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Fifty Shades Filmed

I’ve been kinda ambivalent about it. I liked the books, but have read others in the genre before and since that I enjoyed more. I’ll see the movie, of course, and I’m self-aware enough to know I’ll be hot for Jamie after watching, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the casting.  🙂

I have a lot of friends in common with Kelly Marcel and Dana Brunetti (screenwriter and producer) and have interacted with them a bit online in my screenwriting life. My hopes for the movie were dismal until they were involved, but I thought if anyone could make a film adaptation without it becoming a total joke, it would be them. And per this Vanity Fair review, it appears they succeeded! Yay!!

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of the books or the movie, this series has opened a lot of eyes and minds, especially here in the uptight, Bible-belted USA. It’s created a massive cultural evolution, and I’m excited to play a teen-tiny, smut-writing part in it.

Aaron Sorkin on Writing

I’m new to the novel-writing game, but I did spend a decade working on the craft of screenwriting and I’ve learned a lot that carries over from one world to the other.  Was perusing my old “Screenwriting Tips” folder and came across some great insights and advice I’ve collected over the years, some of which I’ll share here.

Today, I’ve got some comments by Aaron Sorkin about drama, character and story:

I say this and this sounds like a vast over-simplification, but it’s the truth. Drama is somebody wants something and something is standing in their way of getting it. If you don’t have that, then don’t start writing yet. If you don’t have that you don’t have a story, all you have are feelings. The quality is how much do they want it, what it is that they want, how big and insurmountable the obstacle is, and how much we like the person who wants it. That’s going to spell how good the [script] is.

 

It’s intention and obstacle. The structure is how you’re going to deal with that intention and obstacle. Everything comes from that. What does the character want? What’s stopping them from getting it? 

 

(Julie’s note: I think it’s less important that the audience/reader “likes” the character than roots for him.  But maybe that’s why Sorkin is Sorkin and I am not.)

Pithiness is next to godliness

Most of my core beliefs are written on napkins, but not my certainty that we can say more with less.

 

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For example, the shortest story I’ve ever written:

EMPTY NEST (49 words)

She lies on the bed, braced for the obligatory bi-monthly marital relations. He joins her immediately – no need to lock the door anymore with both kids at college. She gives and receives a chaste kiss, a fond smile. Closing her eyes, she thinks about George Clooney. So does he.

Time Warp

Kinda ran low on blogworthy stuff to say after I got my foot wedged in the door of Hollywood. There’s little I’ve learned or seen or done since then that hasn’t already been covered by the heavier-hitters of the Scribosphere.

And frankly, I procrasturbate too much as it is.

A close friend of mine is successful and prolific-as-hell novelist, Stephanie Bond.  A few years ago, Steph read my novella, Bryan’s Girlfriend, and said a bunch of nice things about it.  Since then, she’s gently but strongly encouraged me to write novels.

I love screenwriting.  I spent a decade studying the craft.  I sold a spec and saw the movie made with real actors and a real budget without having to move to L.A. or blow anybody.  I got to walk the red carpet and watch the premiere of my movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I wrote and directed a short film couple years ago that I think I’ll be very proud of when editing is finally done.

So yeah.  I love writing movies and I don’t suck at it.

But as it turns out, my alter-ego has stories to tell that are more in line with books I’d want to read, rather than movies I’d want to watch.  So while some of my scripts gather dust on various well-regarded desks in Hollywood, I’m giving her free rein.

It was a struggle at first, switching from screenwriting to prose; the ability to write what characters are thinking, when for the last decade I could only write “what we can see.”  Plus, the luxury of adding description and adjectives… we don’t do much of that in scripts and it was hard to find my voice and figure out how much was too much vs. not enough.  But I’ve gotten a few early reviews of Extreme Close-Up and they’ve been encouraging.  And once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed the writing.

Think I could be onto something here…

An awesome day on set of THE BLIND SIDE

John Lee Hancock, generous friend and mentor, let me shadow him for a few days of “director’s school” earlier this month. Big difference from the time I spent on my own set when we shot PB: back then, I hadn’t been on a feature set before, so I concentrated on staying out of the damn shot and not tripping over anything while trying to figure out what everybody’s jobs were.

As my eyes and brain have now adjusted to the sight of hundreds of crew scurrying around wielding lethal-looking equipment, I was able to focus on how the hell you go from the mostly-solitary work of writing a screenplay to directing a multi-million-dollar production.

I feel luckier than maybe any screenwriter outside of JLH, himself, when he learned from Eastwood. I mean, I was just happy to be on set, absorbing what I could. Certainly never expected JLH to have or take or make the time to answer and encourage questions (including those I didn’t know enough to ask).

Cool as it was to meet Sandra Bullock, and to chat about our kids with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, it was way cooler when JLH explained the effects you get from different lenses and when to use them.

Yesterday was different from my previous days on set, ‘cause Munchie, our aspiring actress, worked as an extra. The scene was a high school volleyball game and Munchie was in the stands with a couple hundred other extras. When they first filed in, she was all the way on the far side of the bleachers. But somehow, when they were setting up the shot, she was moved a few times and got herself placed just over the left shoulder of Sandy’s stand-in. (This was 100% coincidental. I asked.) She sat with another girl and her mom and they didn’t realize the pretty girl in front of them was Sandy’s stand-in, but Munchie acted perfectly professional when April left and Sandy sat down.

Because they were in the shot, Munchie and a small handful of other extras didn’t get to break when the others did, but my kid never complained. When they were finally released for lunch, her energy was great. “John talked to us three times and said we were doing great, and Tim asked how we were doing, and Sandy said ‘Don’t eat too much popcorn,’ and the lady with the cool afro came up and put product in my hair!”

After lunch I introduced Munchie and her new friend to Sandy’s co-star, the sweet-faced and sweeter-souled Quinton Aaron.

Later, when her scene finally wrapped (after ten hours), she didn’t want to leave set, so we went to the second location and I got to formally introduce her to JLH and a few of the producers. Each time I made introductions, she was warm and poised, shook hands and chatted a moment. I was never that confident as a kid. (Or for most of my adult life, to be honest…)

We spent about an hour watching the next scene on the monitors before heading home. The second location was tight and Munchie stayed quiet and out of the way, like she’d been on set her whole life. If I had any reservations about schlepping her to auditions or shelling out for classes, they’re gone. I couldn’t be prouder of her – she acted like a pro all day.

And now, back to my rewrite, ‘cause as much as I enjoyed visiting John’s set, I’m itching to get back to one of my own…

Hi.

Yeah, it’s me. I know, I suck and I’m sorry. But you knew I wasn’t the most reliable blogger and the frequency of my posts isn’t why you love me, anyway, so let’s not argue. Okay? We’re good then? Good.

To catch you up, the fam and I are comfortably settled in our new digs just northwest of Atlanta. We love it here – it’s got lots of cool stuff we didn’t have in Florida, like “hills” and “seasons” and “basements.” My sister and her family live just a couple streets over, which is fun and convenient, there are hundreds of kids in the neighborhood so ours are rarely bored and we’ve got some very cool neighbors who enjoy a glass or three of wine as much as I do. Soon as I figure out how to dress in layers so I don’t freeze my ass off (shut up – it is not too late), I’ll be a happy girl, indeed.

On the writing front, the movie-related lawsuit settled amicably and after too-long away, I’m back in the saddle. Just turned in a treatment to my producer and manager – planning the next rewrite of THE MIDDLE AGES. Looks like it’s gonna be a page-one, but that’s cool. It’s part of the process and I’ve got some new stuff in there I’m excited to write.

Got back from my sixth Austin Film Festival last week — the second I’ve attended as a panelist. This year, I judged two pitch competition sessions and talked to high school filmmakers in a roundtable. Having pitched at the AFF competition myself, back in ’03 (my 60-second rendition of PB, the script that later became the movie PB/AS), I get a kick out of the full-circleness of my being a pitch judge. The pitches this year were surprisingly good – even the writers who stumbled over their words had unique, compelling stories. And I really enjoyed chatting with the high school kids at the roundtable sessions. They were sharp and expansive-minded, much smarter than I was at their age – in a whole ‘nother league, to be honest. Just hope they weren’t too disappointed when the rotation landed me at their tables, instead of Terry Rossio or John Turman or one of the other hot-shottier panelists.

As happens every year, I returned from Austin with lots of gut-deep emotional parting gifts. Still processing this year’s goodies, especially a few gems from Lawrence Kasdan and Shane Black. Both gave me hope and made me ache for completely different reasons, yet to the same end.

I almost didn’t make it to Austin this year, yet looking back, I think it was my most important AFF so far. I haven’t fully identified what I took from there but I’ve been wrapping myself up in it ‘cause it keeps the chill at bay and it sure can get drafty up here in the saddle…

Declaring my Independence from Tzures*

*Noun. tsoo r-is (Yiddish) Aggravation, frustration; “Oy, the tzures I’ve got, you should know from it.”

Lately, I feel like as soon something good happens, Big Corporate (in either brick-and-mortar or meat form) comes along and takes a steaming dump on it.

There’ve been a handful of instances of this the last couple years. Some you know about, some I can’t discuss. Some have been fixed, others may never be. They all stink.

The latest in the shit-on-my-happiness processional has to do with our upcoming move. We got some good offers on our house and found a nearly-perfect one to buy in our new area. Everything was rolling along smoothly to close the sale of the old and the purchase of the new in time to settle in before the kids start their new school. We’re supposed to move in less than two weeks, but now our buyer’s mortgage company says we need to bump the closing well past that date. Which also bumps our purchase of the new home (and, incidentally, bumps the people we’re buying from and the closing of their new home). I’ll spare you the clusterfuck of rescheduling movers, rerouting mail, resetting dates for utilities to be shut off and how annoyed I’ll be if we lose our interest rate.

I’m up to my eyeballs in boxes (well, if I’m reclining…) and between the housing issues, film stuff I can’t talk about and having the kids home from school, I’ve got plenty of excuses to choose from when berating myself for my lack of progress on the writing front.

But I’m damn lucky and I know it. There aren’t many people I’d wanna swap problems with. I’ve done a lot that I’m proud of and I’ve got lots to look forward to. (That makes me the very picture of mental health, doesn’t it? Yeah, I thought so, too.)

So, I guess I’ll just keep plugging along and try not to kvetch.

The answer is "nothing."

The question was “What is she smoking?”

Did it throw you in my last post when I got all metaphorical and shit? Sorry ’bout that. I just felt like touching base but everything had (has) kinda been in limbo, so there wasn’t a whole lot to share, really. Things have been inching in a forward-like, slo-mo-momentumish direction, so I can’t bitch… too much.

I’ve got a conference call later today with Hot & Smart Chick Manager and Incredibly Cool & Smart Producer Who’s Nevertheless a Fan of My Work to talk about my next draft of THE MIDDLE AGES. They both dig my new treatment and I’m excited to get back into it. (If you’ve been reading here a while, you may have noticed that this script is taking forfuckingever to finish. It kills me that it’s been this long, but to be fair, in the time it took me to write a few unique drafts of TMA, I had a movie made, engaged in a legal battle and kept the wife-and-mom plates spinning on their respective sticks. I might slow down, but I’ll never stop.)

During this limbo period, I’ve been working out like a fiend — Pilates and kickboxing classes. Love them both. Unfortunately, these particular classes are scheduled consecutively, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I hate to miss a class, so I’ve been doing an hour Pilates class, catching my breath for 15 minutes, then jumping into an hour kickboxing class. It’s fun to imagine the people I’m punching and kicking as I pant and wheeze.

Aside from all that, we’re fixing up the house, trying to get it in sell-shape with hopes of moving up near my sister and her family outside Atlanta. Manual labor is hard. Especially after Pilates and kickboxing.

And, it’s time I say it here: I love David Cook. Have a thing for Jason Castro, too, and would happily sit at his feet and listen to him and his acoustic for hours. But I’ve loved Cook since his audition. Love his intensity and his choices and his haunting voice. I’ve watched Idol off and on most seasons, but was never this passionate about any of the contestants ’til Cook. There’s a kind of magic there.

I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I think it’s the difference between Good and Great. Lots of people have talent and proficiency. Lots of people work hard and study their craft. Few of those are great. Maybe it has something to do with energy, vibrations, frequency… like, some people think and work and transmit on a higher level…

No, really. I swear, I’m not smoking anything.

Hello, from the precipice of the Cliffs of Insanity!

I started climbing in ’02 – sometimes giving it my best effort, sometimes lazily. Always reading and listening and watching and learning. Eventually, I pulled close enough to touch knuckles with the people on top.

Then I really dug in and took a leap of faith… and the Universe lowered a rope to help me up and let me grab a rock and catch my breath before fighting again.

It’s been a while – longer than I’d hoped — but this week there may finally be Movement in the Right Direction on a couple of work fronts.

Time to dig in again, ‘cause ready or not, the Universe has been more than fair.

Taste This

A couple weeks ago, I went to LA. I’ve been dying to get back there since my last trip in ’05. (I know it’s a little strange that I signed with Way-Cool Manager in ‘06 and had a movie made in ’07 without a visit to LA, but Bizarro World is my natural habitat).

This time, I flew out for a meeting relative to my lawsuit but decided to stay a couple extra days and make the trip productive.

Here’s something I noticed: Hollywood feels different when you’re part of it than when you’re merely visiting. After I picked up the rental car, I headed toward the hills and got my first post-production glimpse of the Hollywood sign — and couldn’t help grinning like the dork I’ll always be.

Spent my first night, Saturday, in Pasadena at a close friend’s place. Coming from Florida — which has the topographic relief of plywood — I loved Pasadena and the mountains all around. Met some friends out that night at NeoMeze, a funky restaurant in Old Town, and made merry ‘til the time difference (and lingering laryngitis) caught up with me.

Sunday morning, I drove back to LA and met an exec-friend for brunch at La Conversation in Beverly Hills (I recommend the French Toast). Snagged a nice little table on the sidewalk beside a couple of older guys discussing a script. I didn’t recognize their faces, but I bet I’d recognize their names. Anyway, I hadn’t seen this exec-friend since we were children (our moms are best friends) so it was fun getting to know her a bit and catching up on our lives.

Afterward, I tooled over to the less-glamorous side of town to check into the hotel I’d call home for the next few nights. There, I discovered my room got no cell reception and no internet and I had a brief hyperventilish 28 DAYS LATER moment.

Ran back down to the lobby to make contact with the outside world, then picked up a friend and went to Doughboys. I enjoyed a gallon-mug of latte and some good conversation.

Quick wardrobe change, then up to Studio City to do dinner with 2.5 cousins. They took me to Genghis Cohen, which is the best name for a Chinese restaurant, ever (and is, in fact, not in Studio City, but just a few minutes from my freaking hotel). The food and atmosphere were terrific -– plus, my cousin’s husband pointed out Mary J. Blige at the table behind us, and their adorable 18 month-old son ran smack into Elle Fanning outside the restroom. I loved the place.

But now I was running late to my own damn party. On my girlfriend’s recommendation, I’d invited a bunch of friends to Three of Clubs on N. Vine. Driving down from Studio City in the dark I couldn’t find Vine. Then I couldn’t find the address. Then I couldn’t find the damn entrance to the joint. About two hours late, I finally found my way into the pitch-dark bar. Some voices called out to me, “Norm”-like, when I entered, but it was a few minutes before my eyes adjusted enough to make out who-all I was hugging. Fun little bar, great time with great friends. Or whoever those people were.

Driving back to my hotel in the dark… bright lights of Hollywood all around… that dorky grin again…

We’ll skip Monday, which was an all-day meeting, the reason for my trip, and largely uneventful. (Perhaps, one day, I’ll share the “eventful” bits…) I will say, though, that my litigation attorney is brilliant and if y’all are ever involved in a lawsuit, you should be so lucky as to have him in your corner.

Monday night the laryngitis threatened a relapse, but a girl’s gotta eat. A delightful pro-writer-dude I’ve known online for a while met me at trés cool Sushi Roku in Hollywood. The food was delicious –- I’m sure my chopsticks were a blur — and I chugged buckets of hot green tea, miso soup and wee cups of sake and somehow held onto my voice, which I needed for…

…Tuesday — and my morning meeting with the Incredibly Cool & Smart Producer Who’s Nevertheless a Fan of My Work at a Starbucks in Beverly Hills. Not one to shun tradition, I got lost and wound up an unfashionable 20 minutes late. Luckily, she didn’t hold it against me, Gomer From Out of Town that I am. We got to know each other and swapped life stories and gossip for a while. Then she proceeded to give me in-depth and dead-on notes on THE MIDDLE AGES –- verbally, off-the-cuff, with nothing in hand but her iced coffee. And she told me not to worry about writing any of it down, she’d email it to me later (which she did: six pages’ worth of insight all geared toward helping me fulfill the promise of my premise). When I learn to chisel busts out of marble, I am so doing hers first.

From there, I had to rush off to meet my transactional attorney for lunch. We’ve spoken on the phone hundreds of times since he negotiated my script option, but this was the first we’d met. I was enjoying the bird’s-eye view of Beverly Hills from his lobby, when he came out and greeted me with a big hug. Good thing, too, ‘cause I had one for him that was long overdue. We’d planned a little party, but my Way-Cool Manager was home with the flu and my litigation attorney was fluish, too, so it was just the two of us at Mr. Chow. The fact that I’d heard of the restaurant should’ve tipped me off to its hot-spotness, but I was enjoying the company and the food so much, I almost missed seeing Keenan Ivory Wayans and Kevin Sorbo. (Not together -– let’s not start any rumors…) I’m not a neck-craning celebrity-watcher, so I can’t tell you who else was there that didn’t happen to walk in front of me.

After lunch, I headed off to my Way-Cool Manager’s office to meet his Equally-Cool Partners. One of the partners — I’ll call her Hot & Smart Chick Manager — I’ve spoken with on the phone a few times and gotten some kick-ass notes from, and I was especially looking forward to meeting her. She was just as smart and hot in person and we talked all over the industry and the town and my work and my career and before I knew it, I’d overstayed my parking meter by like 30 minutes.

Brett had told me he’d gotten a $47 parking ticket in LA, so I expected the envelope on the windshield. Didn’t expect the ticket to be $140, though. (Apparently, they don’t like you to park along Wilshire after 4pm. Now you know.) And to think, I’d parked at the meter ‘cause I wanted to avoid paying $12 for parking…

By now, it was nearly 5pm and I was freaking exhausted and losing my voice again. I dragged myself into Rite Aid, bought some lozenges and a crappy nukable dinner and ate them in my room. (The room didn’t have cell or internet access, but it did have a functional microwave.) I was in bed by 7pm, watched two hours of Idol boys, then conked out — ready to step off the Hollywood treadmill and get back home to my own personal chaos.

Reliving the trip through this post, I’ve noticed a few things:

~I ate my way across Los Angeles. Lucky for me, I have very little social life here at home, else I’d be a house.

~I know (all too well) that there are a lot of greedy assholes in Hollywood, but the gods of such things have smiled upon me and hooked me up with The Good Guys.

~If you want to see celebrities when you visit LA, go out for Chinese.