The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Front Lines

    Front Lines (19)

    Monday, 21 December 2009 16:51

    “Up in the Air” - A Lesson in Character Creation

    Written by

     “Up in the Air” is a character study. No car crashes. No giant robots. No space marines fighting aliens. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


    At its core, the movie is about a guy that has intentionally isolated himself. The story doesn’t go into a lot of detail about how he got there, but is concerned with him discovering just how isolated he has made himself. To do that, the film uses generous amounts of irony.

    Ryan, the main character played by George Clooney, works for a company hired by other companies to be a temporary hatchet man. His job is to separate people from the people they work with. One of his daily goals to to provide these people, some of whom have worked for the same company for decades, with just enough hope and dignity to allow them to walk out of the office; let them down easy. Of course, there really is no way to do that.

    Ryan travels something like 320 days a year. His “hobby” is collecting milage from loyalty rewards programs. His goal, a big number of miles; a noteworthy number so large the companies will go out of their way to be loyal to him. So here’s big irony point #2, Ryan values loyalty and companies that reward it, yet on a daily basis Ryan cuts the legs out from under employees that have been loyal to companies.

    While Ryan may not exactly take joy in airport screenings, he’s developed the entire procedure into a fine art. He travels with very little baggage. He’s known for this and even gives corporate motivational lectures about cutting baggage out of life. Not just the physical baggage you travel with, but also the emotional baggage that comes with relationships.

    As part of a cost saving initiative by Ryan’s company, he’s called back to the home office and introduced to Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, a young up and comer who has the genius idea of firing people via internet video chats. Ryan resists this, mostly because it means his hobby goal won’t be reached, but also he really does feel that he actually does provide a service by being in the room. So, Ryan is starting to realize something; maybe isolation isn’t such a good thing.

    I don’t want to give too much of the film away, but it is rather brilliant in terms of finding the exact right contrasts when it comes to building all of the characters and how they interact with one another.

    Dialog in this film is stunning. That’s actually what got me hooked on it; an early teaser trailer that linked a couple of Ryan’s speeches together in a way that was simply amazing.

    I highly recommend this movie.

    Sunday, 20 December 2009 15:22

    The Art of Humility

    Written by

                 A few months back one of my films, The Perfect Girl, competed in the horror section at the Knight of Shorts Film Festival.   All the films in the competition were screened for the judges and audience then there was an intermission while the judges selected which film they liked best.  After the intermission the finalists were called to the stage to briefly introduce themselves and their inspirations for their films.  After an open Q&A with the audience, the judges announced the winner of the festival. 

                I remember standing up there with the audiences’ eyes on me.  I remember thinking there was no way my film was going to win. 

    The Perfect Girl was financed by Cal State Fullerton while Chapman, UCLA, and USC financed the other films I was up against.  Their films were better made and had much more production value and creative aesthetic.  The one thing my film had that set it apart was I wrote the story about subject matter I could closely relate to.    

                As I stood up there I got myself mentally prepared to congratulate the winner.  I remember thinking about having to show my sportsmanship by shaking the winner’s hand as the festival director made his way to the stage.  The next thing I knew, the spotlight was on me because the announced winner of the festival was The Perfect Girl by Victor Phan. 

    I was still in awe as I was given the microphone and trophy.  I opened up my victory speech by stating how I didn’t think I was going to win and how I thought all of the filmmakers standing on the stage were better filmmakers.  After I made my speech there was a huge applause from the audience.  I came down from the stage and hugged and shared the victory with the people who came to the festival to support me.  As I was getting ready to leave, I had a realization.  None of the other filmmakers who stood on the stage with me had bothered to shake my hand before leaving.  This troubled me. 

    A week after I attended a OC Screenwriters event.  It was a discussion panel given by a famous television celebrity.  During this panel he spoke about things that made entertainment a tough business.  He specifically said there is a lot of envy and jealously in this industry, and that the same people who cheer for you when you succeed are the same ones who are hoping you fail. 

    I had an epiphany during this panel.  I thought about why there was so much envy and jealously between the people who worked in show business.  I then thought about who the people working in entertainment are and what were their backgrounds.  For the most part, people who work in entertainment come from creative backgrounds.  They either did art, photography, theater, or some other creative discipline before deciding to work in entertainment. 

    I come from a strong background in illustration.  It is this background that made me decide to become a filmmaker, but that’s not the only background I have.  I also have been kickboxing for as long as I can remember.  Kickboxing, and the discipline it requires, has given me a high level of athleticism and sense of confidence.  I’m always sincere and nice to people I meet because I have no need to feel threatened or competitive.

    This athletic background has given me a strong sense of humility.  I know that no matter how hard I work at my craft there will always be someone out there who is better than me, and have accepted that.  I know that no matter what happens within competition, once it’s over I should congratulate the opposition whether I win or lose.  I know that in order to get respect I must first give it. 

    Most people who work in entertainment did not come from an athletic background, so they never learned humility.  They literally believe all of their work truly reflects them and get personally offended when someone does better.  They don’t have a sense of sportsmanship, so when they don’t win an award, they just storm off while fuming with strong feelings of envy and jealousy rather than look within themselves and seek to improve.    

    I think humility isn’t just something every athlete or artist should have, but something everyone should have in order to be a good person.  No matter how hard we try, we have to accept that there will always be people out there who can do things better than we can.  That’s just a fact of life that we have to learn to accept which enables us to move forward.  If we don’t accept it, we get filled with negative emotions and will continue to do things that will keep our industry a tough business.  Maybe it wouldn’t have to be such a tough business if we learned to toughen up a little bit, keep the ego in check, and strive to be better humans.   

     

    Victor Phan & Clark Jones

    Torture Chamber Productions

    December 20, 2009

    Wednesday, 09 December 2009 15:15

    IMDB = The Ultimate Poser Filter

    Written by

                A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when I first got into filmmaking,  IMDB was in it’s infancy and was not the industry standard it is today for confirming movie and television credits.  For those of you who don’t know, IMDB is the Internet Movie Database.  IMDB is a tool people use to check others’ professional credits.  I remember sitting in a film class and showing the teacher a film I spent all weekend working on.  He critiqued my film and told me how I could’ve done it better.  I thought to myself, F#$% you!  Let me see your credentials if you think you could do better.

                Well back in those days there was little or no resources for me to easily check out what he’s done.  I had to take everything he said at face value and assume he was an expert or commit myself to an arduous process to confirm his bona fides.  I remember attending networking functions and meeting a whole bunch of people I never heard of before.  I remember them talking about how many films they’ve done and all of the big names they’ve worked with.  Once again there was no easy way for me to corroborate any of their credits so I just had to go with what people said about themselves.

                 IMDB was started in the early 90s but became the standard for checking credits in the 2000s.  Now everyone has the ability to check someone’s official credits immediately.  This is very important because a lot of people you will meet are full of BS.  IMDB gives you the ability to not waste your time with someone who is obviously not who they say they are and move on to someone who can actually help you realize your project.  This is an invaluable tool for small-time and big-time filmmakers for hiring cast and crew.  Honestly, why waste your time interviewing someone who only knows how to make movies that only Youtube could love?

                The great thing about IMDB is it has a very strict adding policy so posers can’t just add themselves.  The people who manage the database actually do their homework and check peoples’ credits.  They don’t let people add their films onto the database unless they have been screened at festivals or have distribution deals.  Both criteria are difficult for people who aren’t serious about filmmaking to accomplish (*cough*Youtube*cough). 

                I’ve worked in the industry for a long time now and have met many posers.  I once asked myself why there are so many people who pretend they do what I do for a living.  The answer is quite obvious.  People like the perks but don’t want to pay their dues. Also people have this natural interest in the entertainment business.  Don’t believe me?  Watch how many heads turn if you’re ever at a party and say you work in the film industry.  People give you a certain amount of respect if you can make a living in the film industry because everyone knows how tough it is. 

                Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t look down or think any less of people who don’t work in this industry.  It is a very tough business and I often ask myself why I even do it.  The paydays are few and far in between.  The hours are long and inconsistent.  Even with so many reasons why not to do this I still see why there are so many people who pretend this is what they do.  They want the same respect that the people who did what they couldn’t do get.  People who work in this industry are people who let go of the safety net and took the plunge.  We closed our eyes and leapt after our dreams never caring if we land safely or plummet to our deaths. 

                Because we took that plunge we were able to live the lives people only dream of.  We got to rub elbows with famous people.  We got to work onset with the sound stages and bright lights.  We got to see our work or ourselves on the big screen and in our living rooms.  We got to build a body of work we’ll always be remembered for and continue to be prolific.  And if you don’t believe me, you could always check our credits to see if I’m bluffing. 

    Victor Phan & Clark Jones

    Torture Chamber Productions

    December 2, 2009

     

    BLOG 3.5 – Bonus Blog about Bootlegging Bastards

    During the past couple of weeks, I have had an unwanted crash course in bootlegging, DVDRips, file sharing, bit torrents and pirates.  As a struggling filmmaker, it makes me want to VoMiT.  <(If you don't get that joke, you especially need to keep reading.)

    I didn’t really know what any of those terms meant.  I thought the only bootleggers were those people selling crappy $5 DVD’s on the streets of New York, and certainly nobody would bother bootlegging Teenage Dirtbag.  I wasn’t at all worried that my film wasn’t available for download the day it was released on DVD.  Why wasn’t it available? Well, because there were sound issues holding it up with iTunes, and to be perfectly frank, my distributor is small and old-school, and didn’t worry about getting it up on Hulu or Cinema Now, or anywhere else.  They didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of how important it is to make it available for download… IMMEDIATELY. 

    I am embarrassed to say, neither did I.  If I couldn’t get the movies I wanted from Movies On Demand, then I would get them the old fashioned way – Blockbuster.  Not Blockbuster on-line, Blockbuster the store down the street.   I hadn’t even explored the option of Netflix until they ordered my film. Now I subscribe and love it, just in time for mail to become the outdated way of getting movies.  People download nowadays. 

    Thanks to my favorite new mentor, Mark Sevi, I found out that Teenage Dirtbag’s bit torrent numbers were off the charts.  I didn’t even know what he was talking about.  Basically, it meant thousands and thousands of people were stealing my movie, giving it away, and worst of all - selling it on-line without the rights!  Mark told me I should be flattered, but I was furious. What an absolute violation!  Don’t those buttholes out there understand that this isn’t some big money studio picture, and their theft isn’t a drop in the bucket?!  It’s just little ol’ me, my friends and family who invested, my hard-working sales agents, and my struggling distributor.  It matters!  This meant war.

    Step 1, I called my distributor and gave them the numbers of how many people were downloading the movie, and told them if they want to stop the bloodletting, they better get the damn thing up onto a download site, and fast.  Step 2, I launched a Cease and Desist effort against the file-sharing sites. (It has been about as successful as trying to clean sand off of the beach… But whatever, I’m angry.)  Step 3, educate fans of the many legitimate ways to get the movie.

    By the following day, my distributor miraculously got the film up on Cinema Now.  Three days after that, they added a new on-line store to their website, and were selling the download directly. Within two weeks, the movie was up on iTunes.  (Turns out money is a good motivator.) So I won one very small battle.  But the bit torrent numbers have continued growing to staggering numbers across the globe, which means I am not only losing the war, but it is a bloodbath, day after day.   For those of us who desire to make our living on intellectual property, we are so screwed.

    Let my mistakes be your lessons: 

    1. Don’t assume the person selling or distributing your material knows what they are doing.  Just because you sold your work, or got distribution, doesn’t mean your job is done.  No one cares about it more than you, so stay involved.

    2. Protect everything you have in any way that you can.  Copyright, register, watermark, etc.

    3. Be a step ahead of the bootleggers.  Make it easily available through lots of on-line sources, and you’ll be more likely to get paid.

    4. Send the legal threats, make the noise, report the thieves.  

    5. Walk the walk… don’t download other people’s movies/songs/etc. just because you can.  Saving $4.00 isn’t worth the bad karma. 

    6. And finally, if you’re like me, and are a little oblivious to the digital age, get on top of it – NOW.

     

    BLOG 3 – IT’S FINISHED!  NOW REWRITE IT.

     My tail is between my legs.  I did not finish my script entirely.  BUT, because of the commitment I made, and sassy remarks many of you left on my Facebook page, I worked harder than usual, and got a LOT accomplished.  Thanks to you, my script is now 92 pages, and is complete enough that I paid my $20 to register it with the WGA, and can now tell you the name:  Tijuana Train.  Ta-da!  Three more small scenes and it will be totally done.  And by done, I mean ready for a year of re-writes.  I have  friends who are in the process of writing their first script, and I am afraid to tell them that “finishing” it means you are really just starting.  I don’t want to spoil their fun.

    My first script, Teenage Dirtbag, is a memoir-style drama, a genre that I feel very comfortable in as a writer.  This second script, Tijuana Train, is an action-comedy and I just know it sucks.  Action-comedy? Who do I think I am?!  It's a pile of dung.  In fact, a dung beatle is trying to roll it off of my desktop right now.

    Yesterday, I sent the script to an industry friend who worked on my first film, who I respect infinitely.   I figure I might as well get it over with.  I trust he’ll find a tactful way to tell me it’s a heap-o-crap.

    I find that one of two things happen to us as writers:

    1.       We finish a piece of work, and believe it to be a flawless and glorious masterpiece.  Each word was so carefully chosen, and hand-forged together into a seamless work of literary architecture that it could, and should, change the world.  In this case, we are likely wrong.

    2.       We finish a piece of work, and believe, strongly, that it is the worst thing we have ever written…Moreover, it’s possibly the worst thing anyone has written, ever.  In this case, we are likely right.

    But, you have to start somewhere.   Even if you have one crappy script/novel/self-help book/TV pilot/letter to your grandmother finished, you are that much further ahead than the person who is still talking about writing something.   You’ve done it.  Good job!  I’ve done it.  Yay!  Now we gotta do a little more.  It’s time to rewrite.  

    If we think it’s already perfect, I’d say let’s not be so stubborn that we stand in the way of our own success.  Or, conversely, if it’s just too awful, let’s pony up the confidence needed to make it better. 

    I’m going to send Tijuana Train to everyone who will be kind enough to read it, and listen carefully to what they have to say.  Ugghh… I’m tired, but it’s time to rewrite.

     

    Sunday, 15 November 2009 15:01

    Regina's Filmmaking Blog #2

    Written by

    November 15, 2009

    Where’s that coupon for the free yoga class?  I really should organize all of my pictures into files on my computer.  A friend of mine wants me to go drink a bottle of wine with her.  Okay, I’ll do that.  I let Pleasure get in the way of Procrastination.  But only because Responsibility always gets in the way of Pleasure.  And all three get in the way of my writing.  Especially that nasty bastard Responsibility.  For me, everything I have-to-do-but-would-never-do-again-if-I-had-oodles-of-money, is part of that loveless marriage I have with Responsibility.  

    Do I have a new friend request?  Damn it, Procrastination! Not now… I am trying to write my blog!! 

    So obviously disciplining myself is difficult, and finishing the last 15 pages of my next script, an action/comedy which we’ll refer to by the initials “T.T.,” seems nearly impossible.  This is why I am going to ask for your involvement in the process.  My commitment, to you, is that I will have T.T. complete by my next blog, in two weeks.  That’s it, no excuses.  If I don’t deliver on time, well, it’s kind of on you now.   So, do your job and hold me accountable!

    Okay, Mr. or Mrs. Screenwriter/Filmmaker/Dreamer friend out there?  What do you need to do?  How can I return the favor and hold your tender little feet to the fire?  Do you have something to finish… or maybe something you need to start?  (That’s what I thought.)  Please comment here and get it off your chest… I want specifics, deadlines, pages, the steps involved. 

    Writing should be our Joy.  It probably usually is, just not always.  But here’s my experience:  the non-joyous work brings progress, and progress brings Joy.  It’s like saving money for a vacation… it sucks and seems to take forever, but guess what? You’re not going on that trip otherwise.  And I want to go sooo badly, don’t you?  So let‘s GO!  Okay, here’s the first thing we’re going to do… Cut and paste the quote below onto a blank page:

    “The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working.  Beethoven, Wagner, Bach and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand with as much regularity as an accountant settles down each day to his figures.  They didn’t waste time waiting for inspiration.”

    Now, change it into a nice font and make it larger. Big! Now print it out and tack it on the wall somewhere.  I put mine right above my desk.  If you’re really in bad shape, print it over and over and put it in your areas of distraction.  Tape it to the TV, the fridge, your cat.   If needed, print it on to a tee-shirt, one for you, one for Procrastination, one size XXXL for Pleasure’s fat ass, but nothing for Responsibility. You have to look at that sour puss everyday whether you like it or not.  We’re stuck with Responsibility, indeed.

    I’ll see you in two-weeks.

     

    Friday, 13 November 2009 23:03

    "2012" on Speed

    Written by

     I don’t know about you, but when I went to see "Speed" I wasn’t thinking it would be great art. I thought to myself; “Sure, it’s going to be stupid, but I can tune out for a bit and be entertained.” And really, that’s all the movie was supposed to be anyway. Just a bit of fluff in your life to take your mind off of the insanity. Then, somewhere in the third act, they decided to ratchet up the action a bit and do something that was, well, so incredibly stupid that it took you out of the action and made you say; “Oh come on! Really? A bus just jumped over a gap in the freeway and landed on the other side? FFS, that’s simply not possible. It might as well have sprouted wings to save itself."


    Yeah, that was stupid. What it did was break a familiar law of physics and how we know things behave for a stupid stunt somebody thought would be cool that stopped us cold in our tracks and actually screwed up our thought process, thereby losing us.

    Well, "2012" is a lot like that. Sadly, they didn’t even wait until act three.

    In fact, not only do we see that gag done once, we see it done three times, by the same character in three different vehicles in three different parts of the movie. Really?

    Now I know what you’re saying, you’re saying; “But it’s a movie about the end of the world! You have to let them do some whacky stuff.” No. Not that much. Certainly not that early with the graphics turned up to 11. It just doesn't give them anywhere to go.

    You can change a single piece of reality and have the end of the world come. Fine, that’s your freekin’ movie right there. But when you add in all of the extremely lame cliff hangers, chases, collapsing buildings and narrow escapes that come up in this film, it simply makes no sense whatsoever that our main character makes it out of the first reel, let alone saves the day at the end of the film. The logic just doesn’t add up and feel right in the first ten minutes.

    John August recently wrote on his blog;

    "As the writer, you need to burn down houses. You need to push characters out of their safe places into the big scary world — and make sure they can never get back. Sure, their stated quest might be to get home, but your job is to make sure that wherever they end up is a new and different place.”

    http://johnaugust.com/

    Ok, fine, but there is over doing it and "2012" is way past that line way too early in the film.

    I guess the only good thing I can say about a lot of the cliff hanger scenes; if you need to go out for popcorn or visit the restroom, feel free to do so at anytime. There's going to be another scene exactly like it in about 30 minutes. And I do mean exactly.

    Monday, 02 November 2009 09:18

    Regina's First Filmmaking Blog

    Written by

    October 30, 2009

     

    Ten nights ago, I celebrated the release of my first film, TEENAGE DIRTBAG. I drank champagne. 

    Two nights ago, I dreamed I was driving in the daylight on a steep, winding road that had been entirely covered in snow. There was no longer any sign of the pavement, just pure white snow.  I was filled with fear at every corner, but somehow, I navigated my way up this hill.   I didn’t consider stopping, but even in my deepest conscience, I knew not to go too fast, or I would lose control of the car.

    Still dreaming, I made a call on my cell phone to tell my husband that it would be awhile, as I could not see where I was going. When I got off the phone, I found the white snow had changed into equally white sand, with the same powdery feel, but just a little less slippery.  I relaxed a little bit.  White sand as far as they eye could see, but to my wonderment, I was still able to follow the narrow curves.  It was like I had been there before, and knew the way.

     

    I didn’t remember this dream until later that morning. It popped in my head the way non-scary, non-sexual dreams do:  vivid but harmless.  I can still see the white sand now. But where was I going? Was I alone in the car? How did it end?  I don’t remember dreaming the answers to any of those questions, so I don’t know.  What I do know is that it seemed like a glaringly obvious metaphor for my life in the past, the present, and more than likely, the future.  I’ve never read one book on dream analysis, but I think I’ve got this one pegged. 

    Today, somebody close to me told me they are tired of hearing about the movie, and that making films is my deal, not theirs.  Today, my distributor told me Sam’s Club ordered 5,000 copies of the DVD, which are on the shelves for sale right now.  Today, I am writing my first blog, and I should have something worthwhile to say, some wisdom to impart.  I do not.  I am not even sure if I have been keeping the correct tense throughout this wandering, run-on thought.

    The saying ‘you could fill a book with the things I don’t know’ applies here.  Indeed, it’s an endless book with expansive, white, facetless pages, stretching out before me.  So, let’s navigate it, shall we?  Let’s fill the book (in this case blog,) with a careful account of all the things I don’t know, and maybe in the end it will produce knowledge. Maybe we will find out where it is we are going. At the very least, you and I, my fellow writer/filmmaker/dreamer, will know we are not alone in the car.

     

    Thursday, 29 October 2009 13:26

    Save the Cat App for iPhone

    Written by

    Need to beat up and outline a story before writing your screenplay?  Yeah, I think you do and now there's an App for that.  At least there is on the iPhone.

    Based on the late Blake Snyder's theories and movies analysis books, as well as his outlining software for desktops, the Save the Cat App for iPhone can be found in iTunes.  Check it out HERE.  At $19.95 it's a bit pricey compared to most iPhone apps, but as something you can carry around with you where ever you go, even at times where dragging the old Moleskine might be obtrusive, it's an interesting addition to the writer's arsenal.

    Tuesday, 27 October 2009 18:05

    Final Draft 8.0.1 Update

    Written by

    I just downloaded and installed it with no issues.  I'll be working on a script tonight so will report if I find any.


    Here are the minor improvements in the update:

    Send to Script: Send content from your Index Cards (Summary Side) right to your script with a simple mouse click.

    Text Highlighting: Highlight text using the new toolbar icon and its five bright colors.

    Script Compare: Compare two drafts of the same script right down to individual words and punctuation.

    Print to PDF: Now also accessible from the File menu.

    Page 1 of 2

    Copyright (c) Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Fair Use Statement

    Fair use refers to the right to reproduce, use and share copyrighted works of cultural production without direct permission from or payment to the original copyright holders. It is a designation that is assigned to projects that use copyrighted materials for purposes that include research, criticism, news reporting and teaching. When a project is protected under fair use provisions, the producers of that project are not subject to sanctions related to copyright infringement. The maintenance of fair use protections is central to many non-profit and education projects, especially those that operate in digital and online spaces.

    This website may contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holders. The material is made available on this website as a way to advance research and teaching related to critical media literacy and intercultural understanding, among other salient political and social issues. Through context, critical questioning, and educational framing, the Orange County Screenwriters Association, therefore, creates a transformative use of copyrighted media. The material is presented for entirely non-profit educational purposes. There is no reason to believe that the featured media clips will in any way negatively affect the market value of the copyrighted works. For these reasons, we believe that the website is clearly covered under current fair use copyright laws. We do not support any actions in which the materials on this site are used for purposes that extend beyond fair use.