Posts Tagged 'Writing'

Premium Justice

Legacy: He Insures JUSTICE!

For the past week and for the next five weeks, I am in my company’s training program. I’m in a hotel about 70 miles from home, but it looks and feels like the midwest suburbs. When people complain about suburban sprawl, they complain, knowingly or not, about this place. It’s not that it all doesn’t look nice, I just can’t tell where one strip mall ends and another begins. 200 yard across the parking lot from the AMC 30 cinema, there is another multiplex with 22 additional screens. That’s 52 screens sharing one parking lot. But no one’s showing “Bellflower,” (just for example)?

All of this to say, I recently finished the first draft of a screenplay, so I’m writing a short film as a kindof creative wasabe before jumping into re-writes next week. Taking a page from a combination of current circumstances/goings-on, the short film concerns an insurance adjuster handling claims for damage done by a superhero from the brand new, wildly popular, destined-for-greatness card game “Sentinels of the Multiverse” (I obtained permission for the use of their characters).

Well so last night as I was outlining the story – God-willing, it will be under 15 pages – it occurred that a hero or villain’s insurance policy would have to be different from a regular policy, and I needed to understand before I wrote it what coverages, exclusions, and conditions were present in the policy, so that I don’t have to figure it out during the writing. So, as an exercise, I created some specific, applicable portions of the insurance policy in question, from the Greater Good Insurance Group, a premiere insurance carrier for high-risk, costumed clientele (including [for additional premium] the sidekicks, wards, protégés and the like who may reside with them), and their moral counterparts. Here’s what I’ve got:

Please refer to your Greater Good Insurance Group, Inc.’s  S-27 Heroic-Form Homeowners Insurance Policy  – 09/2008, which states in part:

Section-I – Exclusions

We do not cover the Dwelling, Other Structures – including hideouts, caves, fortresses, lairs, anti-aging chambers, and the like – nor Personal Property, if the damaged items were intended for use in whole or in part for any of the following:


#1. Serious Criminal Activities – As stated in the Definitions for this policy, “Serious Criminal Activities” are any criminal activities above a normal Misdemeanor offense or which could be punishable by death.

#2. Overthrow of Government – Any use of covered property, in whole or in part, for the proven purposes of the overthrow of any governmental agency, whether local, state, national, or international – and also including governmental and international peace-keeping or organizational agencies – shall be excluded from all losses under this policy.

#3. World Domination – Any damage to property during the planning, building, scheming, conniving, or any other similar preparation with the provable purpose of – or any direct attempt at – total world domination, takeover, destruction, anarchization, or other similar effort will be excluded under this policy.

For all Exclusions, any loss to covered property NOT being used for the overthrow of government or world domination, damaged as a result of any excluded damage caused to property, will be covered under this policy, unless that property NOT being used for the overthrow of government or world domination in any way necessarily impeded the stoppage of the overthrow of government or world domination (e.g – Damage to personal property in a room – as well as any part of the walls, floor, ceiling, and framing members of the room itself – NOT being used for overthrow of government or world domination, but which shares a wall with a room being used, in whole or in part, for excluded activities or measures, which was necessarily destroyed as the best or only means of access to any property being used, whether in whole or in part, for the overthrow of government or world domination, is also excluded by these policy provisions).

As well, any personal property in any room being used, either in whole or in part, for the overthrow of government or world domination, will be considered to be aiding and abetting the excluded activities or measures, so long as said personal property resides in said room.

Section-II – Personal Liability

We will cover accidental direct physical loss, damage, or harm caused or inflicted by you toward any individual(s) not named on the Declarations Page of this insurance policy and to public or private property – whether residential or commercial.

We will also cover intentional direct physical loss, damage, or reasonable harm caused or inflicted by you toward any individual(s) not named on the Declarations Page of this insurance policy and to public or private property – whether residential or commercial – provided that such person(s) or property posed a legitimate, provable threat – whether latent or operative – to the Greater Good of all Mankind, as outlined in Section-I – Exclusions of this policy.


Perfect Paragraph

Sometimes there is a moment in a book that just gets everything right. You read it, stop, think for a minute and recover from the gut-punch. I’m really loving Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and late in the book, there’s that moment, in a book filled with greatness already; but this one could stand alone as its own mini-short story. A complete beginning middle end, conflict, heartbreak, wonder, and writing so good you consider learning how to write all over again.

As they went out of the room Rosa turned to look at Tommy and had an impulse to go back, to get into his bed with him and just lie there for a while feeling that deep longing, that sense of missing him desperately, that came over her whenever she held him sleeping in her arms. She closed the door behind them.

Visual Stimuli

Quick movie-related bits to get back into the swing of blogging:

–Two trailers for next summer movies: “Green Lantern” looks good, not great, we’ll have to wait to see how it’s executed. Ryan Reynolds is earning his paycheck, but anyone want to tell me why we need Blake Lively in this thing Blake Lively-ing it up? Jon Favreau doesn’t like time off, and “Cowboys & Aliens” looks mega-kickass. You see how it’s not winking at us in its purely Western moments? How it doesn’t feel anything at all in any way even just a little bit like “Jonah Hex”? How it’s got James Bond and Indiana Jones in it? And Aliens! I’m excited.

–Double Sequel Movie Day – “Toy Story 3” again at second-run theater [aside from all its other brilliance, do you see how it is in many ways about the writers and creators using their new computer toys to visually remember – and render – what it was like to play with their tangible, childhood toys? Pixar=Meta-brilliance] and right down the street, midnight showing of “Harry Potter 7.1″ aka ‘ ” ” and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,’ which contains my favorite moment (SPOILERS!!!), rendered very nicely, in which Ron defeats one of the horcruxes (-cruxi?) and in so doing, his own worst fear. Great story-telling, I enjoyed the pacing even if I thought some of the more suspenseful sequences could have been handled better. They placed a lot of trust in the three leads, and they handled it excellently. I’m already giddy to see Part 2!

–The Coen Brothers have their remake of “True Grit” coming out, and I just noticed the tagline on their four character posters: “Punishment Comes One Way or Another.” It’s remarkably similar to their 2007 Oscar-wining film, “No Country For Old Men,” whose tagline similarly encouraged: “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” Also a western. Also an adaptation. Also about people trying to hunt down Josh Brolin. The stories are quite different, but the territory is the same. [Also exciting: the trailer tells us the film comes out at Christmas, and the word it offers to cement this is “Retribution.” As a Christian, I’m wondering aloud, here: too soon?]

–Speaking of Oscars, my-oh-my what an off-year we have here for movies. Some gems: “Toy Story 3,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” [RENT IT!] and “The Social Network.” And a few key late releases like the Coens’ film and also “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “Somewhere,” “Blue Valentine,” “Another Year,” “Black Swan” and “The Fighter.” Still, that’s not a large crop from which to choose. My guesses, very early in the game: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress all go to “The King’s Speech” and maybe also Original Screenplay. Director, Adapted Screenplay, and a few other tech awards [cinematography, editing] go to “The Social Network.” Actress to Annette Bening for “The Kids Are All Right” [and for surviving two losses to Hilary Swank] and the film may also get Original Screenplay. Much of this is up in the air, of course, and some of the buzz for “The King’s Speech” could die down if it’s not as brilliant as the early word or if some other film gains momentum. So I really don’t even hardly stand by what I’ve said, except but conjecture is fun for me right about now. If I had my would-rathers, “Toy Story 3” would be much higher on the list.

–Just as an announcement, you can purchase my short film, “Reservations” for a mere $5 here, and I encourage you to do so. The money barely covers all shipping and printing, but the point is that I’d like people to see the film. I’m actually very proud of it. The performances are good, it’s funny, and it’s well-made. There’s even a commentary track discussing the film, if you’re into that sort of thing.

–Finally…writing: I finished a draft of the feature length version of “Trailer: The Movie,” and immediately set to work on the treatment, which meant I also quickly began seeing story, character, and pacing flaws. While conceptually very sound, the scale can still increase a bit more. The second and third act are too similar, the character arcs, and along with them the satire, can be pushed much further. It’s funny, I prefer a lot of chaos in the third act, but what was written was pretty tame. Outlining has become my new best friend. I set up a marker board on an easel next to the computer, divided into blocks that have the broad story beats and specific sequences broken down. It’s a clear, helpful way to get ideas out of my head and onto something I look at and examine. It helps to literally see the flow of the story from one scene to another. And because I love lists, it also fosters even more creativity. I’m also being more disciplined with myself. It’s easy to read books and watch movies [and write blogs] and never get down to business and go, “Well, I have so many ideas, but shucks I just never seem to write them down.” Gone are the days of letting myself off the hook. I sit down, turn off my phone and get to work. Sometimes the pages come fast and easy, sometimes I spent almost all the time outlining, but the time and energy are focussed in the right direction either way. It’s the difference between thinking about doing something and moving toward a goal.

Incidentally, I’ve also been reading about Michael de Luca, who was the head of New Line Studios when he was my age, making films like “Seven” and “Boogie Nights” when no one else would. Eesh. Talk about putting things into perspective.

Over-Analyze This

Found out tonight I’m recording an episode of the excellent podcast “Battleship Pretension” tomorrow on the subject of Over-analyzing movies – does it really exist? If so, to what extent is it a bad thing?

So, I’ve been compiling a list of questions, thoughts, and anecdotes since over-analyzing movies (and anything) is an accusation often lobbed at me. It never fails to provoke an eye-roll from me at the time, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t quietly worry over it at night.

As a filmmaker, I worry about it even more. Am I over-analyzing my own writing? Am I seeing things in this that aren’t there and won’t translate on-screen? Is there even a point in making this film? It’s worth noting that I’ve been at it for about 2 hours now, and not because I can’t think of what to contribute. We’re past that. Now we’re back on the roller-coaster of circular-logic about intelligent art vs. “dumb” art and how maybe it’s a sign of elitism that I would even try to label someone else’s art as dumb, and then the other part of me that says no, screw that, Writing X is smart and Writing Z is dumb. And dumb is bad. And I am smart. Am I smart?

A few weeks ago, I was in charge of the devotional for my Men’s Group and we discussed, for about two hours, to what extent FORM or PACKAGING does and should influence us. I promise it actually had a lot to do with God and how we receive His message and whether or not it’s necessarily Biblically WRONG to discount a sermon based on the way it’s delivered/written. We also talked about the rise of the over-packaged church. You know the one. Starbucks and bookshop and giant plasma screens everywhere and loud, thumping announcements with “cutting edge” graphics and music hip enough that, quote, “you won’t be ashamed to bring your unsaved friends!” How those things distract from the message in one way, but in another way, because one of the gifts God gives us is the ability to deliver His truth to other people, the way we package something is vital because good packaging (as form) points to a form higher than ourselves.

I’m off-topic.

Jonathan Franzen

So, the subject reminded me of a passage in Jonathan Franzen’s book How to Be Alone about writing intelligent fiction with a heightened vocabulary that most people can still understand. About the contract between reader and writer. Because one of the things I want to talk about tomorrow (we’ll see if we even get around to it) is, since I’m coming to the topic not only as a critic but also as an artist, whose work is the subject of the criticism (I’m speaking in the global sense, we’re not dissecting MY films on the show), that my view on the show’s topic might be that the ideas of the “Best Analysis” and the “Most Analysis” are two very different things; that Best Analysis relies not solely on the intellect when determining quality, while the Most Analysis refuses to base quality on anything but intellect.

I couldn’t find the passage (I have the paper-back edition, so if you stumble upon it, let me know), but I did get distracted and wound up in Franzen’s own personal struggle of why to write in one of the essays, called “Why Bother?” Here’s his predicament:

“Panic grows in the gap between the increasing length of the project and the shrinking time increments of cultural change: How to design a craft that can float on history for as long as it takes to build it? The novelist has more and more to say to readers who have less and less time to read: Where to find the energy to engage with a culture in crisis when the crisis consists in the impossibility of engaging with the culture?”

Reading that sentence sent me into a frenzy. Keep in mind, he wrote this article in 1996, nearly 15 years ago. How do you maintain culturally relevant work when the culture being reflected changes faster than you can create? I feel this way about movies; the peril must be amplified for the novelist. If this was the state of things in 1996, what calamity befalls the novelist now? How fast social phenomena come and go! How long do you think it will be before twitter and Facebook and MySpace (and blogs!?) are obsolete? For an easy example, look at cell-phones. The moment you buy one, five more have come out. In six months or a year, the model you bought will have been updated and expanded. It takes about two years to “earn” a phone-upgrade through the average cell-phone plan, provided you don’t change plans every so often. Think how movies have changed. Think how music has changed. How the delivery systems and modes of receiving them have changed. Now think how much the book has changed. Not much. Ink on paper, bound together. Sure, there’s that gizmo the Kindle, but it hasn’t caught on. For all the changes in everything else, most people still prefer to have a book and hold it. The newspaper can’t even boast that. The book is one of our most steadfast artistic endeavors. And yet so few people read.

I remembered that the article arrived at an answer to Franzen’s fear, if not a solution, and because at this point it was a little after 3:30am, I had to read ahead to figure out if his answers would satisfy me or, if they didn’t, if I could come up with a good enough counter-proposal to be able to go to sleep. In other words, I had to analyze. To an extent. Franzen’s answer is one I do find comforting.

Expecting a novel to bear the weight of our whole disturbed society–to help solve our contemporary problems–seems to me to be a peculiarly American delusion. To write sentences of such authenticity that refuge can be taken in them: Isn’t this enough? Isn’t it a lot?

Don DeLillo

It is enough. I started breathing again. A lot of times, too, a book or movie or whatever that is only about the RIGHT NOW will, itself, only be relevant right now. It will be a product of its time, and its own shelf-life will only be as long as that of the social phenomenon it’s about. And then it will be gone. But other things will last. Better things will remain. The film “25th Hour” got totally overlooked in 2002 when it came out. It was on my list of the best films of that year, because I sought it out. Zero Oscar nominations. Zero Golden Globe nominations. The movie was made by Spike Lee and has Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, and Anna Paquin. Seven years later, it is appearing on numerous Best-of-the-Decade Lists. Seven years later, it has remained.

So, of course, this entry, which was supposed to be short, has gone long. I’ll close with more encouragement, from the end of Franzen’s essay. It comes from another favorite writer of mine, Don DeLillo, who wrote to Franzen personally when he (Franzen) appealed to him (DeLillo) for help.

“The writer leads, he doesn’t follow. The dynamic lives in the writer’s mind, not in the size of the audience. And if the social novel lives, but only barely, surviving in the cracks and ruts of the culture, maybe it will be taken more seriously, as an endangered spectacle. A reduced context but a more intense one.

Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”


Asking for one of these for Christmas

I’ve been very busy recently. I am in the process of re-writing “Trailer: The Movie” – the full length film. This time last year, Adam and I were writing it for the first time. I’m doing the re-writing alone, with his permission, and boy-oh-boy. It’s interesting to read over the storyline for the feature now. It doesn’t really make sense and has a pretty limited scope. So my task from now until probably about January is expanding it to include more media entities. The internet, tabloid journalism, on-set visits, and DVD special features (I am toying with the idea of including a section in the film that is the DVD commentary for one of the films-within-the-film, which itself would make for an interesting moment on the DVD commentary for the film itself (should it ever be made)).

I went just yesterday to Booked Talent, a call-in service for extras. It was interesting. When I went to Central Casting to sign up for extras work (you have to do both), it was like a prison camp. Barking orders, 100 people crowded in elbow-to-elbow, very specific instructions and all sorts of lines to stand in. Today, there were 6 of us. It was laid back, very informal and helpful. I guess with only a few people per day, you can afford to be casual, but it was a welcome change. I had to bring 4 different outfits – business, business casual, athletic (basketball), and normal 20-something clothes. I am available for work as early as Friday, so who knows, you could glimpse me in the background of your favorite TV shows. I won’t be speaking, but that won’t stop me from chewing the scenery all I can.

I’ve been doing a lot of work for It’s Just Movies and also wrote a blog about writing for Tyler’s podcast blog, More Than One Lesson. He was nominated for a Podcast Award for that show, after only a handful of episodes. It’s a huge boost for him. Some day I’ll be on there, talking about who knows what? Until then, you can hear me on another great podcast – Barely Literate. I was on there in January talking about “Shampoo Planet” which wasn’t any good. This time, we discussed David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System which I liked more and more as I looked it over in preparation. I also came across a great piece of prose from one of Wallace’s essays. Here, describing the food at a state fair:

The corn dog tastes strongly of soybean oil, which itself tastes like corn oil that’s been strained through an old gyn towel.

His descriptions are some of my favorites ever. Infinite Jest is currently in the running for one of my favorite books of all time.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Aside from that, it’s Thanksgiving week! Tomorrow, I’ve got two to go to (one for my Gram on my Mom’s side, one for 25 of us from the two churches that comprise our small groups). Then, Saturday I drive down to Port Huneme and the house my Dad grew up in to have Thanksgiving with everyone on that side of the family. My fridge will be filled with leftovers to last til Christmas. I’m startled how excited I am for all of this. I’m used to spending the holidays with just my parents and siblings. This year, I won’t see them for either, but I’m spending time with everyone in both sides of extended family. It will be very interesting, and I’m looking forward to writing about it all.

Until next week, take care, hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!

Productivity as Procrastination

I’ve been looking today at various adapters and lenses for my Panasonic film camera, and I am overwhelmed. More and more and more, I regret not taking some film courses in college. I was focused on writing, but boy it would’ve helped.

TroubleOh, there are a thousand things I need to do. I want to upgrade the look of the films I make. My camera is okay and with lighting, it looks really nice. There is an adapter I can get, though, that would allow me to use film lenses on my camera. It essentially upgrades the look to film, even though  my camera isn’t even HD. Of course, I would need to buy the adapter and then however many lenses I wanted and all sorts of other little add-ons. The cost adds up fast and faster. What I need is someone to help me figure out what exactly I need and why exactly I need it. Someone who knows the language.

On the other hand, I need to do some writing. But what writing? I’m not going to film a feature on the camera I have; not even, I don’t think, if I had the adapter/lenses/whatever. So now then what’s the point of buying it? Is it still worth it? It is if I make a great looking short film that gets people to notice my work and allows me to pitch a feature which gets financed.

But again what writing? I’ve written one short since I moved here, and we’re going to look at filming it in the next couple months. I doubt before the end of the year, just because of people’s schedules and such. No, not before the end of the year. I have a few other short ideas to write, and they’re good because I can make them. It’s smart to write what you can do.  On the other hand, I need to clean-up some things in the feature-length version of “Trailer: The Movie,” which will probably only take a week or two. But who wants to polish a script when they could be writing their exciting new brand new more interesting NEW NEW NEW script? And even so, I need to write another feature, because I’m not pleased with either of the other two I’ve written. And I have ideas, but am I ready to jump into them? Have they marinated in my head and in the snippets they take up from my notebook yet? Dangerous to pluck an idea too early and waste it.

And on this Sunday night, I have two scripts open in front of me but only an hour before I’m off to a concert tonight, and I like to have an open space before me while I write, not constraint. Also I’m looking forward to the concert (The Mountain Goats, check out their great video above), and who can write when they’re anxious about something else? And so now here but also ahem you see of course it’s perfectly understandable don’t push me I’ll get to it when I get to it perhaps then my excuse is to write a little blog here instead of doing some screenplay work. It worked today. But tomorrow, really, I must get some writing done. And maybe keep looking at adapters and lenses. Much to do.


O’ Autumn

There are simple joys in life and autumn seems to unleash them for me. There is something about the feeling of it that gets into your bones and chills you in that way that makes you feel alive not cold. It’s getting dark earlier. This puts a damper on running sometimes, because I really like a good 6pm run; but it also means jackets and sweaters. Fall is great, because its cooler, but you can add a simple layer of clothing and become instantly comfortable. The winter destroys this pleasure, trading in the discomfort of being cold for that of being bundled up to the point of physical discomfort (I’m speaking from the experience of the mid-west winter. It’s a bit different in Southern California). Summer is the opposite. There’s no way to de-clothe in order to be cooler. Even if you’re naked, you’re still boiling lava hot.


Tonight, I sat in my courtyard reading Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird. I can’t imagine a better fall book, the same way On the Road takes on particular charms when read while traveling. You can’t help but feel little tinges of melancholy in autumn, or at least I can’t. But with a good book or two (Infinite Jest is quickly becoming an all-time favorite) little lonely moments don’t have to be all about loneliness. They kindof make me smile in a weird, fall way. It feels like me. It’s the same with writing. Sometimes you need to just stop and bask in aloneness. This is why I prefer living alone. The sounds of the place become exclusive to you.

bird-by-birdI miss school. I miss classes. I miss writing papers. But because Bird by Bird is written in sortof a classroom lesson-ish style, taken directly from things she says when teaching writing, it feels sortof right. Sitting outside, feeling it getting dark, my feet in the hot-tub, not boiling, but perfectly counteracting the slight, oncoming chill of evening. It’s not the same if I’d read it in the summer, in blazing heat. I would’ve felt somehow out of place.

The advice is great, too. I’d call her writing effortless if she didn’t spend so much time in the book explaining how painstaking it is for her to write. The writing is comfortable and clear and really damn good. She doesn’t try to impress the reader with swirling passages of confusing writing that deconstructs the process of it. It’s practical, good advice. She talks about the dangers of trying to write perfectly.

Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived… Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.

She is funny and honest and has a chapter called “Shitty First Drafts,” in which she basically explains that you have to get through them to get on to the good stuff. You have to just do, just write, and then, later, after you’ve stopped pre-judging it, you can go back and find those few things that are good about what you’ve written. And those become what you write about. You probably toss the rest of it, but it’s worth it for those sparks you’ve created.

The year after I graduated from college, I dedicated myself to writing a screenplay. I’d written a few before that, but I wanted a new one. I sat down to write a horror movie, but what came out was a 250 page behemoth of a psychological thriller that was about guilt and death and violence and love and, for some reason, also about high-schoolers and teachers and philosophy. It’s not very good. Not at all. I didn’t really pre-write much, didn’t map it out in my mind or my notebook. I had the beginning and I had a character, and I thought those would bring me through. Well, that’s just silly. No one has read this screenplay. My friend BJ convinced me to give him a copy, but luckily that PhD program has kept him too busy to read it. I haven’t touched the screenplay in 2 1/2 years, I’ve moved on. If I go back, it will be a Page 1 rewrite, and I don’t know that I have enough interest in the story for that. But I have no doubt if Anne Lamott or anyone else read it, they would instantly declare it a shitty first draft.

It Has Come to This

June 2019
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