Sunday, February 28, 2010

Music Video

in a nutshell.

We're shooting on the 24th, no on the 25th. The label hasn't officially awarded, we can't shoot until March. They awarded. It's March 2.

Tech Scout - Saturday morning: The label wants to change the single. It's off. Everyone stop working/shopping/building...

Saturday afternoon: Just kidding it's back on.

And that kids is music video.

Quote Of The Day

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
- Jack London

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quote Of The Day

"The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the Universe which runs through himself and all things."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Procrastination - we know all the theories, all of them coming from fear. Fear of success (which I still wonder if this actually exists), so mostly from fear of failure. You have to deal with the fear of what will happen after you send it out into the world later, that's a different entry, but for the fear of failure at the process, I'm about to change your life. Ready?

If you're procrastinating because you're afraid what you write will be terrible when it's done, you're right, it will be. And if you're NOT procrastinating, it will STILL be terrible. Either way. Know why? First drafts are terrible. Often times, second drafts are too.

So write, and take out the "what if it's terrible?" and replace it with the assurance that it WILL be terrible. Give yourself permission to write a real piece of sh*t, and then the process gets easier. Somehow just knowing, this will probably be bad, let's you have fun and not put so much pressure on yourself to be great. Because you can't be on your first (again usually 2nd, 3rd draft).

Just be bad, because at least, then you'll be writing.

And then fix it in post.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Precious Mettle"

So many of us have had that "If I get close one more time and it doesn't happen, I quit," or ..."WTF, I've been doing this for years and I'm not even close." Or ....We start the inevitable slide into "just." i.e. You used to want to win the gold, now you "just" want to be able to pay the rent doing something you love.

If you've ever been there, and I know my a** has, this article was a ray of hope. It's from this month's Written By - the monthly WGA publication - and was written by Louise Farr about Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious). I'm just going to give you the highlights, but the highlights alone were pretty inspiring.

"Just before Lee Daniels snapped him up in the summer of 2006" to turn the cult book Push into a screenplay, Fletcher was suffering moments of despair. At 34, he wondered if life was passing him by while he chased his long shot dream.

"Seeing his friends, who had families and stable, traditional careers, he thought he might have blundered. New York temp jobs had granted him time to write thousands of pages of original material and shoot short films, but nothing opened the door to the movie industry success he wanted.

"I wondered if I could some how bury or ignore this creative impulse," says Fletcher now 39. "And I thought that I would be much happier if I could. But whenever I thought about pretneding it didn't exist, I found myself even less comfortable, so there was no way around it."

"He has blocked whatever job he was working on that summer when an assistant from his brother's investment firm called asking if he'd like to handle a meeting with Lee Daniels, producer of Monster's Ball... Daniels was seeking financing for a movie Tennessee to star Mariah Carey.

Fletcher rushed to the office, knowing it was unlikely that his brother's company, which built its reputation on minimizing risk, would put money into the producer's project. But at this stage in his life, he decided, he had nothing to lose by approaching Daniels to watch Magic Markers, which he had written, directed, shot and edited.

"I was convinced to utter certainty nothing would come of this meeting," says Fletcher..."I only wanted to show the film to him because I tried to wall off the side of me that was losing faith. I said to myself, 'It's important to try everything. It doesn't matter that you've heard "no" everywhere for years... What's another "no?"

...long story short, he did, Daniels loved it, hired him almost immediately to adapt Precious, now they're both Oscar nominees.

The caption under Fletcher's name on the magazine's cover is "Can't Touch This." It's always annoying when there's some black slogan that has nothing to do with anything because it's a black writer. But I'll at least give them a better one they could have used, and if you're a struggling artist, or no longer struggling, just not "there" yet, it's for you too: "Keep hope alive!"

Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Hottest Panel You've Ever Been To..."

...As described by the moderator Judd Apatow.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the premiere of the Soul Train documentary and there was a scene with Don Cornelius and Marvin Gaye playing a one-on-one game with Smokey Robinson as the referee. It was so surreal that it seemed like something I dreamt - like a dream where John Lennon and Jesus and Charlie Chaplain are all playing cards with Snoopy.

Last night's "Beyond Words" Panel - might have topped Don and Marvin hoopin' it up. The panel included this year's writing Oscar nominees (Nora Ephron was a no-show and was missed as she would have been the only woman).

It included: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious), Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek), Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (The Hangover), Scott Neustadter (500 Days Of Summer), Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner (Up In The Air), and I was saving the best for last - James Cameron (who made a little movie called Avatar). The moderator was Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People).

It started with a video of the nominees that made me all teary & inspired, even though it was just their pictures and what they were nominated for, still, they were this year's nominees for the oscar...

And then they came out - two single file lines through the aisles of both sides of the theater and again I felt like I was in a dream watching them all walk by. Later Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) said something similar - about always seeing writers like this from a distance and it being so strange to be sitting on a panel with them and seeing them up close. We're writers, to us this was like a panel of Prince and the Jackson 5 and Bob Marley.

Judd Apatow was immediately hilarious - moreso than I even expected & I'm a big Apatow fan- and started off the night by mentioning that he was not nominated this year because "Funny People was the 11th best movie of the year." He then started asking the panel questions that seemingly had nothing to do with writing but set the comedic tone early.

Scott Neustadter was first - "Who was 500 Days of Summer about?" Scott answered that it was a combination of two girls, but there was one that really was the inspiration. Fox Searchlight made him get her permission before they made the movie so they wouldn't get sued, and they became friends on Facebook through the process. However, when the movie came out, she de-friended him.

Geoffrey Fletcher was asked if Precious was his first produced script. He said yes, but it was the 17th script that he wrote. He said Oliver Stone wrote 20 before he got anything produced so he's ahead of him.

He went on to talk about how he thinks Precious is actually a funny film. Judd Apatow chimed in - "I laughed my ass off at Precious. The part with the TV? Hilarious."

Since this bit came as a result of Geoffrey Fletcher interrupting a question that was actually for Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, he apologized. Judd Apatow responded, "Don't feel bad for The Hangover guys. They're fine."

Jon & Scott then talked about the process of writing The Hangover, and how when Newline approached them with the idea of writing a bachelor party movie in Vegas they thought it was terrible and such a cliche, then decided to approach it as a challenge, "How do we make a bachelor party movie that doesn't suck?" They decided to do it without ever showing the bachelor party.

Judd then turned to James Cameron and out of the blue asked, "James, do you ever feel scared at night?" And suddenly we were in the moment that you could feel the whole room was waiting on - James Cameron speaks. He talked about how it took him 4 1/2 months to write Avatar, and the studio told him "it sucks" when he first submitted it. He told them it was a work in progress, and since he was directing he would work a lot of it out during the process. Judd then asked him, "How do you throw in a last minute dragon?"

There was a question from the audience for Mark Boal: "What was it like to work with Kathryn Bigelow?"

James Cameron interrupted "Who are you asking?" Brought the house down.

Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) - side note -super cute - was next. He talked about getting a scene cut from his movie that was heartbreaking. Apparently it will be in the director's cut on the DVD.

James Cameron said that he ended up cutting a scene from Avatar that he cried as he wrote because he felt that he had finally found the heart of his movie. But rhythmically it threw off the movie so it had to go.

Scott Cooper reiterated the famous "killing your darlings" line by Faulkner, with a little more detail than I've ever heard go along with the phrase. Apparently when Faulkner finished a book, he would take out all of his favorite scenes, and if the book still worked then he knew he had something.

Scott's movie had a 7 million dollar budget, so Judd turned to James Cameron and asked, "How do YOU deal with studio notes?" James' said "well, if the movie was 20 million dollars and they gave notes, I would tell them to go f*ck themselves, but when you're making movies that are 200 million + you're gonna get notes." Mark Boal chimed in, "But your notes come directly from Rupert Murdoch himself."

Jason Reitman talked about working on Up In The Air for 7 (!) years, and using real people who had lost their jobs in the firing scenes.

Mark Boal told him he thought the poster for Up In The Air was "a terrible poster to sell a movie." His point being, you have George Clooney and you can't even see his face. (side note - I completely agreed). Sheldon Turner: Three words for you "The Good German." Jason Reitman: Dude, what are you doing?" I had heard that there was something between the two Up In The Air writers, mainly Jason Reitman having to share credit when he barely even looked at Sheldon's script and just wrote a draft that completely ignored it, but you could tell in every single moment of their body language that Jason Reitman does not like his co-nominee.

Mark Boal complemented James Cameron on making an action movie like Avatar that had surprisingly adult themes. "It's not Transformers!"

There was a collective gasp from the audience as one of the panelists (Alex Kurtzman who was there for Star Trek) wrote Transformers.

James Cameron then talked about how interesting it was that Fox made Avatar and Rupert Murdoch funded a movie that attacked all of his core values. "Rupert's actually a big fan of the film." Judd: "I'm sure he is!"

An audience member asked Geoffrey Fletcher to describe his career in one word. The answer, "unexpected." He went on to say if it had happened at 23, "I would have thought that I'd known something and I wouldn't have pushed myself so hard to keep learning."

I kind of love Geoffrey Fletcher.

There was a series of James Cameron questions, prompting Judd to remind the audience there were other writers there.

A kid (maybe 11) asked james Cameron why the people were blue. He was clearly annoyed at having to answer an 11 year old at a WGA panel - "Alright, you can't possibly be in the WGA" - there was a general, "awwww" from the audience, but I agreed, why does James Cameron have to answer questions like that when he's supposed to be talking to a roomful of writers.

Geoffrey Fletcher made him look like a good guy again by talking about how, as big of a filmmaker as James Cameron is, he's still a "story" guy, and underneath all the effects, etc... he's still deeply interested in telling a story. (I had a similar argument with a friend a few weeks ago and felt vindicated). James Cameron than re-ingratiated himself with the audience by saying, "The problem with being a story guy is, there's no story girls up here."

A girl about 17, asked him about some scene at the end where the guy pulls out a knife. She talked about how it made no sense and didn't fit in. James Cameron responded, "If only you had said this before, think what the movie could have been." Judd Apatow jumped in, "Let me handle this one. Are you an aspiring filmmaker?" Girl: "Yes" Judd: "Don't criticize. Avatar is the most successful movie in the history of earth. Learn something."

There were a few crazies after that. Not sure how they got in, but it ended the night on the dreamy tone it began, and all was write with the world. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

*p.s. the picture with this blog is of our esteemed host - Judd Apatow, really captures the tone with which he asked all of his questions.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Quote Of The Day

And before I forget... Don't forget to check the website! I've put videos, commercials, short films, etc... Feel free to ask any questions, comment, etc... etc...

And now for the quote of the day:

"One writes out of one thing only -- one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from the experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
- James Baldwin

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview With Robert McKee

I'm posting this from an issue of Creative Screenwriting published around this time last year. McKee to most is the other member of wu-tang - the writing god.

Here are his wise words.

They say taking Robert McKee's 3-day Story Seminar is an experience like no other. Over three intense, eleven-hour (!) days, McKee stalks the stage with the energy and enthusiasm of someone on a mission. Famously portrayed in the film Adaptation, McKee has been teaching the seminar for almost 25 years to over 50,000 students around the world.

McKee released his bestselling book "STORY" in 1997, which, he thought at the time, may make taking the seminar unnecessary. If anything, it's had the opposite effect as people pack theatres and auditoriums around the world to hear him speak. Talk to people at the end of the three days and you'll hear such reviews as "life altering," "the most important education I've ever received" and "priceless."

McKee's former students have written or co-written such commercially and critically successful films and TV shows as Wall*E (which received 6 Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay), Iron Man (two Academy Award nominations), Desperate Housewives, Hancock, Law & Order, CSI, The Lord of the Rings I-III, A Beautiful Mind, Nixon, Scrubs, The Daily Show, Grey's Anatomy and more. His classes also continue to attract A-List writers and celebs who usually go undetected amongst the crowd. (A funny story from the seminar in New York not too long ago has Jimmy Fallon signing in as "Ted Danson.")

At 68, McKee continues to keep a torrid schedule of events. In 2009 alone, McKee will be in LA, NY, London, Paris, Stockholm, Lisbon, Santiago, Vancouver, Acapulco...Like we said, McKee is a man on a mission.

Robert McKee recently took the time to answer several questions about writing, story, advice for writers and inspiration.

Q: What are the critical questions that a writer should be asking prior to crafting a story?

Robert McKee: Beyond imagination and insight, the most important component of talent is perseverance-the will to write and rewrite in pursuit of perfection. Therefore, when inspiration sparks the desire to write, the artist immediately asks: Is this idea so fascinating, so rich in possibility, that I want to spend months, perhaps years, of my life in pursuit of its fulfillment? Is this concept so exciting that I will get up each morning with the hunger to write? Will this inspiration compel me to sacrifice all of life's other pleasures in my quest to perfect its telling? If the answer is no, find another idea. Talent and time are a writer's only assets. Why give your life to an idea that's not worth your life?

Q: Does a story always need to be believable? What makes it believable?

Robert McKee: Yes. The audience/reader must believe in the world of your story. Or, more precisely, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous phrase, the audience/reader must willingly suspend its disbelief. This act allows the audience/reader to temporarily believe in your story world as if it were real. The magic of as if transports the reader/audience from their private world to your fictional world. Indeed, all the beautiful and satisfying effects of story - suspense and empathy, tears and laughter, meaning and emotion - are rooted in the great as if. But when audiences or readers cannot believe as if, when they argue with the authenticity of your tale, they break out of the telling. In one case people sit in a theatre, sullen with anger, soaked in boredom; in the other, they simply toss your novel in the trash. In both cases, audiences and readers bad mouth you and your writing, inflicting the obvious damage on your career.

Bear in mind, however, that believability does not mean actuality. The genres of non-realism, such as Fantasy, Sci-fi, Animation and the Musical, invent story worlds that could never actually exist. Instead, works such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE MATRIX, FINDING NEMO and SOUTH PACIFIC create their own special versions of reality. No matter how bizarre some of these story worlds may be, they are internally true to themselves. Each story establishes its own one-of-a-kind rules for how things happen, its principles of time and space, of physical action and personal behavior. This is true even for works of avant-garde, postmodern ambition that deliberately call attention to the artificiality of their art. No matter what your story's unique fictional laws may be, once you establish them, the audience/reader will freely follow your telling as if it were real - so long as your laws of action and behavior are never broken.

Therefore, the key to believability is unified internal consistency. Whatever the genre, no matter your story's specific brand of realism or non-realism, your setting must be self-validating. You must give your story's setting in time, place and society enough detail to satisfy the audience/reader's natural curiosity about how things work in your world, and then your telling of the tale must stay true to its own rules of cause and effect. Once you have seduced the audience/reader into believing in the credibility of your story's setting as if it were actuality, you must not violate your own rules. Never give the audience/reader a reason to question the truth of your events, nor to doubt the motivations of your characters.

Q: How do you design an ending that keeps people talking?

Robert McKee: By "an ending that keeps people talking" do you mean the hook at the end of a series episode that keeps people wondering so that they'll tune in the following week? Or do you mean a Story Climax that sends the reader/audience into the world praising your brilliant story to their friends and family?

If the former, I know two methods to hook and hold the audience's curiosity over a span of time.

A. Create a Cliffhanger. Start a scene of high action, cut in the middle, put the audience into high suspense, then finish the action in the head of the next episode. 24 does this brilliantly week after week.

B. Create a turning point with the power and impact of an Act Climax. A major reversal naturally raises the question "What's going to happen next?" in the audience's mind and will hold interest over the commercials of a single episode (for example, Law and Order), or over the week between episodes (for example, The Sopranos).

If the latter, the most satisfying, and therefore talked about, Story Climaxes tend to be those in which the writer has saved one last rush of insight that sends the audience's mind back through the entire story. In a sudden flash of insight the audience realizes a profound truth that was buried under the surface of character, world and event. The whole reality of the story is instantly reconfigured. This insight not only brings a flood of new understanding, but with that, a deeply satisfying emotion. As a recent example: the superb Climax of GRAN TORINO.

Q: What are the typical weaknesses you find in scripts?

Robert McKee: Three that jump to mind:

Dull scenes. For reasons of weak conflict or perhaps the poor shaping of beats of behavior, the scene falls flat. The value-charged condition of the characters' lives at the tale of the scene is exactly what it was at the head of the scene. Activity never becomes story action. In short, nothing actually happens, nothing changes.

Awkward exposition. To convenience the writer, characters tell each other what they all already know so the eavesdropping reader/audience can gather in the information. This false behavior causes the reader/audience to lose empathy.

Clichés. The writer recycle the same events and characters we have seen countless times before, thinking that if he or she writes like other writers have, they too will find success.

Q: How important is the process of rewriting?

Robert McKee: Rewriting is to writing what improvisation is to acting. Actors improvise scenes countless ways in search of the perfect choice of behavior and expression. The same is true for writers. All writers, no matter their talent, are capable of their best work only ten percent of the time. Ninety percent of any writer's creative efforts are not his or her best work. To eliminate mediocrity, therefore, fine writers constantly experiment, play with, toss and turn ideas for scenes tens of different ways, rewriting in search of the perfect choice. The perfect choice, of course, is dependent of the writer's innate sense of taste. The unfortunate truth is that most struggling writers are blind to their banality.

Q: I thoroughly enjoyed your keen analysis of Casablanca, a movie made in 1942. Damn the crass modern movies (and I'm really not that old). My question: Whatever happened to subtlety and innuendo?

Robert McKee: They pulled up stakes and moved to television. Given hundreds of 24/7 channels, crap is unavoidable. God did not give out enough talent to fill those thousands of hours with quality. But setting the inevitable drek aside, we now live in a golden age of television drama and comedy. The finest writing in America is on TV. From HBO and FX to FOX and NBC, cable and commercial networks have become treasure chests of writing excellence. From Law and Order to In Treatment to The Wire to Damages to 30 Rock (to name a few of my favorites) television dramas are complex and subtle; comedies are rich in wit, irony, innuendo and outrageous schtick.

I never worry about the future of story art. Fine writers will always find a medium to express their visions of life. Today and into the foreseeable future, that medium is television.

Q: In the Story Seminar you say the best way to succeed in Hollywood is by writing a script of surpassing quality. If you have a great script, how do you get past the Hollywood system so that your script ends up in the right hands?

Robert McKee: If you write a lousy script, you haven't a prayer. But if you create a work of surpassing quality, Hollywood is still a motherfucker. Because unless you can network a back pathway to an A-list actor or top-shelf director, you must sign with an agent. And the first thing to understand about literary agents is that although they may or may not have taste, they all have careers. Selling scripts is how they put gas in their BMWs. What's more, like everybody else, they want their gas money today. So they have little or no patience for spending months or even years submitting your work, one submission at a time, to dozens of production companies, and then waiting forever to hear back. They want to read work they can sell and sell fast. So the quality of the writing absolutely matters, but what any particular agent feels is fresh vs. clichéd, arty vs. commercial, hot or cold, who can say? Luck is a big part of a writer's life.

[But] to get started, first rent every recent film and television show that is somehow like your script. Write down the names on the writing credits. Call the WGA, ask for the representation office and find out who agents these writers. This creates a list of agents who have actually made money selling scripts very much like the one you've written. Next, go to and buy The Hollywood Creative Directory and find the addresses of these agents. Do not call them. Instead, write an intriguing letter about you and your story and send it to every agent on your list. Wait, God knows how long, to hear back. If your letter captivates curiosity, and if you send out enough of them, the odds are that a few agents will actually want to read what you've written. When that happens, pray that your work is of surpassing quality.

Q: As a beginning fiction writer, the greatest challenge always seems to be the start. What advice would you give?

Robert McKee: By "start" do you mean writing the opening chapter or just getting into your pit and hitting keys? If the latter, you're blocked by fear. I suggest you read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. He'll help you find the courage to face the blank page. If the former is your problem, first scenes or opening chapters are usually discovered after you have conceived of your Inciting Incident.

If you feel that your Inciting Incident, without any prior knowledge of your characters' biographies or sociologies, will immediately grip the reader, then use the Inciting Incident to launch the story. For example, the Inciting Incidents SHARK EATS SWIMMER/SHERIFF DISCOVERS CORPSE in Peter Benchley's JAWS, or MRS. KRAMER WALKS OUT ON MR. KRAMER AND HER LITTLE BOY in Avery Corman's KRAMER VS. KRAMER, dramatize Chapter One of each of these novels respectively.

If, conversely, you feel that you need to provide your readers with exposition about history, characters and setting in order for them to grasp the importance of your Inciting Incident, then this exposition - well-dramatized, of course, perhaps even building into a set-up subplot - must start the telling.

The principle is: Bring the Inciting Incident into your story as soon as possible, but not until it will hook reader empathy and arouse curiosity. Finding the perfect placement of the Inciting Incident is the key to starting any story.

Q: Do you think the state of the economy will force studios to take more risks with lower budget films, or will they become more cautious and stick with what they know works?

Robert McKee: In fact, Hollywood has never sold more tickets than this past year. 2009 looks even more promising. The worse the economy, the more people go to the movies and watch television. Hollywood is recession proof.

Q: Do you think Slumdog Millionaire would be as commercially and critically successful if we weren't in a recession? Are people looking for happy endings now?

Robert McKee: Life is hard, no matter the economy. Happy endings always make more money than tragic endings because life turns many people into emotional cowards who cannot face tragedy in life or fiction. Besides, why worry about it? By the time what you are now writing is finished, sold, packaged, produced and distributed years will have passed. Who knows? In the next decade down endings may go through the roof. To contrive an audience-pleasing, happy ending before you've created your characters, told their story and discovered a truthful climax is to think like a hack.

Q: How did you end up as a character in Adaptation? Do you think it was a fair portrayal of you?

Robert McKee: Ask Charlie Kaufman. It was his idea. I just said, "What the hell," and had the great pleasure of casting my dear friend, Brian Cox.

(Photo: Brian Cox as Robert McKee in Adaptation)

Q: Do you see the art of story via screenwriting evolving over the decades, and if so, how?

Robert McKee: No. Tastes and trends come and go, but the essential art of story has not changed since Cro-Magnon storytellers sat their tribes around the fire and held them slack-jawed with tales of the hunt. Personally, I wish filmmaking would devolve from the nervous cut-cut-cut move-move-move herky-jerky camera of today back to the expressively lit, framed, fluid images of the past. Too many contemporary directors seem inflicted with HADD.

Q: What are one or two pointers you would offer a documentary filmmaker to help guide his crafting of a story as he films his subjects?

Robert McKee: Study the classic cinema verite documentaries of Frederick Wiseman-- Racetrack (1985), The Store (1983), Model (1980), Meat (1976), Welfare (1975), Juvenile Court (1973), Basic Training (1971), Hospital (1970), High School (1968), Titicut Follies (1967). He will show you how life shapes into story.

Q: What's the best advice you can give for emerging screenwriters today? Is there one thing that you could say is most important when trying to break in?

Robert McKee: Go the gym and work out. Writing burns you out, but then you have to get up off your tired ass, put your script under your arm and knock on every door 'til your knuckles bleed. That takes the energy of a five-year old, the concentration of a chess master, the faith of an evangelist and the guts of a mountain climber. Get in shape.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bite On The Nail

One of the main themes of the quotes on this blog has been "just do it." From Hemingway to Asimov …everyday write, or everyday send out material. For filmmakers this seems tougher than if, say, you were a guitar player. You can play a guitar in your house by yourself. To shoot film you need equipment, crew, time, money... or maybe not, well, at least not as much as you think.

My friend Tchaiko sent me, "Pretty Doll," a short film she did recently that she thought of doing on a Monday, ended up shooting on Wednesday, and cut it on Thursday. I think it turned out pretty fantastic.

I'm always impressed by Tchaiko's work, but equally important by her willingness to just get out there and shoot. Look at what a great job she did on a 3 day project...

If you want to contact her, she's one of the "followers" of this blog. I think you can just search for her name on the right, and click on the image of her, and if that doesn't work (you know my knowledge of technology is ever growing... but not there yet), her website is

Pretty Doll from Tchaiko Omawale on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day


Roger Ebert - your blog & tweets are fantastic. Political opinion, film history and education, what turns you on, great links, comedy, and surprises. And, who knew you were such a weirdo?

Inglorious Basterds for being truly satisfying

Jeff Bridges for deserving his oscar nom in Crazy Heart

The Cinematographer of Crazy Heart - Barry Markowitz (every shot is a photograph)

Monique for deserving her Oscar nom in Precious

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

Meryl Streep in Julia and Julia - two things, 1. Making someone laugh, just as hard as making someone cry. 2. It's so easy to take someone for granted when they've already had their due, but you still deserve it.

My awesome manager - Neda Niroumand

The Office for still being funny years later. I love 30 Rock, but what Steve Carrell and Rainn Wilson do week after week and keeping it fresh for years, is more impressive.

CNN on Sundays - esp. Fareed Zakaria

Re-discovered 80s movies: Back To The Future, Big, Field of Dreams, Starman... what great permission to just make up an implausible plot, not really explain how it all works, and trust the audience to get it anyway.

Larry David for keeping the hilarious black dude on Curb Your Enthusiasm

JJ Abrams for creating a show with two black leads - can't wait to watch

The WGA for amazing seminars that anyone can attend - check the for more info for making it so easy to access a huge library of screenplays.

Ledisi. If people have a record deal, that's how they should sing.

Jigga. The Blueprint 3. You still got it.

All the celebs who didn't think it's sooo passe to get on TV and help Haiti.

& to - Eternal, Kim and Bryce Fluellen, Gail Porter, Laura Vickery, Naketha Mattocks, Stacie Greenwell, Tracey Pennywell & Yvette Braswell for always making themselves available to listen to a pitch, read a script, and/or say a prayer.

No valentine for Up In the Air -sorry, I thought you were overrated.

Have I left anything off?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Quote Of The Day

"Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail."
– Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Anatomy Of A Music Video - Common "The Light"

People always ask what the process is when I shoot a video, and I figured rather than answer all of those people individually, it's so much easier to put it here...

It starts with your production company rep talking to the label's VIDEO COMMISSIONER about any upcoming tracks they have. *(If you are not signed, try emailing an on-line copy of your reel to the commissioners of all the labels with a cover letter and be persistent, call them all the time, let them know you know how to shoot things on a budget - It's much harder now, but 12 years ago, it's how I started out).

The commissioner then sends you the song, you write a TREATMENT - a 2 -4  page document about what you would do if you got the job. What is the basic storyline? Visual style? Wardrobe? Art-Direction? Visual references - photos embedded in the document are always helpful to let the label see exactly what you're thinking.

In the case of "The Light," the basic idea was: We're in a room where everything is seen in close-up, all the things that tell us who Common is - from the music he listens to, to objects left by the woman he loves, images of her in close-up as if this is how she exists in his mind, and then as we gradually widen out, by the end, we realize they are both - and have been, in the same room the whole time.

From there we went through the process of BUDGETING - making sure it would all work for the amount the label was willing to spend, HIRING CREW, including: The lovely Ashaka Givens as STYLIST ( & Lorraine West making his and Erykah's jewelry (, our DP (John Perez), PLAYBACK/SOUND - Eternal Polk ( - also a brilliant editor and filmmaker in his own right), Kasema Caines ( was his personal manager... Obviously there were many more crew positions like AD, 2nd AD, PA's, Camera Assistants, etc... I only posted the people it was easy to find in case you have an upcoming project and wanted to locate them.

I had a few meetings with Common to walk him through everything I was doing and make sure it truly felt like him (so much so that half of the objects we shot in close up came from either his or Erykah's house), and then it was shoot day.

We used a brownstone in Harlem that had a lot of texture so that even if you can't always see it in the frame, you can feel it in the environment.

As always there was a time crunch - where we weren't sure we would get it all done, a fight - when Common thought I wouldn't get around to the things he wanted in the video (I explained that to make sure we got everything we had to follow a schedule that just happened to start with set ups that were my ideas because it made it easier to move around the house, and then we made up). We lit many of the scenes with dozens and dozens of candles off screen - and nothing else. This would have been impossible if we were shooting wide shots, but worked perfectly in close up.

There was that perfect moment when you look through the lens and find that everything feels exactly the way you wanted it to - i.e. Erykah Badu being one of the most perfect faces one can capture on film.

And then the day was over, the film was processed and it was on to the telecine. Tim Masick, now at CO3 in NY did the transfer - a process which changes EVERYTHING. You can saturate the colors more, or pull them back, brighten whites, enhance contrast, enrich the blacks, make the image warmer - or cooler... etc...

And then on to the edit. We intentionally did a very slow edit to create the feeling of someone who enjoys all of these private moments in his life, so in each shot - we lingered. The label inevitably wanted the cut to be faster (more MTV!), I talked to Common - he agreed with me, and suddenly we had the edit we wanted.

It is still an all time favorite.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Weekend Read

So this weekend, I read a bunch of scripts to consider for potential directing gigs. It was depressing. There's SO MUCH bad writing out there, and it seems like it's all getting greenlit. What does a director who wants to continue working do? Take a leap of faith that I'm good enough that I can improve upon, well, absolute shite? Wait until my own projects go into production? Do a little bit of both - practice with these projects for WHEN my projects go into production? Or... just say no...

I've been a big "passer" thus far, saying no to tons of scripts that I later see and think - thank God, BUT, as a result, I've had most of my success as a screenwriter. And while having shot hundreds of music videos and commercials, I still haven't yet shot a feature...

I will say there were a few little bright lights in the pile - okay, one. And I do thankfully have some writing deals that so far I'm lined up to direct. But it's always good to have a bunch of irons in the fire because as Chinua Achebe would say, "things fall apart." So... what to do?

There's no moral to the story or cream rises to the top platitude, just felt like like letting you know the landscape...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Quote Of The Day

"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible."
- Vladimir Nabakov

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Art Of The deal - How To Play The Hollywood Game

Join us for the 6th Annual NAACP HOLLYWOOD BUREAU Symposium, entitled, "The Art of the Deal - How To Play the Hollywood Game." Volatile financial markets continue to wreak havoc on the sourcing of capital to support TV and film financing. As a result, major studios and broadcast, premium and basic cable networks are opting for partnerships that support their financial objectives. This symposium , in conjunction with the 41st NAACP Image Awards and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, will look past the creative aspects of TV and film and focus directly on specific deal structures that support the production and distribution of TV and film product. It will also examine successful case studies that demonstrate alternative approaches to financing and major studio distribution.

Ultimately this symposium will offer a compelling perspective on how to better position your projects in order to create a pipeline of fully financed and distributed filmed entertainment. Our moderator-led panel will include investment bankers, major studio distributors, financiers, businessmen, and various other industry insiders.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

6:30 PM (light refreshments will be served)

Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre
5220 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601-3109

Parking is available for $4.00 within the complex.

The symposium is open to the public and FREE to attend, but space is limited. Click here to RSVP.


I'm such a nerd. I enjoyed this post on index cards (from John August's site) so much that I thought I'd repost it as my entry today.


I’m outlining a project right now, and thought it would be a good time to review best practices for index cards.

-Keep it short. Maximum seven words per card.

-A card represents a story point, be it a scene or a sequence. You don’t need a card for every little thing.

-Keep cards general enough that they can be rearranged. (“Battle in swamp” rather than “Final showdown”)

-Horizontal (a table or counter) often works better than a vertical (a corkboard).

-Post-It notes make good alternative index cards.

-Consider a letter code for which characters are featured in the sequence. Helpful for figuring out who’s missing.

-Most movies can be summarized in less than 50 cards.

-Cards are cheap. Don’t hesitate to rework them.

-Consider a second color for action sequences. Helps show the pacing.

-Write big. You want to be able to read them from a distance.>>

from the fantastic site

now, from me- one of the most helpful writing tools I've found in the last few YEARS, which has a great index card function - corkboard, cards, pins that you can change the colors of - all on your desktop, is called Scrivener. It's free for 30 days and $40 (I think) after that. The website is

It's much better for the environment than the actual paper ones, you don't lose them, you can rearrange them, color code them, change the color codes, it also can convert your notecards into an outline - wonderful, and has a great "research" file where you can put everything related to your writing project - including music, reference pictures, website links etc... all in one place, oh, and there's a word processing function.


Friday, February 5, 2010




If you can get a ticket before we're sold out, you're in for a treat at this year's Beyond Words, featuring a panel discussion with Academy and WGA Award nominated screenwriters. (Also, scroll to the bottom of this email to learn about an exciting and rare event!)

BEYOND WORDS 2010 - WGA and Academy Award Nominees Panel
Thursday, February 18 - 7:30pm
At the Writers Guild Theater - 135 S. Doheny Dr., Beverly Hills
Dessert reception to follow.

BUY TICKETS HERE or call 800-838-3006

JUDD APATOW – Moderator
Writer/Director of Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Funny People

Panelists include (subject to availability):

MARK BOAL – The Hurt Locker
Written by Mark Boal

SCOTT COOPER – Crazy Heart
Screenplay by Scott Cooper
Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb

Written by James Cameron

GEOFFREY FLETCHER - Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
Based on the novel Push by Sapphire

Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Based upon Star Trek, Created by Gene Roddenberry

Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore

SCOTT NEUSTADTER - (500) Days of Summer
Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Based upon the novel by Walter Kirn

Beyond Words Tickets:

Beyond Words features the WGA and Academy award nominees for original and adapted screenplays. This is a moderated panel discussion held at the Writers Guild Theater just before the award shows in the spring. Dessert reception to follow. Beyond Words is co-presented by the Writers Guild Foundation, Writers Guild of Amerca, West, and also Variety. Special support is provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Quote of The Day

*In NY for a meeting, so only one post today. This was the quote that starts Colum McCann's "Let The Great World Spin," my airplane reading last night. When I read it I thought, this is what it means to be a writer, so here goes-

"All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is." - Aleksander Hemon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Free Scripts

There are a number of great websites where you can download or read screenplays for free, but these are directly from the studio with all the information about the movie, pictures, trailers, etc... has The Blind Side, Where The Wild Things Are, Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix available now. has Avatar.


Quote of The Day

"But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."
- Lord Byron

Monday, February 1, 2010


So the pitch I had previously blogged about went surprisingly well. Great in fact. So wanted to give a word of encouragement to those who suffer from nervousness in the pitching/ audition/ interviewing, whatever phase... that even when you feel the butterflies, it still can all work together in your favor. There was a great article though on nerves that I thought I should post as a whole new way to approach the topic...

I first read about it on the wonderful website for actors


I don't allow the word "nervous" in my workshop.
There is no such thing as "nervous".
The physical sensation of what some people call "nervous"-
i.e., your heart racing and butterflies in your stomach
-is the exact same physical sensation as "excitement".

So, "nervous" is just "excitement" labeled negatively.

And let me say this loud and clear:
Your heart MUST be racing! Your stomach MUST be full of butterflies!
It's WHY you became an actor to begin with. So you could feel that thrill of excitement.
Your heart racing is what plugs you into your higher power (or "the magic of acting"), and allows you to have an experience larger than yourself.
It allows you to feel what mountain climbers and alpine skiers risk their lives to feel, but you get to feel by simply standing in front of an audience.

That feeling of excitement is there to help you. Without that adrenaline rush you wouldn’t be able to give the performance you want to give. It's that extra flow of blood to the brain that sharpens your senses, improves your memory, and makes you emotionally available.
It's "excitement" that allows a basketball player to shoot the ball through the hoop, SWISH!, from mid-court. Just like an athlete, you need that energy to perform to the best of your ability.
Famed British Actress, Dame Judi Dench describes the sensation this way, “You use it, because fear produces adrenaline, which fuels the performance. It is batteries.”

However, when an actor is feeling excitement AND his vulture says something negative, he may make the mistake of labeling that excitement something called "nervousness".
In other words, "nervousness" is just "excitement" PLUS negative thoughts.

To illustrate:
Two people are waiting in line for a roller coaster. They are both feeling their heart racing and butterflies in their stomach. The first says, “I’m so excited!” then goes on the roller coaster and has a great time.
The second says, “I’m so nervous!" then runs home and misses out on a great experience.
It was the same feeling, but two very different reactions to that feeling.
The first person's vulture was silent, so he was able to enjoy the feeling of excitement.
Whereas the second person's vulture was saying something like, "This roller coaster is old. It could break while you're riding it. You could DIE!"
It wasn't the feeling that was upsetting the second person. It was the negative thoughts.
Feelings aren't facts! It's your thoughts that create your reality.
This is why learning to control your thoughts is so important! As an actor, it's the only thing you can control.

So to sum it all up:
If I was feeling what some people call "nervous" before an audition, and someone asked me how I was doing, I'd reply,
“I'm excited, THANK GOD, and am currently in the process of releasing some negative thoughts.”
See, in this way, I'M the one in control. Not some monster called "nervousness" that I have no control over.

All actors feel excitement.
It’s up to you whether you want to use it for against yourself."

Quote of The Day

"For a creative writer possession of the truth is less important than emotional sincerity."
- George Orwell