Monday, November 28

The Dali Lama Effect

It's real, of course. "Be present in the moment." Simple yet profound. But forgettable, especially when I say it. But you drive 45 minutes to see the Dali Lama, and he chuckles about his car ride through (your city here) and he says, "Be present." It will resonate for days. You will notice, at least, that you're not present. Not in the moment. Suddenly the obvious is true of you. This is the Dali Lama Effect (DLE) in action.

Welcome to the Screenwriting Expo, where everything you taught yourself in the hothouse of your local coffee shop rises to the lips of some very good teachers, and seems truer, deeper, wiser. And you know what? It is. Because you wanted it. You really wanted it. I'm leery of the DLE but, O ye empty heavens, I'm grateful! I'll be sharing some of the things I relearned in coming posts.

The Darkness darkness follows a week of vacation and week of visiting family. Visiting home (or the home of the The One You Love) always raises the question: is there a story here? Naaah! Besides, one way or another, you're already writing that story.

Also, for those dogged few of you who followed a link to my journal site (Busman's Tour), forget it. It's all happening here. Now. Be present.

[Photo: Q: Just what kind of convention hotel did you stay in? A: The kind with "plus service" such as this.]

Thursday, November 10


If she were your friend, you'd tell Mirabelle Buttersfield she needed to quit hoping that Ray Parker will come around. After a few too many beers, you'd slap her and scream, "Wake up, wake up, wake up!" Because whatever half-lived dream she's stuck in, it's excruciating to watch. The movie of her story is deliberate, affecting, and slight - dated and pre-feminist in ways that may be telling us that men and women are all taking leaps backward.

Mirabelle is a would-be artist and counter girl at Saks in L.A. SheÂ’s waiting for life to really begin, but a light of hopefulness shines from her. She hopes, in defiance of her experience, for love. And by drawing, she hopes to find something undefined. Claire DanesÂ’ Mirabelle is both bright and dialed back, transforming a passive character into one so winning that we hope she finds the elusive object of her desire.

She's vivid, sure, but Mirabelle lingers in the voyeuristic, fetishistic fascination of the writer (Steve Martin) and director (Anand Tucker). For her, or them, the last forty years in America have had little effect on relations between men and women (Think of the first act of The Apartment.) She accepts expensive gifts, loan repayments, trips to the East coast, and designer dresses without questioning Ray's motives or her own. Her patience and willingness to accept Ray at face value appears to be the charm that wins him. Ray - Steve Martin playing a character created by Steve Martin; 'nuf said - gets off way too easy.

What's working in this story? Because love is The Great Possibility, the Overriding Good, we want Mirabelle to have real love, the only thing seemingly within her reach. But we come to fear Ray. No one's home in there, and he lets Mirabelle forgive him for it. Jeremy is just a foil, not the right man, but the kind of man who could be the right man. This is probably the truest of the movieÂ’s observations: Loves comes, slips away, and we follow it by hints, guesses, and compromises.

I can't decide which gave me the more acute case of the creeps in this movie. Whether it was the nearly unaccountable liveliness of Mirabelle, contrasted with the emptiness of Ray, and fitfulness of Jeremy. Or whether it was what it seemed to mean: that women are wise and alive, and men are half dead, or half boys. If what women want is something like Ray and what they get is something like Jeremy, no wonder they complain about us as much as they do. Wake up, wake up, wake up!

Tuesday, November 8

Out of the Darkness

Like being reunited with good friends you've never met.

It's official. We'll gather at the Veranda bar at the Figueroa Hotel on Sunday night, November 13th and dare to look at each other's god-given faces in three dimensions. Illustrations and other particulars can be found at Warren and Joel's sites.

The idea for a live, in-person meeting of screenwriters from the blogosphere to coincide with the Screenwriting Expo started at Dave's site, and quickly took flight thanks to L.A. local men Warren and Fun Joel.

Warren promises to buy drinks if he wins the Creative Screenwriting Open scene competition. The gauntlet is down. Single-malts at dusk!

Wednesday, November 2

A fan letter to Nicole Kassell

The Woodsman, your first movie (written and directed), knocked me out. I can'’t think of any observation worth mentioning that can take away from the total effect.

When people say that all the really terrific, boundary-crossing stories were told in the '70s, I say: "“Three words: 'bullshit,' and '‘The Woodsman.'"” Here are just some of the ways you made a great movie.

Generally: Simple. Direct. Unflinching. Unsentimental.

Specifically, visual imagination: When Walter (Kevin Bacon) and Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick) first have sex, the editing takes us into the moment, but it is a moment interposed with after and before. This scene shows us the weight of anticipation and afterthought, of anxiety and shame that Walter feels.

Story moment: Hanging in the air in a story about pedophilia is the question, "“Is Walter still a compulsive lover of little girls?" And until the audience gets an answer, they keep him at arms length. If he is, he may deserve the viewers'’ disgust. By establishing a sexual and, by slow degrees, intimate relationship with Vicki, the audience begins to trust Walter. There are signs he'’s changing. We hope he achieves his "“normal" as much as he does.

Music: The absence of music at a number of points intensifies the dead-on stare this story uses to examine Walter'’s transition and struggle to become a good man. Immediately before Vicki and Walter play pool to "There's a whole lot of rhythm going round...,"” a silence hangs in the air like real life. That long. That uncomfortable.

Acting: Less than a half hour into the movie, Vicki learns Walter'’s secret. She sits in the truck and it washes over her. She sits still. She doesn'’t erupt with emotion. Tears, vomiting, rage. These were all possibilities. But by containing her emotion, the audience learns that Vicki is much stronger than we realized. This scene sets the stage for her to reveal that she has been sexually abused too, but that she doesn'’t hate her abusers.

As you can see, most of these observations come from the first half of the movie. By the 45-minute mark, all of the strengths of the movie are in play and the story follows its course naturally. Thanks for such good work, and for your careful choice of material to adapt.

Looking forward to your next movie,