Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Birthday Epiphany from Signore Antonioni

 A couple of weeks ago I read an Indiewire interview with Todd Solondz that really depressed me. (You know the kind of depressing that can only come from having to accept reality? Yeah. That.) Solondz is incredibly talented; a true and unique voice in cinema. Moreover, he has made several films with movie stars and he’s an indie film icon who’s at the top of the talent and achievement ladder. He’s the real thing and not exactly a film business outsider like most of us. He was actually “considered” to direct a Charlie’s Angels movie. But get this, the dude has to teach at NYU to make a living. He explains:

I teach at NYU. I love teaching, thank god, because it gives me security and I have great pleasure doing it. I don’t want to have to work on things that don’t interest me. There was not much calculation to this career. It wasn’t done by design. This is what I write now, and this is what I make. Consequently, you pay a price. It’s just very expensive, so who’s going to put money into me? I’m one of the millions who will talk about how grim this finance situation is. I don’t think it’s cyclical at this point; there’s going to be a shift. Whatever audience I had 10 years ago has shrunken.

Click here for more on the Solondz interview.

So that nagging sensation in the back of my neck I’ve been ignoring for years because it’s telling me I’ll never be able to quit my day job is real. My choices are to quit making films or accept it and continue making those films I CAN make while earning a living doing something I care nothing about. It’s a crazy, crazy choice, isn’t it?

And then there’s what the birthday boy, Michelangelo Antonioni, said:

Making a film is not like writing a novel. Flaubert once said that living was not his profession; his profession was writing. Making a film, on the contrary, is living—at least it is for me.

This total commitment, this pouring of all our energies into the making of a film—what is it if not a way of life, a way of contributing to our personal heritage something of value whose worth can be judged by others?

So there it is. Filmmaking is not a way to get out of a job so you can have a life. Filmmaking is a life. My life. Your life?

Maya Deren didn’t have a regular teaching gig, so she died at the age of 44 from health complications from frequent starvation. She literally died for her art.

I guess what I’m saying is, get a job.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New website and Official Trailer

Well, it sure took me long enough but that’s what happens when you have to do shit yourself that you don’t know how to do. I think my page has been “under construction” for over 4 years now and I’m very happy to finally have a working website.

‘Tis done

I give you….(sorry yes, you have to click on it to see the website)


Also, here’s the “official trailer.” I realize it’s a bit long for a 7 minute short, but I wanted to showcase the song (Nena Anderson's "Over You") and some shots I wasn’t able to work into the film.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just draw.

 Yesterday I helped my friend shoot footage for his documentary “Comics Are Everywhere.” We spent the afternoon at artist JJ Villard’s apartment and filmed him while he worked on a piece for an upcoming solo show.

Spending time with fearless, young artists is always eye-opening and inspirational. JJ started working at his desk, but later moved to the floor and got comfortable on his stomach while he sipped on Pacifico. It was like watching a little kid get lost in his coloring book. He just drew and drew while we chatted. I remembered I used to be that little kid. I drew because I loved it; not because I thought it would bring success. JJ said when he was a little kid he’d run all over the house in search for a blank piece of paper to fill. He drew because he loved it and never gave the future much thought until 11th grade when his friends were applying to colleges and he had no idea what to do.

Artists covet the blank page; writers fear it. But why should it have to be this way?

I asked JJ at what point he got judgmental of his work. He said not until he was finished. I wished I felt that free. I judge every word and punctuation mark as soon as I put it down. (I’m not even going to think about what I do to myself while I’m directing.) Why can’t I just be like him? Really, why?

JJ started his drawing by putting down blotches of color and later filling in the detail with pen. And he wasn’t afraid to use white out when he needed it. He said he loved mistakes; that it makes the work more accessible to people because they can relate to it. That’s true. We can admire perfection but we can never relate to it.

I made a mental note of JJ’s technique and I’ve decided to use it and be more like him. From now on, I will write as if I’m drawing and I will sketch/write every day. I won’t aspire for perfection because it’s not even a good thing. I will just do it and not give the future a thought.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chasing the Squirrel

I’m making a list of all my potential projects and asking myself what I want to shoot next. They’re all good, some cheaper, better and funnier than others. I try to visualize the movie. And then I realize, there it is again. That word. MOVIE.

In my tiny, insignificant corner of the movie business, I’m a studio executive because I hold the checkbook. I decide what to shoot, for how much and when to shoot it. When I first think of an idea I get very excited, start writing and end up with masterpieces. Then the studio exec takes over and tells me “Those are not movies. They’re scripts. You can’t throw away good money and valuable time on a script.”

I wonder how many aspiring screenwriters actually ask themselves the business questions like “Who wants to see this crap?” The pros do it all the time. They have to if they want to get the assignment or if they want to sell a spec. If you want to become a professional, you have to write like one. And you won’t write like one until you act like you’re in the movie business and ask yourself the questions the people with the money ask. You’ll be getting paid to write MOVIES, not screenplays. To put it bluntly, a mediocre movie writer gets paid, a brilliant scriptwriter doesn’t. Scripts get sent to the drawer, movies get on the screen. (Yes, there are brilliant screenplays that are not movies. Yes, I know, some screenplays get to be movies when they shouldn’t. But those are conversations for the coffee house.)

So you’re writing a script about the European road trip you took after your divorce. I’m sure you’re loving the wacky, witty, one-liner filled screenplay you’re writing. Screenwriting is such fun, isn’t it? Try pitching it to a civilian and see if her eyes light up when she says “I want to see that movie!” Remember the dog in Up? The movie is the squirrel. That’s how you know if you’re writing a movie. People react like the dog in Up when they hear your idea.

I will illustrate with a well known film’s pitch (as we were told it happened).


A writer holds up a model boat with one hand.

A bunch of fisherman trapped
in the middle of the sea.
A big wave is coming.



Nobody knows where the squirrels are, but every body knows when they see one. Just make sure you’re okay with spending your whole life sending screenplays to the drawer while you try to come up with a squirrel. I’m not. That’s why I make my movies.

P.S. Here’s a link to my notes on the WGA Foundation’s Notes on Craft Premise & Concept panel which might be helpful. (This year’s is coming up and I highly recommend it. You can stream it if you’re not in Los Angeles.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I hate L.A., it’s quite ridiculous ...

...and it really parodies itself.

Once in a while I come across a story in which I become obsessed. The item below is from yesterday’s The Eastsider LA Daily Digest.

Cypress Park woman scratches out a living as a chicken sitter
By Christopher Yee

The urban chicken has become a new status symbol for those seeking to live sustainable lifestyles. Owners can let their chickens out in the morning before they go to work, put them inside after they return home and collect fresh eggs at their leisure. However, what happens when these friends of fowl want to leave home for a few days?

They call Cypress Park resident Anna Goeser, proprietor of Easy Acres Chicken Sitting, to “babysit” their chickens. Goeser has been raising hens for 15 years, but she noticed that she could turn that skill into a business in January when she came across many people on the Eastside were raising chickens.

“Once I had my own chickens, I realized I could never go anywhere. People babysit dogs and cats all the time, but when it comes to chickens, they don’t really know what to do,” said Goeser. “A few people needed someone to watch their chickens over the holidays, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

A few tries later, Goeser has consistent business through word-of-mouth advertising and her website, with about a dozen customers from Culver City to Monrovia. Her chicken sitting rate begins at $25 a day but the final price depends on the requirements of the individual job in addition to mileage. Goeser has been an urban farmer for 20 years and offers gardening and harvesting services in addition to sitting for an minimal fee on top of the price for sitting.

The standard rate includes twice-a-day visits to let the chickens out of their coop, feed and water them, give any medication necessary, clean up excrement, collect eggs and eventually putting the chickens back inside for the night.

Goeser is willing to also help take care of other animals like dogs, cats and even 100-lb. tortoises at a negotiable rate. “I’ll help out with any animal or pet as long as I feel comfortable doing so and have at least some knowledge of the animal,” she said. She does have her limits, though. “I turned down one business proposition to take care of 13 parrots, a flock of chickens, parrots, and a dog and a cat. It was too big a menagerie for me, like a jungle on Mulholland.”

After spending several years in Oregon and becoming a master gardener there, Goeser feels that the shift to sustainable living is a change for the better. “In Oregon, that’s sort of just how people live. They grow and eat their own vegetables, but of course it’s a much more agrarian environment. It’s nice to see it happening in California. People are finding ways to do it, and I’m glad to help,” said Goeser.


This is what Los Angeles is about and the reason why I will probably live here for a while longer. I think it’s the funniest place on earth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If I adapt, I die.

I think I’ve pinpointed where most of my discomfort with life comes from. It comes from my refusal to adapt. But because I don’t adapt, I feel like I have more ideas with more and more popping up at a faster rate than ever before. It seems like the older you get, the more ideas you get. (This may be the only good thing about getting older.)

The problem is that my path has its own life and the decisions don’t come easily.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Movies and Rockets

Let’s not fool ourselves. Making movies with no money is the same as trying to build rockets to fly to the moon in your garage. We know it’s pure lunacy and yet we still do it. It’s difficult and costly work that may or not pay off but we still do it. And we constantly ask ourselves why we’re doing it while we’re doing it. If you’ve made one film and want to do it again, you know you’re fucking batshit crazy.

I have a lot of ideas, I want to do a lot of different things and lack focus and organizational skills. (Don’t judge. I’m working on it.) Add a Libra’s indecisiveness and the fear of fucking it up to this equation and you have days, weeks, and sometimes even months and years of eternal farting around without finishing anything. This malady has a name. PARALYSIS.

I don’t remember getting to work this morning. As I drove all I did was think about what project I was going to commit to next and what my approach would be. I wrote and rewrote the screenplays in mind. Some were more along the crowd-pleasing side and others along the Teri-pleasing side. It’s difficult trying to decide between you and me until I remember I know what I like and I don’t have a goddam idea of what you like. This is why I can’t cut it in the Factory of Mainstream Entertainment. I won’t waste one second trying to figure out what people want because it’s phony and stupid. Remember: Nobody knows anything.

A friend recently sent me an excerpt where Louis C.K. talks about what he does and why he does it the way he does.

On being honest:

I like to do standup that's very honest. I don't think it's the only way to be a comedian. Some people the whole point of their act is that they're lying or being fantastic or really silly or absurd. I think Steven Wright is a great comedian. Nobody says, "God he's so honest." He's not one of those guys. He just has a whole different thing that makes him funny and makes him great.

For me, what guides what I decide to say or do onstage or not is, "Is this shit really true? Is this really shit you're thinking?" If it's not, you're gonna feel phony and stupid. I don't like phony. I don't like it for me.

There's times I've been getting huge laughs with a bit and then I look at it and I go, "But it ain't real." I don't really mean it. I just knew where to go to find laughs. So sometimes I throw that kind of material away after I kill with it a few times.

To me, it's not important on an integrity level. It's just that it's so much more fun to say shit that's really inside you, that really gnaws at your brain, and to share those thoughts with other people. And especially if they're thoughts that people aren't used to sharing in a humorous way, things that people aren't even used to saying out loud.

I mean beyond saying "fuck" and talking about sex. The really embarrassing unsaid truths. Those are really fun to tell an audience and have them laugh. It's something that I really enjoy. That's why I'm doing standup this way. It's because I like it.

If you are familiar with Louis’s work, you know the man picked himself over us. He does what he thinks is funny. And by reading the excerpt above you can see that it was a process that took a while to develop and embrace. By stripping away artifice and putting forth his truth, he's coming up with the funniest, most wicked and moving work anywhere.  Louis pretty much restates what I’ve heard over and over again from artists, filmmakers and writers I admire. Be honest, do what you love and you’ll reach the moon. That’s it.

I usually turn to Cassavetes and Tarkovsky when I need some cheerleading, but I’m adding this to my go-to list. I will do my thing with the hope that at least one person gets it. I’d rather be crazy than feel phony or stupid. No way.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A post commenting on 73 writing tips

So I’m sitting here writing a short story based on the half-written script I’m planning to direct next, and I get the urge to procrastinate. Naturally the first idea I got was to clean out my email and I came across a draft with the following list entitled, “How to Become a Better Writer.” There’s no link, but I’m pretty sure I got it from a writing advice blog when I used to read writing advice blogs. I don’t any more. There’s only so much advice you can take until you realize only two pieces of advice really matter: write everyday and don’t use adverbs. I’ve looked over the tips and concluded that I already do most of these things instinctively. It’s a no brainer really. If you’re a born writer/storyteller, that’s just the way you operate.

Here’s the list and please keep in mind that this is not my advice. I’m not qualified to give anyone advice on anything.

1. Become a blogger.

Duh. I have four, including a now-abandoned food blog and one for one of my characters. And I’m thinking of starting a fifth one. I like to be ignored, mkay?

2. Use self-imposed word limits.

I don’t do this, but I’m a lean writer anyway.

3. Accept all forms of criticism and learn to grow from it.

I definitely have this down after a long and painful road of taking and giving notes. I give as hard as I can take and I won’t be coddled or coddle anyone.

4. Read what you’ve written over and over, until you can’t find any more problems.

Jesus yes. Sometimes I go blind for a while.

5. Show what you write to a trusted friend for feedback.

I don’t like to bug people but you go ahead.

6. Outline. And then write to that outline.

I’d rather write to a beatsheet. It’s easier to write and more flexible.

7. Edit, and edit again.

Duh. My first drafts are perfect. Aren’t yours?

8. Live with passion.

Yes, but passion is often misunderstood because it requires you have strong opinions about things. You have to get to the point where you don’t give a shit and I’m pretty sure I’m there.

9. Be open, curious, present, and engaged.

I’m especially open to finding the beauty in everything around me.

10. Take a break between writing and editing.

Amazing how a masterpiece can turn to shit by sitting in a drawer for a few days.

11. Learn a new word a day.

This is nice but then you fall into the must use this word and it always comes across as self-conscious pretentious writing. Also, you’ll forget it. I’d rather read with a dictionary and look up the words as I go along.

12. Get the pen and fingers moving.

I guess this means write.

13. Write in different genres: blog posts, poems, short stories, essays.

I write screenplays (shorts and features), short stories, essays, and yes, blog posts. A novel is next but I will never write a poem thanks to a woman from a writers group I attended just once. She read a poem entitled “American Muscle” and it was about her boyfriend’s penis. I also stopped going to writers groups after that.

14. Read grammar books.

I got my Strunk & White (two in fact) right here next to Aristotles's Poetics and Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, the only books on writing you’ll ever need.

15. Write without distractions.

This is hard when you have a selfish black Labrador munching on your chair to get you to play fetch. I get fewer distractions at work, which is where I am right now.

16. Challenge yourself: write in a crowded cafe, write on the toilet, write for 24 hours straight.

Does tweeting from the toilet count? It’s 140 characters but it’s SOMETHING.

17. Take a trip. Road trips, beach trips, bus trips, plane trips.

I can do that. I just can’t write or read while I’m getting there because of motion sickness.

18. Watch movies. Can you write the story better?

Everybody thinks they can write the story better. Hence the proliferation of amateur screenwriters. Buy a lottery ticket already.

19. Write. And then write some more.

All right. I get it.

20. Read, think, read, write, ponder, write – and read some more.

Reading makes me want to write and writing makes me want to read. A true conundrum.

21. Read your stuff aloud to anyone who can stand it – including the cat.

Not a chance.

22. Go back and cut 10% from your word count.

To do this, you have to be able to figure out percentages. I’m lucky that I’m good at math.

23. Talk to people.

24. Listen to how people talk.

I don’t mean to brag, but I have a good ear for dialogue. I like to eavesdrop on little kids, teenagers and grouchy old men.

25. Read lots of books. Both good and bad.

I can’t read bad books. I couldn’t even get past the first paragraph of The Da Vinci Code.

26. Make notes of your (fleeting) brilliant ideas.

I have a fetish for notebooks and have a box of them I intend to fill with words. Maybe a few doodles too.

27. Start your writing ahead of time – not hours before a deadline.

This takes a lot of discipline. The only time I meet a deadline is when it’s not self-imposed. I just shot and finished a film in two weeks because I had to. Otherwise, I’d still be editing.

28. Listen to podcasts on writing tips.

No way.

29. Use simple, declarative sentences.

Why say “the precipitation is upon us” when it’s obviously raining? Only a stuffy, insecure character would say that to impress.

30. Avoid passive voice.

But passive-aggressive is OK, right?

31. Limit your use of adjectives and adverbs.

Limit on adjectives yes. Never use adverbs. It’s lazy writing and lazy writing is bad writing. Find a way.

32. When in doubt, cut it out.

33. Kill clunky sentences.

34. Be inspired by other art forms – music, dance, sculpture, painting.

I go to museums and galleries as often as I can. As a filmmaker, I’m actually more inspired and influenced by photography and painting than films themselves.

35. Read your old stuff and acknowledge how far you’ve come – and how far you have to go.

It’s funny to see how much you used to suck now that you’re brilliant.

36. Write for publication, even if it’s only for the local newsletter or a small blog.

I used to write film criticism but it was a time suck. The free movies were nice though.

37. Make writing your priority in the morning.

I’m not a morning person. But I do try to write something as soon as I get to work.

38. Keep squeezing words out even if you feel uninspired.

I don’t do this as often as I should.

39. Tell everyone: “I’m a writer.”

I’d rather not unless they ask. It’s enough that I know I am.

40. Recognize your fear and overcome it.

I’m getting good at this. It’s even better when you share your fears. That’s why I have the blogs, tweet and offend with my status updates on Facebook.

41. Let your articles rest and then return to them with fresh eyes.

42. Comment on your favorite blogs.

I don’t have favorite blogs but if I go through the trouble of reading the post I might as well comment.

43. Keep a journal to keep the writing juices flowing.

I have so many I don’t which one to pick up anymore.

44. Use a journal to sort out your thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes I can’t believe the thoughts that make it to the page. But honesty is crucial to mine true emotions and that’s what makes a story shine.

45. Keep it simple.

Simple, not simply simple.

46. Practice monotasking. Set a timer for uninterrupted writing.

Must do this since I can be like the dog from Up (“Squirrel!”), but what’s even more helpful is to set a time to be away from the internet.

47. Watch people.

Oh yes. People won’t tell you who they are, but they will show you.

48. Get to know someone different from you and reflect on the experience.

I believe this is called acquiring empathy.

49. Try new ideas or hobbies – the more variety you have in your life, the more likely you are to keep on generating good ideas on the page.

I already have too many artistic interests. My problem is focus.

50. Read works from different cultures. It helps keep your writing from tasting stale in the mouths of your readers.

51. Rethink what is ‘normal’.

Nothing is normal. C’mon. We’re all fucked up or will be fucked up in one way or another.

52. Work on brilliant headlines.

Annoying, but necessary.

53. Check if your assumptions are right.

I’m always wrong.

54. Join a writing group. If you can’t find one, form one.

Just make sure there’s no poetry allowed.

55. Write during your most productive hours of the day.

Check. I write while I’m at work.

56. Designate time to research.

I’m not one of those people who use research as an excuse to put off writing. Actually, I just make shit up. It's easier.

57. Take time to muse and mindmap.

I muse plenty. I expect to be run over by a bus one of these days.

58. Map out a writing schedule for your project and stick to it.

Oh gawd. Okay. I know this is very important. I’ve done it and I’ve failed at it.

59. Ask someone else to proofread.

I would but I’m at work and I’m not supposed to be writing. This post will be full of typos and grammatical errors.

60. Read Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” at least once a year.

I own this book. I never read it.

61. Break out of your comfort zone.

I can’t remember the last time I had a comfort zone.

62. Write at the scene. If you want to write about a beach, get a picnic rug and go write by the sea.

Cool tip.

63. Go to the supermarket, the ball game, the class room, the building site. Make notes of the sensuous details, the atmosphere, the people.

I do this but with a camera.

64. Start with metaphors and stories.

Where else would you start?

65. Approach writing with gratitude, not just with a ‘must do this’ attitude.

Of course I’m grateful. I don’t know how people who do not have an artistic outlet cope with life, I really don’t.

66. Deconstruct and analyze books and articles you enjoy.

Who has time for this?

67. Know about story architecture. Many writers don’t. Which is like doing heart surgery or flying an airliner by intuition. Survival rates are low.

Ugh. Structure. My nemesis.

68. Socialize with other writers.

I would, but they won’t leave their house.

69. Stretch or exercise in between writing.

I’ll try to remember to try, but a shot of tequila is pretty relaxing too.

70. Make a note of ideas for further development before you leave a piece for tomorrow.

71.Use mindmaps for inspiration.

Don’t know what a mindmap is. Google it for me.

72. Take risks – don’t be afraid to shock. You are not who you think you are.

I have no problem with this since I don’t expect anyone to read what I write. As soon as I find myself hiding something, I know it’s time to put it down on paper.

73. [Please add your own suggestion in the comment section!]

I guess my No. 73 would be to start a piece as something else. I’m a screenwriter and a filmmaker so most of my ideas are visual. I’ve found that if I’m having trouble with structure or figuring out what the story is really about, it helps me to write a short story from the protagonist’s perspective (first person). If I get the character’s inner life out of me, then I can clear the way to tell a story visually. It works really well for me. It gets me writing right away and it’s fun. Which reminds me, I have to get back to that story.