August 31, 2008
The Writer's Room
Today I had my first taste of an honest to goodness full day of just writing and working on figuring out an entire season's worth of story arcs and then pitching stories and breaking out each single episode. Honestly, it was a lot of fun, and I love the group I'm working with. This should be a great experience, and I think the final product will be very high quality.
Unfortunately, I still feel sick, and my skin hurts and I have hot flashes and I can't hear half of what people say because of the ringing in my right ear. On top of that, I can't really hear anything out of my right ear either. So it could have been better. But considering my health, it truly went as well as it could have.
I realized too that myself and a close friend of mine, Ed Goodman, were the only two invited to take part in this project that aren't specifically TV track here at UCLA. This is apparently quite an honor, and is because we have a rep for being good in a writer's room setting and at writing, obviously. Yes for us.
August 30, 2008
"The Cut" - a web series
A contact I made while I was interning at Maguire (who is also a recent graduate from UCLA's Producing Program. Producers are the people who end up working at Production Companies or Studios or Networks) is pulling together a web series called "The Cut," which is about a fairly down and out agency in LA and its underpaid, overworked assistants. He asked me to be a part of the writing team, and I accepted. It's a great opportunity.
It should be pretty cool. Comedy writing legend Fred Rubin will be running the writing room, and the scripts we write count towards Writers Guild credits. For me, being in the WGA is definitely a major goal.
Fred wrote us an email on Thursday and said to come to tomorrow's meeting with 15 story ideas. 15!? So while struggling with an earache, general sickness, and going to Disneyland and down to Orange County to hang out with Jessica today, I had to have my brain working in the background kicking around ideas.
I came up with one!
Fortunately, this evening while reading through the characters descriptions and generally making the effort to be creative, I was able to develop 14 others. Many of them I think are good.
Should be interesting tomorrow, and I'll definitely keep you up to date on this project. It's the next 8 Saturdays, 8 hours a day.
August 29, 2008
The Nicholl Fellowship
I've gotten a lot of questions about the Nicholl Fellowship, so I just wanted to put information here for all to read.
1) It's the premiere screenwriting competition in the world. It's run by the Academy of Motion Pictures – the same group of people who award the Oscars. And the judges are the same group of writers. directors, actors and producers who vote on the Oscars. This is the main reason, I think, why it's so respected in the industry. These are the same people who bestow the highest honors on produced films!
2) There is only one more round. If I make the next cut, I'm one of the 10 winners for this year. And the prize is $50,000. But at this point I would like to advance, but making it to this spot is already amazing in terms of recognition and contacts. Making it to the Semis is a huge step in a writing career.
3) It's hard to make it to this level. In my whole program here at UCLA - which is the best screenwriting school - it's only myself and one other person who placed. Of the 5,224 scripts that are submitted, 5% made it to the Quarterfinal round, and 2% made it to the Semifinal round.
4) I'm feeling really lucky, blessed, whatever. Look at those odds! It's a good script, in fact I love it... but come on. I obviously got the right people to read it, somehow.
5) The funniest thing about this particular script is that I could tell the instructor who ran the workshop at UCLA where I wrote it wasn't completely thrilled with it. He really helped me a ton with it, so I don't begrudge him his opinion, but it was clear to me that he thought it needed a MASSIVE rewrite. But I have a very trusted friend and fellow student in the program - Matt Pedrolie - who read it, loved it, and gave me extensive notes which really helped me. I did one rewrite based on his notes (and also stuff from my instructor that I felt were true to the story I wanted to tell) and submitted that. I was on the border of not submitting it at all because of how much work my instructor thought it needed... but then he told me he did not like No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood and I thought, "He's a genius, but it's just one opinion." Thank goodness I went with that instinct and submitted it!
6) This is the particular script that I've said could win an Oscar (if not for the screenplay, then for the actress who plays Harriet), so I think it's fitting that the Academy likes it so much. I guess I was right about that.
7) I have a great community here at UCLA and a great group of friends all over. I can't even count the number of emails, facebook messages, and texts congratulating me about this whole thing. It's very very cool.
August 27, 2008
Getting the Mail
I've always loved getting the mail. I think this reveals the optimist that I truly am. Because as often as it's filled with bills and other junk... I always know that there could be this total and complete gem that I need to mine for. I know it's only a matter of time, but I will get it!
So it's not a real exaggeration to say that one of the most difficult things about being away for so long is not getting mail for more than a month. It's emotionally painful. But in some ways that suffering was redeemed because today I got to go through a huge backlog of mail.
Oh, and the gems that I found!
First and foremost, the most prestigious screenwriting competition in the world - the Nicholls Fellowship - had sent out their decisions in late July. I had heard from friends in California that they had gotten their notices, but I merely had to wait to find out what my status was, because nothing was posted online. It was all done through postal mail. If you have any idea how curious I am, you'll know how much this was killing me.
Now I believe in maximizing my chances, and I also cannot choose between my scripts any more than I can choose between my children. (OK, that's not completely true, two of the scripts I've written I've basically disowned!)
I tell you this to explain why I submitted 5 scripts to the competition. Yes, 5. That might seem like overkill, but you never know which script will resonate with a reader.
So I found 5 envelopes from Nicholls, each holding the sealed fate of a different screenplay. They are all thin. That can't be good!
This is perhaps a good time to explain that even though I'm early in my writing career, I have already developed the skill to keep my expectations low. Even when you're good, even if you're a genius,. you'll get rejected far more than you get accepted. So I fully expected each of these envelopes to politely thank me for entering and encourage me to keep writing while informing me that the competition was especially good this year and unfortunately I didn't make the cut. How does that mix with me being an optimist? It just does. I know that sometime in the future something awesome will happen, but for each specific moment or opportunity I do my very best to keep expectations way low.
The first four envelopes were exactly in line with my expectations. Retro Bank, The Black Death, Well Adjusted Boy, Black Family Singers... all thrown by the wayside unceremoniously. Well, I think... I'll show them, some day!
But then the last envelope, not unlike a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I rip it open and... the writing is different. I notice this before I even notice what it says. The letter looks different. And in fact, my Harriet Tubman epic sweeping historical script (It's titled Her 14th Mission)... it was plucked from more 5,224 screenplays as one of the 261 screenplays to make the Quarterfinal Round!
Yippee, but it doesn't end there! As I continue to make my way through the heap of mail, I find one more letter sent from my good friend Nicholl. This one informs me that I made it to the next round, the round of 114, the Semifinal Round. The last round before the actual 10 Finalists!
This is officially a BIG DEAL. This is the most respected competition around, and producers and agents care very much about the writers that place. I'm still amazed to find out so late that I'm in that group! I had basically assumed that because I hadn't heard from an agent or producer yet that I didn't make it, but come to find out Nicholl doesn't distribute the list of winners until October.
OK, so yes that's amazing of course. But that's not all.
I also found a letter from the company that I do consulting services through telling me I had a $1K paycheck that I never cashed, and would I like them to send me a new one? Well, yes sir!
And the US Government told me that I never cashed a tax refund in the amount of $6K, and sent me that check again. (I somehow must have huge problems cashing checks... and this $6K one really has thrown me, but I called and verified it and it's for real.)
And I found out that Her 14th Mission and another script of mine, The Black Death, both made it into the second round of the Austin Film Festival, which meant they were in the top 10% of the 4000 scripts submitted to that competition.
SO yes, of course I got all the bills and maybe even a random Disconnect Notice... but the good very much outweighed the bad!
I don't know how I forgot to include this, probably the best thing to come in the mail out of everything!
August 26, 2008
I have to admit, I had very little faith in the Elany I soccer squad in the playoffs. But my Philadelphia sports fan pessimism was dashed and broken today as we wrangled up a convincing 6-2 victory over a team we lost 5-2 against just two weeks ago. And this was the championship game, no less. This is the first championship I've won since Newark Parks and Rec Basketball in the 6th Grade. And even though it was just the Y league... it felt good.
Oh yeah, and I scored the last goal. The proverbial nail in the coffin. The goal that let the celebrations truly begin and made an opposing player exclaim "oh, I just don't know what we can do!" in disgust. Yes, you let me score on you, and it makes you question your very purpose on the soccer field, apparently.
The goal I scored on was quite nice actually. Kris Copeland really sprints down the sideline after the ball, it's a sight to behold. He did that, and knowing that he can really cross the ball, I gave it my all to get down in front of the net, sprinting from mid field. He perfectly placed it in front of the goal and in one motion a karate kicked it out of the air past the keeper into the net. What a way to end the season!
Special props honestly go to our whole team, our defense played amazingly well against a very potent offense. Nathan Palkovitz played a striker who had scored 8 goals in the last two weeks one on one and held him without one score. The brothers Schneider were an inspiration to the whole team, and their aggressive play and excellent shooting set the tone early. Each defense player deserves special mention, but I'm tired and it's late. And Joe scored two goals too. But he always does that these days.
August 23, 2008
If you remember, I was feeling quite split earlier on. And rightly so, I have very rich lives that are literally thousands of miles from each other. I can't really be some place without missing out on something that is going on far away. It's just the way it is now.
But last week's film shoot made me realize something... this split, as odd and unsettling as it is, is needed. The shoot simply couldn't have happened if I weren't both LA Jason and East Coast Jason. I needed my base of the people on the East Coast, the locations that I know here, all that... and yet the confidence that LA has given me, the desire, the understanding and the clout to get some talent here on the East Coast to work with me has been invaluable.
It's kind of like how some dishes can only exist when you mix faraway ingredients, and if you just stick to one area historically you couldn't have sugar or chocolate if you were a European. I'm trying to cook some dishes, and will continue to do so, that require people and thoughts and places from all over. So the feeling of longing for another place is just a price I have to pay for that, and I can certainly deal with that.
August 18, 2008
More photography from the set
I was fortunate to have a number of very talented photographers on set capturing the production.
Just because the shots are so fantastic and they continue to be added, I wanted to bring your attention to Rob McFadden's flickr photostream again.
Brett Weber also took a number of great images.
And if you're on Facebook, friend Joe Kempista so you can see his shots as well.
And I just noticed that Joe liked Rob's portrait of him enough to make it his profile picture. Congrats Rob!
August 17, 2008
It's a wrap
Today, a hardy group of filmmakers and actors called a wrap around 8 PM. I'm absolutely thrilled with the work we all did, and really excited about editing it all together.
I had a much better second day than first day. The first day started off very rough actually. Things were just taking a long time, our camera's sound intake was all clipping, the batteries kept running out, and so much time was being wasted. It didn't help that our shoot was a quarter mile away from our gear truck and we had no immediate electricity (though we did have a generator.) But in the end, we got what we needed for the first day, though I came away thinking filmmaking is VERY hard and I'd rather write. I was just so inexperienced, and I felt it.
And now in the second day, I really started to get a groove. I actually started enjoying directing, got more confidence, and loved the way you could see the movie coming together. Anders Uhl, our amazing DP (seriously, the guy is a total artist, and very patient and smart... love this guy) said that the most important thing a director can do is have a vision and be able to make decisions. I definitely started to grow in both senses today.
For those of you who have gone to group workcamps or short term missions or summer camp, you know bond with the people who share those experiences. This was a very similar experience. I can only imagine what a 30 day shoot must be like.
Overall, it was an excellent experience. I learned so much... and definitely made some mistakes that I would avoid in the future. Our actors, Rebekah and Todd were so amazing and wonderful to work with. We got so many amazing performances, I'm proud to have them in this film.
OK, I'm so relieved now.
Time to start writing again.
Some other pictures for fun (by the way, I know some of them look terrifying... I swear it's a comedy.) These are courtesy of expert photographer Rob McFadden, who I'm so happy was on the set, because he got a ton of great shots):
August 14, 2008
This day was more difficult than I would have imagined. Part of me deserved it I guess, setting myself up like a bad sitcom, with the day before the shoot madness PLUS a combined birthday party for Lyric and Ollie both hitting at the same time.
But who would have guessed just how difficult it would get. First of all, I hired an AC today who seemed like a lifesaver. He knows the Red Camera, he has a lot of his own gear, and he was willing to go to Philly and pick up the rentals.
We had a great location walk through with our DP, Anders, and things were really looking like they would go smoothly today.
Then the boom dropped. The production insurance we had purchased earlier in the week, which is needed to be able to rent anything, was deemed unacceptable by the supplier that was renting us the camera and lenses. So we had to quickly scramble and find other insurance, while putting together a contingency plan in case we couldn't get that other insurance.
Anders was able to finagle some insurance for us, and I had to call a contact in LA to make it happen. I was working on all that when our AC showed up in NYC, and unfortunately I hadn't really communicated to him that he wouldn't just be picking up the equipment but he was supposed to "prep" the equipment, a process that apparently takes hours and which I am still dicey on the exact specifics. But our AC seemed a little shocked that he had to do it, and the rental house seemed shocked that he wouldn't already be expecting to do that.
And the rental house still needed a certificate sent to them from the insurance company before they'd release the gear. I finally got it to them 10 minutes before they were to close.
But then another problem. The AC hadn't taken a large enough truck to carry all the gear. He called to tell me this while I was trying to run a game for the kids at the party. Joe took the call, and arranged for the AC to rent a truck large enough to transport the gear back. So again... unexpected costs, people... truck rental plus parking for our AC's car for the weekend!
August 13, 2008
Well, let's start off with some good news. For the first time in WAY TOO LONG, Darby and I were able to take a night away, and we went to Gramercy Mansion outside of Baltimore. It was great. We ate at Fogo de Chao, which is a dining experience. Then walked around the Inner Harbor, and watched the Perseids from beside a very nice pool late into the night. The falling stars were astonishing... really vibrant with icy (smoky?) tails.
Today we went to Ellicut City, near Baltimore, which is just this old stone East Coast village, the kind I love even more now because they just don't have towns like that on the West Coast. It was really charming, and many of the old buildings were built over a creek, literally on steel beams that crossed it.
Now all that wonderfulness didn't come without a cost, because there is this filming coming up in two days. Fortunately, Joe, Collin, and Brett really came through while I was off gallivanting and nailed down a ton of rentals and insurance issues. And Paul Odders and Brett proved themselves to be heroes, volunteering to drive up to NYC to pick up the gear tomorrow.
So now there are really only two things that are stressing me out:
1) We need an AC. I've called so many people... no one is available so far. This could really be a problem!
2) We need to find some kind of Dolly. This is less of a problem honestly.
OK, those are the two reasons for the stress right now.
Oh yeah, and there is a mega huge birthday party for my kids planned and I'm in charge of the entertainment. These next three days are going to be very eventful!
August 12, 2008
Of course, we haven't even had our shoot yet, but I will saw a couple of things that I've learned already.
1) Shooting just a 5 minute short doesn't make sense financially...
There are certain things, like production insurance, which have cover a minimum of 10 days shooting and thus are awfully overpriced for just a one to two day short. I would definitely say the better way to make the most of your money would be to line up 2-3 shorts and film them all in a day or two.
2) There is always something more to do...
You have to really stay on top of things and make lists. There are so many details to keep track of.
3) Technical people and equipment is expensive.
Getting things to look and sound good costs money. There is no way around it.
4) It's always good to have a backup plan.
I wanted to shoot both days in Fair Hill, but the head ranger there didn't want have us film there on a saturday. So I went to a run down dairy barn nearby today and got permission to shoot our second day there. One less thing to stress about.
August 10, 2008
I think you can see why I'm a very proud father here.
Singing some songs
It was great playing some beloved songs with the guys last night, and it was a really fun crowd. Very cool night. Thanks for coming if you did. If you didn't, you would have liked it. I only forgot a couple lines here and there, and considering we had zero practice things really sounds good. I like singing. It's fun.
We missed you.
August 08, 2008
word on the street
there may be a secret acoustic look machine show tonight at the palks. We may be playing at 10 pm. You may want to stop by because this is probably the only time we could make work to play. And sadly, drew probably won't be playing with us.
The Vitamin String Quartet
My sister Jenna watches a lot of reality shows. A lot of them. On my own, I watch just Best Week Ever and The Soup to catch up on all reality shows, but don't actually watch them. But since we've been spending a lot of time here at my parent's house, I've been watching them too.
On "So you think you can dance?" (where clearly by the later rounds the answer to that question is... ah, yes! because everyone is amazing) I heard a really nice lushly orchestrated song which sounded so familiar. Then I realized it was a Paramore song.
Turns out there is this group called the Vitamin String Quartet who re-records a ton of rock songs as instrumental music. They are VERY prolific, and their music is gorgeous. Look them up on iTunes. They do Coldplay, U2, Paramore, Smashing Pumpkins, Linkin Park, Under Oath, to name a few.
Since I only write with instrumental music playing (vocals and lyrics are too distracting to wherever it is my mind needs to be to write story and dialogue) I really appreciate new instrumental music whenever I can find it.
The only problem with these might be I'll sing along in my head because I know the melodies and the lyrics. I'll have to test them out.
August 07, 2008
Pretty stressed, pretty antsy
Have any of you been in the situation where you have so many things that you should be doing that even when you are actually doing on of those things, you still feel like you're slacking because you're not doing one of those other things that needs to be done too.
That's where I am right now. I'll spare you the list, but let's just say I'm stretched a bit. For a five minute movie, this thing is demanding a ton of my time. It's going to be great, and I can't wait until it's finished. But the camera we were going to rent fell through and is really making the whole planning process more difficult. I hope I get everything finalized tomorrow.
It'll be ok. Back to reading someone's script and giving them comments. (I'm so generous, I know.) Then I have to deposit checks at the bank, pay bills, get together with old work friends, write my Curb spec, line up production insurance... oh I promised to not to get into a list, right? Sorry.
August 05, 2008
You're looking at...
...the lead for The Electric Chainsaw Massacre.
Todd Ryan Jones. He's awesome.
Kramer vs Kramer
It's been a while since I've had a chance to watch the movies on my list of movies I need to watch. Now that doesn't mean I haven't been watching movies. For instance, I saw the new Mummy movie on Sunday. Despite some fun moments and the always likable Brendan Fraser, it was pretty bad... It made me realize just how hard it is to write a good film. So many things can go wrong.
And I saw Mommie Dearest, which was a vicious, painful (if a little over the top) portrayal of an abusive mother. Once again, it only solidified my view that Faye Dunaway is an acting genius. Then there was Single White Female (scary!), If Lucy Fell (cute), Jesus Camp (disturbing), Team America: World Police (genius).
And of course, there is this little film called The Dark Night.
But I got back into the swing of the "Films I should watch" watching with a real winner. Kramer vs. Kramer was amazingly well written, well acted (wow I love Dustin Hoffman at the top of his game), and heart breaking. It was especially gripping if you're a father. Meryl Streep is surprisingly attractive, and delivers a very believable performance (quite a feat considering she has to play a woman who abandons her 7 year old son, which is something 99% of women would not do).
I would highly recommend this film, one that examined a very difficult social phenomena which was just becoming widespread - the custody battle.
4 out of 4
August 03, 2008
The Bearer of Bad News
To be in charge of anything, however small, means sometimes you have to make decisions that people aren't going to like. While some people relish this, I don't. I can get caught up in people's hopes and dreams, and I can really feel bad for them.
So it is not fun for me to have one role and a ton of men trying out for it. But we had one actor yesterday who nailed the part so well that we decided to cancel the auditions on Tuesday and let him know he got the part. So I spent the better part of this evening letting people know they didn't get the part (or that they wouldn't get to audition on Tuesday.)
The difficulty is that we had a lot of skill on display yesterday, so I do just feel bad letting these people know they didn't make the cut. But oh well, it's worse just waiting and waiting and never hearing back, so I wanted to let them all know quickly. I've gotten a couple of responses back already. All professional, but also wanting to know what they could have done better.
That's a hard question to answer, really. You can give some feedback, but would that have gotten them the part? The truth is there was only one role here. It's not a matter of them not being good, it's a matter of someone else seeming more right for the part. But anyway, I figured that question does deserve an answer (or at least I would want one if I asked it) so I responded to them reiterating that they had a very good audition and that it was fierce competition.
I told one guy he ad libbed too much on the lines (being a writer who really does spend a lot of time polishing up dialogue, this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. OK, I'd make due if the actor was Robin Williams, but that's not the case here. For an audition especially, stick to what's on the page. Especially if the director is also the writer. Because otherwise what you're saying is "I know you worked hard on this script but I think I can come up with something better off the seat of my pants, watch me!") And I told the other guy who asked that he made really bold choices with his audition and made them believable, but that truly we just went in another direction.
I really don't like breaking people's dreams. And for some reason, this part in a small film was VERY important to a lot of men.
Auditions turned out to be MUCH more eventful than expected. Much more. I had an initial instinct that we should hold casting at a neutral location, not in anybody's house.
I was right.
Let's just say that Rebekah, the female lead, was quite a trooper today. We had some people show up who took the role VERY seriously... and were actually, let's say, borderline dangerous. Don't get me wrong, these people could act. But, I think they somehow missed that the film was a comedy. They managed to make even the funniest lines creepy beyond compare, and in the end there is no way in the world I'm willingly putting a chainsaw in these people's hands.
It was actually a blast, and I think we found our lead. It was an experience we'll never forget, and I'm so glad that we have it all on tape because there were so many moments that were so crazy that you might be tempted to think, wait that didn't really happen, did it?
But they did.
August 02, 2008
There are times when I feel so lucky for a ton of things, but right now I'm going to focus in on my kids. I wouldn't want any other kids. I've always been a someone who likes kids, I was as camp counselor, I think kids say the funniest things, I like their energy and their viewpoints... But I was not prepared for having these two kids of my own, Lyric and Ollie, and the joy and love I have for them. It's pretty baffling to me, actually, just how much I feel for them.
Tonight they were both in a play. Now I know I'm biased, but there was a ton to be proud of. Ollie's young, so he had one line. And the boy just delivered it with such gusto that he earned a huge laugh. It's the old saying, there are no small parts, just small actors. Ollie proved he was going to be a big actor.
And Lyric, honestly... what can be said about her? I wrote her part 10 years ago, before she was even a consideration in this world, and yet she honestly delivered her lines exactly as I would have wanted them said, and even better. Her comic timing was just so fun to see, and her confidence and clear enjoyment of doing this part were just wonderful to watch. She's been through a very difficult time this last year, but I can tell that all the trials and struggles she's come through have made her stronger. She has a strength and a confidence now that were not there before.
So yeah, this post is just basically me bragging about my kids. Sorry, but I just really dig them a lot. Erwin McMahanus from Mosiac Church was talking about spending time with his teenage and adult kids, and how they were his favorite people in the world still, and that made me so happy because I hate the thought of growing distant from these two amazing people ever. So I'm going to believe that this mutual admiration club we all have going on right now will not be broken up ever.
August 01, 2008
Garfield Minus Garfield
Jessica made a comment about me drawing Garfield and Odie all the time when I was younger (I really did) and how good the drawings were (they really were) and it reminded me to share something I think is really really cool, clever, and funny.
It's called Garfield Minus Garfield, and the basic idea is to just erase Garfield the cat and anything he might say out of the comic strip and it becomes this sad, lonely strip about a sad, lonely man. Check it out, it's brilliant.