (doesn’t take a special decoder ring to figure it out). They’re all from random people, and even though I have to assume some of them are fake, it’s easy to read through about 200 of them in one sitting. You have the option to click 1 of 2 responses to the tale – either “I agree, your life sucks” or “you totally deserved it.” Good fun, you should check it out. Thanks to Dan for enlightening me.

 

Not nearly the best one, but it's a cartoon so it works.

Not nearly the best one, but it's a cartoon so it works.


It Has Come to This

August 2009
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