Monday, March 29, 2010

Best Quote Of The Day Yet

“If you’re willing to break rules, risk ridicule, and explore the unknown, and if you’ve somehow managed, despite social conditioning, to hold on to your imagination, then you can dissolve any so-called block simply by imagining extraordinary, heretofore unthinkable solutions and/or playing around uninhibitedly with language. In other words, you can imagine or wordplay, conjure or sport your way out of any impasse.”

- Tom Robbins

Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview With Yours Truly

Exclusive Interview With Nzingha Stewart (Original Director Of “For Colored Girls…” Adaptation)
By Tambay, on March 26th, 2010

In light of all the conversation/debate we’ve had on this blog recently about Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considred Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf - specifically on his recent casting announcements, and the furor over assumptions of how he may or may not have taken over the project from writer/director Nzingha Stewart – I thought I’d reach out to Nzingha, who, by the way, is a fan of this blog, and see what I can learn; but not only to find out what’s going on with the For Colored Girls… project (because she’s not at liberty to speak freely about it in detail), but also, I wanted to find out about her, Nzingha Stewart, the person and the filmmaker – subjects, it seems, have been mostly ignored, as the blogosphere has instead chosen to focus almost solely on the Tyler Perry fiasco.

So, thankfully, Nzingha granted me an interview! And what follows below is our Q&A session, which I think provides some necessary awareness of her that’s been missing all along, since most of us first heard her name last year, when the news about Tyler Perry’s assumption of the For Colored Girls… project livened up the web with lots of chatter.

In it, you’ll learn about how Nzingha got her start in the business, her previous work before attempting to adapt For Colored Girls…, projects that showed promise but were never fully realized for one reason or another (like one that was optioned by Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment production company), her handling of the For Colored Girls… project (including her involvement in it currently; yes, she’s still very much involved, even though we all thought that she was out of it completely), life as a black female filmmaker living in Los Angeles, how she defines her brand of cinema, what she’s been working lately, what she has coming up (including both TV and feature film projects), her recent get away to Costa Rica to finish a script she’ll be directing with Gabrielle Union attached to star, and much more… So, without further ado, read on below (obviously S&A is me, and NS is her):


S&A: I read that you got your start directing music videos for various hip-hop and R&B musicians. Is that really how it all began for you, or did you do something else prior to that, which led to music videos?

NS: I went to NYU, but not for film. I was in the Gallatin School where you could design your own major and designed a philosophy major with a thesis in Chaos and Order – that’s pretty much you’re average day in Hollywood. I could have just moved here early and saved myself four years of school.

While I was there, I interned for music video directors which led to me becoming a treatment writer for Brett Ratner, that then led to me writing treatments for the music video “class of 95″ – Hype Williams, Darren Grant, Steve Carr, etc…

Some of those directors were really supportive when I started directing and helped me get a rep, let me use their vendor accounts to shoot independent videos, etc… in particular Brett Ratner, who I still credit for helping me get started as a filmmaker.

Around 2001 I had a big year with some MTV & MVPA nominations – Common, Sunshine Anderson, Bilal, etc… and could stop writing for anyone else and became a full-fledged music video director.

My web page has a bunch of the videos I’ve done on it if you’re interested. It’s

I wasn’t thinking about features back then, I really loved music videos. I was working with artists that I loved (Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Common, Eve…) and getting to indulge my love of cinematic imagery without having to worry about tying it together with a story. But then of course, had an idea for a screenplay, sent it out, and it was immediately optioned by Overbrook, which made me start to consider a career in feature film. Ultimately, the script wasn’t produced, but it was the one that gave me the feature bug.

S&A: Your IMDB resume shows that you’ve directed a short film titled “The Marriage Counselor,” but not much else. And I’m not sure if you realize this, but “The Marriage Counselor” IMDB page links your film with Tyler Perry’s stage play of the same name, making it appear as if you directed one of his plays, which isn’t the case, I don’t think. It was all sort of puzzling to look at your page and find that, given all that’s transpired since then.

NS: Yeah, I don’t know how to change that IMDB thing. “The Marriage Counselor” was a short film I did that had nothing to do with TP’s stage play.

S&A: How did you get your hands on “For Colored Girls..?”

NS: I originally optioned the play and Ntozake was wonderful and supportive. I wrote a draft and attached the actresses you mentioned (Angela Bassett, Alicia Keys & Sanaa Lathan) so a studio could really see it as a film (it being such an experimental work). I’m now an executive producer on the project and am so happy that it is going to see the light of day. Its a beautiful work that deserves to be supported.

S&A: How faithful was your adaptation to the original work?

NS: It’s probably better for me not to talk about my version of the script because I don’t want it to take away from the version that is being produced now. Especially since the most important part of the story is that a movie based on a book of poetry about a group of nameless black women is getting made.

S&A: So, now that we all know that you’re not going to be making “For Colored Girls…” what have you been doing since then? In general, how are you living? You used to be in New York, and I’m guessing you moved to L.A. to pursue a career in film. Are things working out for you as you expected/hoped they would?

NS: I always miss NY, but moving to Hollywood was the right decision. Writing work has been pretty phenomenal and I definitely consider myself lucky. I sold a show to NBC (that eventually wasn’t produced because of the infamous 5 days a week of Jay Leno), but it opened a lot of doors and gave me confidence in myself as a writer. I then wrote a script for Outlaw Entertainment (the producers of Training Day and The Ugly Truth), when and if that’s produced, I’m attached as a director as well. And, am now writing (and slated to direct) “The Vow” for Lifetime starring Gabrielle Union, and being produced by Tracey Edmonds. I’m also polishing a comedy script with a huge comedy producer (can’t say their name until we finish signing the paperwork), but they produce the kind of movies with Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey. I’m attached to direct that as well.

I still direct music videos and commercials (I completed 6 commercials in January and am now editing a music video for Alexandra Burke, Simon Cowell’s new artist) because even with all of the writing work, nothing beats being on set.

Between directing and writing, I’m one of the lucky few that gets to make a real living at their craft. It hasn’t always been that way and I don’t take it for granted. I just traveled to Costa Rica for a few weeks to finish the script I’m contracted to Lifetime for, and while there, felt pretty emotional to be at the point in my career where if I want to pick up and leave the country for a few weeks because I don’t feel like writing in LA, I can do that. I know how hard it is for artists and I am grateful every single day.

S&A: How would you describe your brand of cinema – specifically, are you drawn to any specific genres and/or kinds of stories?

NS: I’m really drawn to great characters over any particular genre. The show I sold to NBC was a half-hour sitcom, my feature comedy has a white female protagonist and is kind of “The Jerk” meets “40-Year Old Virgin”. The Lifetime project is a romantic comedy based on a book by Essence editors Mitzi Miller, Angela Burt-Murray and Denene Milner. I’m also developing a dramatic musical with the producers of Chicago and Hairspray. The project for Outlaw is a “teen-genre movie,” and I’m developing an independent horror/ love story that is already financed and is a strange, cool “zombie love story.” So, as long as there is an opportunity to tell a story about a group of characters I fall in love with, I’m on it, regardless of genre.

S&A: As a filmmaker who happens to be black and female, with so few actually working in the biz today, and in the history of the biz, and with competition seemingly so stiff, how do you motivate yourself to keep at it, fully aware of the challenges in front of you? Or is that not even something you think about? When you walk into meetings with producers, do those age-old stories we’ve all heard about, happen to you – for example, the white producer telling the black filmmaker that they need to “blacken up” their screenplays, or to cast white actors in roles meant for blacks, because black faces don’t sell the way white faces do, etc, etc, etc?

NS: It really has never been a problem, in terms of competition. I think black people are always so scared of each other as competition, when the truth is when one of us does well, it helps all of us get our projects made. I think the same thing about female filmmakers. The real struggle is always when you go through those periods where you get a bunch of no’s or you get close on something and it goes away, but I’ve learned that in a game of chicken with the universe, you usually win. So often, I’ve had to make a conscious decision that even if it’s painful or it’s a struggle, I’m going to do this anyway, and usually within a few weeks (or once literally within minutes!) the universe will give in, and say “you win.”

In terms of the “blackening of screenplays” I’ve never been in that position because if I’m in a room, then they’ve seen my work and know, I’m not that kind of filmmaker – Take a look at the Bilal video or the Common videos or even Dashboard Confessional on my website and you’ll see what I mean. If they want some coonery, they’re not even going to take a meeting with me and vice versa right from the start.

I always try to approach things based on if I love it and if it’s worth fighting for. And then the discussion never becomes about race, but about whether things are right for the script or if they serve the story. Sometimes, the disagreements are so fundamental that it’s better for me to walk away or the studio to decide to go with someone else, but those disagreements haven’t been about race, they’ve been about story.

S&A: Are you strictly a writer/director, meaning would you rather be like a Woody Allen and only direct from scripts that you write, or are you open to being a director-for-hire, like an Antoine Fuqua, for example? And if the latter, have you put limits on yourself on what you’re willing to direct or not direct?

NS: Most of the projects I’m writing now, I’m also attached to direct. If we can make the schedule work, I may be directing the indie movie I mentioned earlier, and I didn’t write that one. -That’s another project that race never factored in any of the discussions. it’s a white writer, and the producers are white, they were just big fans of my music video work. They knew I was black before approaching me, but they want the movie to feel the way my music videos feel, even though the videos they’re referencing are largely black, and the cast is largely white.

S&A: And lastly, a question that comes up often – how do you define “black cinema?” We often discuss the label, and if it’s something that can be readily defined with a list of characteristics, or if it’s best not to define it. Your definition or thoughts on that?

NS: That’s tough. I started to say when it’s written and directed by black people, but I don’t know if I would even characterize at least two of the projects I’m working on now as “black cinema” since they have white leads. But I definitely think of myself as a black filmmaker.

Then I started to say “Black cinema” is when it stars black people, but are Will Smith movies “black cinema”? Is Beverly Hills Cop?

What about the projects that feel like minstrel shows to me, but other black people love them (and that’s not a criticism of the audience, my mother LOVES those movies)? They’re definitely “black”, but “cinema?” They’re more like a business idea than an art. So I don’t know… Hopefully, we’ll have a real definition soon because it’ll mean enough black movies are being made that we don’t need to reach backwards to answer that or think about one or two filmmakers that only represent a portion of what we can do to be definitive.


Alright!! That’s it folks! I thank Nzingha for her time, and for answering these questions thoroughly! Often I get these short sentence answers, and I’m glad she was wordy and forthcoming. So, get to know Nzingha Stewart, because I think we’ll be hearing more about her in coming years… at least we hope so! And, of course, once we know more about any of her upcoming projects, you’ll also know!

For now, as she verified, she is still involved in the For Colored Girls… project, in an executive producer capacity. Also, you can read read up on her Gabrielle Union project which we profiled last summer on this blog HERE. I think that was the very first time Nzingha’s name was mentioned on this blog, and my first time hearing about her.

Also, check out her blog HERE, where you’ll find all the commercials and music videos she’s directed, including this one – Common’s The Light:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Adios Costa Rica

*This photo is not of me, I have to wait for a friend of mine to email the pictures of me zip-lining, but you'll still understand the point of the story below better with it, than without, so sorry random white man, I have to use your pic...

Here's the point of this story-

Travel. If you're an artist there's nothing better you can have in your toolkit than to know yourself differently in another place.

Costa Rica felt like a "face every fear possible trip" from the frogs (although I did have a MAJOR meltdown last night when I saw a gigantic brown toad - so that fear wasn't as conquered as I thought), to staying "in the bush" as Jamaicans would say, to zip-lining yesterday (you get hooked up to a cable and skid over the rainforest - they give you a helmet, but let's face it, if something goes wrong you're dead).

And I realize what we do as artists, isn't that much less frightening than zip-lining. In fact, it USUALLY feels like you're skidding across a jungle by a single rope, hoping the whole thing won't come crashing down. All I can say is, it won't.

It's a wonder I didn't go to the bathroom on myself as they rigged me up to the cable and I looked down and saw that drop, but once they pushed me off, I opened my eyes, and felt like a bird. There were several platforms that you travel - so you "zip" (hence the name) from one to another, back and forth until you get to the end. One woman, started crying, and as soon as they rigged her up to start her journey, she decided she couldn't do it, and asked to be unharnessed. I kind of tear up thinking about her today - what she missed out on because she was afraid. So the next time I'm afraid and it shows up - usually in procrastination, I'll remind myself of that woman and remember, until I move past it, I don't get to fly, and you won't either. So get to work.

The above video is of a Shamanic purification ritual I went to. He's just chanting here, but, may you be purified nonetheless!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Costa Rica Day 7

Adios Puerto Viejo-

Hola Cahuita!

Cahuita is where the Jamaicans came in the early 20th century to work the sugar cane plantations and help build the railroads. In reading the tour guides I saw they were sent by England's United Fruit. That sounded so familiar to me. Then I remembered - United Fruit was run by one Mr. Joseph Kiefer. My great grandfather! So that was a cool little tidbit.

Cajuita is even more remote than Puerto Viejo, over 600 varieties of frogs. So at night, I didn't go out for dinner even though I was starving. I ate some stale plantain chips, forced myself to focus on the writing and took an Ambien to go to sleep amidst all this wildlife.

This morning I went out onto the porch, to meditate and think about all the ways I wanted to change when I returned - I want to be less afraid, more kind, more chill, more receptive, let things come to me... when speaking of fear.

There he was. And I didn't run, or go back inside, I went up to it and took a picture. Now granted, he isn't quite as scary as the awful brown ones that really freak me out, but it's a start. It's always good to do things in life that remind you, you're braver than you think you are. This picture for me was one of those things-

Since this blog is supposed to for filmmakers and not a travel site, I will add this one tidbit. I do think every writer (and creative person in general) should start a travel fund. Even if it's a dollar or two a week, whatever you can spare, and make it untouchable. Best if it's an account like ING where you can't get it immediately if you want it. There is nothing better for the writer's soul than to be somewhere else. You start to recognize your own cliche's because you are not you when you're somewhere else. New ideas start to come to you instead of you having to chase after them, and there's a sense of writing again just because you love writing (although in my case I do have a million deadlines looming).

Life SHOULD be lived for pleasure. If you're cooped up in your house all the time, stooped over the computer, and looking at the same four walls, then you're "genius" will be on a leash.

Inspiration is like goldfish, it only gets as big as the bowl you put it in - I just made that up myself, see, how my genius is kicking a** out here?

And I know the excuses, time, money... I swear to you that if you make a decision, and start making the plans, the ways and means will arrive. If they don't come right when you want them to, it's because the universe needs you to be right where you are for now, but you keep making those plans and effortlessly, doors will begin to open. You deserve the life you want.

And the coffee is better everywhere else in the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Costa Rica Day 5

Life here-

breakfast - write

afternoon - ride rented bike down unpaved, pot-hole filled roads, ride for about 30 minutes after which i am dripping in sweat.

run in the ocean and cool off, fall asleep for a little while on the beach. eat amazing food at Totem.

waiter is so cute that it's talked about in the tour book. apparently the whole family is gorgeous and known for having these amazing eyes. They look like those wolf-like huskies with grey blue eyes (several of which are roaming around the restaurant) leading me to believe the family members are actually werewolves.

back to hotel - write on veranda unless it's too hot, then finish inside. write until I can't keep my eyes open. One project is a struggle, the other I can't put down.

even with two things to finish, feel guilty that I haven't read the new draft of cool indy script I may be shooting as early as this summer.

night - dinner, wine, conversation with the lovely Elodie - the chef's girlfriend. Back to room to write some more, although last night I did cheat and read Christopher Moore's "A Dirty Job" my FAVORITE book I've read in 2010.

Have started to embrace everything. Took a shower with a lizard crouched nearby on the wall - normally would NEVER happen, have started to embrace insomnia as "me & God's time." Thought about things that have happened that I thought were so awful I would die, but now realize I was just being dramatic, as none of it stopped this moment, getting paid to do the thing I love, in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The writing fears are still there - but have started to embrace those too. I've started to even offer them lemonade. It is what it is. At least I haven't ended up like this fella...

Tomorrow I move to a different hotel (my 3rd this trip) in Cahuita.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Costa Rica Day 2-3

I am now in Puerto Viejo and this trip seems to be forcing me to address all of my worst fears - all at the same time.

Besides the usual - "Are you sure you're doing enough for your career?" And "What if the network hates this script when you turn it in?" "And what about that outline for your re-write, bet the producers on that project will laugh you out of the room - and not in a good way..." BESIDES those fears, which again, are always there, there was-

-The fear that being right on the beach, someone was going to break into my sliding glass door and kill me in the middle of the night.

I love traveling alone, so I'm usually pretty stout-hearted in unfamiliar places, but this is "remote" on a whole new level. There is no phone in case there IS a killer lurking somewhere. I am in the middle of the jungle. I have to go somewhere to use internet so no final goodbye's if I am broken in on, and when I tell you the night is BLACK on all sides, I mean BLACK like that man me and Kim Fluellen always talk about who was just eyes and teeth.

-And there were are all these stray dogs - you know I don't love that. In fact, one has taken up residence on my back veranda. Unfortunately, he's the one dog who isn't scary, so again, if maniac killer shows up, he won't do anything to protect me.

Last night I went into town for dinner. It was me in a taxi going through the blackest night I have EVER seen- y mi caballero no habla ingles.

Actually, I'm surprised at how few people DO speak English. The good news on that front, is it really is like riding a bike. I'm finding that I speak Spanish at much more than a beginner level and am totally fine communicating. Gracias Sra Weiss… (11th grade Spanish).

So last night, I'm on my way back from dinner, I'm with a driver who again -no habla ingles - and my hotel which is one straight shot through town, somehow seems confusing to him. Right when he gets near it, he turns off onto this deserted road. I said loudly and firmly NO. He is saying si, si, es este derecho. I'm telling him in Spanish to turn back. We are now in a place where really, no one can hear me if I scream. I take off my seat belt ready to jump out the car and leave all of my stuff behind - even my computer bag. I'd like to think it's because I love myself more than my career, but I did consider that I have been backing up and my flash drive is safe at the hotel.

So I literally reach for the door to jump out, when guess what I see hopping across the dirt road. My BIGGEST fear. And not one of those colorful ones you see in all the Costa Rica guidebooks, but the big, disgusting, awful, kind I've been afraid of my whole life.

Now I'm thinking - I can a. let this man rape and possibly kill me, or b. jump out with frogs running wild and no lights.

I turn to the driver and in my best Sam Jackson "I want these MF snakes off this MF plane!" -yell at him to turn back, and act like I'm reaching for something in my purse.

Surprisingly it worked. He turned back and when I showed him where the hotel was, he apologized and told me in Spanish that he can't read, so when he saw the sign for the hotel on the wrong side of the road, he couldn't read that it was telling him it was further up and not to turn right there.

It was all good at the end, I even gave him a tip, and although, I didn't sleep a wink last night - and couldn't even use the bathroom because a GIGANTIC roach was in there, I'm still alive. And it IS outrageously beautiful here.

Oh, and the 1st Act is finished, and I've started on several directions for a new outline for the re-write of my second script. Even had time to make some meetings on a third project when I get back.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Costa Rica Day 1

The trip has gotten off to an auspicious start.

Day 1 - San Jose

My hotel is directly adjacent to the National Theater or Teatro Nacional. It's also above the underground art museum and the "Museum Of Gold."

Creativity surrounds me above and around.

And the ghosts of greatness are here - JFK, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter have all stayed at El Gran Hotel. Although I'm sure their beds didn't feel like plywood. The lobby feels old Hollywood which I think is another good sign for all this fabulous writing I'll be doing. Either that or I'll get stuck typing "all work and no play makes Nzingha a dull girl," since the hotel lobby is VERY reminiscent of the lobby in The Shining. I hope my writing project doesn't turn out like Jack Nicholson's.

I went to the museum for a little while and saw this quote:

"Atoms, ions, and electrons, to mention just a few of the elements of energy are energetic microcosms which give life to the small universes in ascendent progression and in constant process of universal integration, from the nucleus within the protoplasm of a cell to the enormity of our planetary system."

Definitely a good luck charm. That's what writers do "give life to the small universes." And on that note, gotta go play my part in the "enormity of our planetary system."

Enjoy the flix in the meantime in between time.

See that open computer means I am working!

The view from my window

This was a good idea

This was not.

Side note... of course now it's starting, the inevitable chatter... This is awful. I'm a horrible writer. Why are they paying me to do this? - Just gotta push on through. There's a street breakdance thing happening outside my window and everytime the crowd cheers for them, I pretend it's for me. Oh, the little tricks we have to do as writers...

And then at the end of the night and at least 3 completed scenes on my part, there were fireworks. For me? Costa Rica, you shouldn't have.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Common

Happy Birthday Lonnie Rashid Lynn

Thanks for all the great work we've done together.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Costa Rica

So having two screenplays with eminent deadlines, one idea for a fresh spec, being burnt out from rounds of pitch meetings, shooting a music video and 6 commercials, and reading dozens of (mostly bad) scripts, I am going to Costa Rica.

It'll be a work vacation as I am going specifically to finish those scripts with deadlines, but so excited to write looking at a different set of walls, or in this case, looking at the ocean.

I'm already sure of how great it will be to write without distraction, but am interested in how it will affect my work to feel so far from everything and everyone that makes me, me.

Will send updates and pics...

Here's a link about one of the projects I'm going to write. The other is still hush-hush...

Quote Of The Day

"There was never a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn't be. He is too many people if he's any good."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thursday, March 11, 2010

WGA Panel Pt. 2

Creative Screenwriting Magazine was also present at the WGA Panel of Oscar Nominees that I wrote about last month and wrote about it. Here's their assessment...

(I should mention that they did their own panel - separate from the WGA's and this article discuss both of those panels).

"As awards season winds down, nominee panels start popping up around town. With the Oscar broadcast this weekend, CS Weekly looks at some of the highlights from the WGA Nominee Panel, moderated by writer-director-producer Judd Apatow, and Creative Screenwriting's own Oscar Nominee panel, moderated by Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith. (You can find full audio of CS's panel in iTunes by entering Creative Screenwriting in the Search bar.)

While Goldsmith asked questions with a more journalistic approach, Apatow kept the tone collegial -- starting the night off by turning to Scott Neustadter [(500) Days of Summer] and asking, "Who hurt you, and what happened?" Neustadter answered that, through all the panels he'd done, he'd never said her name. "We were Facebook friends before the movie came out," said Neustadter, "but she defriended me after it opened."

Goldsmith opened by asking what the nominees would be doing were they not screenwriters. Some answers skewed towards the obvious, like Nick Hornby saying he'd be an author, or Armando Ianucci saying he'd be a director. Ianucci's fellow In The Loop writer, Tony Roche, said he'd be running a pub, or just sitting in one. Pete Docter (Up) would be a Muppet, and Sheldon Turner would be using the law degree he earned. Jason Reitman, Turner's fellow nominee for Up In The Air, explained that "I always wanted to write for Saturday Night Live. Barring that, I'd still find a way to be telling stories -- even if I had to grab people on the street and force them to listen."

As Geoffrey Fletcher, nominated for Precious, explained at both panels, "The hardest work is done in the thinking stage, when you're plotting it out and exploring the characters. I think as writers we have to fight the urge to dive into the story right away, or we end up shuffling things on the run." Goldsmith took this opportunity to ask about the writers' various approaches when first cracking the script. Nick Hornby, Oscar-nominated for An Education, said everything was built around sweetening the inherent creepiness of an older man picking up a girl in a school uniform standing at a bus stop. Ianucci had been wanting to make a screwball comedy, and the more details he heard about the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, the more certain he became that it was a farce. And while Up started with a sketch of an old man with balloons, Bob Peterson shared a memory that showed the seeds of Up going back decades. "I was a camp counselor and this kid ran up to me and said, 'You are my counselor, and I love you!' Kinda put that in my pocket, and years later when we were finding the voice for Dug, I pulled it out."

Over at the WGA, Apatow was asking this same question, but in very different terms. After talking with Jon Lucas and Scott Moore about crafting a bachelor party-less bachelor party film, The Hangover, and using that idea to find "the Jason Bourne of it all," he turned to the man responsible for another script that was nominated by the WGA, but not Oscar, James Cameron. "James, do you ever get really scared at night? What makes you cry? When you're working on these huge projects, do you sleep okay or does it make you crazy?" Cameron explained that Avatar was a particularly difficult script to write, taking over four months, while his other scripts were written within a month and a half. "I know I'm going to have the chance to fix it, though, because I'll direct it and work with the editors. When I hand it to the studio, I tell them it's a work in progress. I get notes, sure. If I made a film for $20 million, I wouldn't get notes because I'd tell them to fuck off -- but making a $200 million film, you have to justify everything. So when they tell me I have a second-act slump, I tell them it's a work in progress. They don't like it, but they let me do it."

In both panels, there were moments where the nominees were able to speak about some of the other nominated films they had really dug this year. Jason Reitman talked about District 9, and how it "was an amazing thing because it defied genre every step of the way. It's like you took the Ricky Gervais character from The Office and dropped him in the middle of an action-adventure movie. Every choice was original, and that will constantly inspire me." Geoffrey Fletcher seized the opportunity to ask Alex Kurtzman about the most challenging scene in Star Trek, which he co-wrote with Roberto Orci. "The one where Kirk and Spock fight and Spock jettisons Kirk from the ship. We knew the entire movie turned on that scene, but we weren't sure how to get there. We'd debate endlessly the philosophies of Kirk and Spock, sometimes getting hotel rooms so we'd be locked away and had to write until we were finished. One such night, we were having a very heated argument, and realized that was the scene. At that point we sat down and started typing as fast as we could."

The question of making smaller films with greater freedom versus larger films with more interference came up, with The Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal and James Cameron debating the two philosophies. In the case of The Hurt Locker, Boal said that since the whole thing was foreign-financed, they never got a single note from anyone. "With no one caring or watching, we were able to go as far and as dark as we liked." Cameron, on the other hand, feels that if they don't care when you're making it, then they don't care when it's time to sell it. "I like them to sweat. I like them to be so fricking pregnant, they're thinking a year ahead of time, 'How are we going to sell this movie?' because their job's on the line."

Goldsmith delved into the rewriting process, asking what the single biggest problem they faced as they started revising. In the case of The Messenger, Alessandro Camon explained that there had been a plotline where, after Samantha Morton's character is notified about her husband's death -- about which are were no details -- Ben Foster's character takes it upon himself to find out why. "The second director we worked with on it, Roger Michell, told us he liked everything about the script, except that plotline. He told us to think of it like a French film, so we took out the plot and added a sex scene in the first two minutes." On In The Loop, Ianucci confessed that the script was 200 pages long, which the financiers didn't like at all, despite his assurances that it would be okay. "So we did a draft that was 100 pages less, but it was only for them."

Pointing out that Fletcher was both WGA and Oscar-nominated for his first produced screenplay, Apatow asked how many screenplays he had written up to this point. "Somewhere in the late teens. But I heard Oliver Stone wrote 20 screenplays before he got his first one made, so I'm ahead of him." He went on to say he was glad to be experiencing this now, instead of at the age of 23, because he felt it would have stunted his growth then, made him feel like he knew everything. He did have one thing he felt he could say with great certainty: "Put your head down and your heart into it. Do that, and the rest is out of your control."

Both Apatow and Goldsmith asked about terrible jobs the nominees had before becoming professional screenwriters. To both of them, Fletcher answered that he had worked doing data-entry for a bank in a windowless room on a floor that was actually sandwiched between two other floors. This was in New York, around 9/11, when "we didn't know if that was the beginning of it or what. I thought that I would stay there, but then I saw my hand was shaking and I thought, 'If I check out here, that's a long way from my dream.' "

At one point, Apatow asked if the political response to Avatar was more or less than Cameron expected. Less, he explained. "Honestly, I think Rupert put the word out to back off the film. They asked me to take out all the tree-hugging, spiritual stuff, but there's no real way to know if the film is succeeding because of those things or in spite of them. There isn't a second Earth where you can run it with slight changes."

Cameron was asked by an audience member about writing for 3D, which he said you don't do -- that there's no difference between writing 2D and 3D. However, he said, "There's something to be said for writing visually. I mean, the story is the characters and their journey and how this particular moment is critical for them and all that. But film is a visual medium and it's important to write visually. I don't think the great visuals end up onscreen without it starting in the writer's head. There's an image there as well as an emotion. It took me a long time in my career as a writer to get that balance right."

Jason Reitman also spoke of balance, of having to walk the fine line of satire. "The trick is, the audience looks to me to see what I think, and I think my job is to not show my hand. Christopher Buckley once said that when a movie works best, it's a mirror -- you see yourself in it. I love that idea."

At both panels the writers were asked about their endings. At the CS panel, Terri Tatchell, co-writer of District 9, said that while they're flattered everyone thinks the ending sets up a sequel, they never imagined the film would do so well and never planned for a sequel. Ianucci said that the ending was inevitable, that if somehow they'd managed to stop the war, it would have felt inauthentic. But it was the WGA panel which prompted a moment that brought it home and provided a good place to end. Reitman spoke of being stuck on page 60 and running into Apatow at a film festival. "I was lost in the desert and needed some inspiration. He said to write the ending, because once you write the ending you're theoretically done. It's amazing, that actually worked. Once I wrote the ending I was able to write this 20-page wedding scene with ease."

Between the WGA and the Oscars, that's 16 nominated films. Sixteen films that aren't just spread out over various genres, they manage to incorporate various genres, too. By using genre as a technique, they are able to rise above it and tell tales bigger than a simple label like Drama or Science-Fiction can convey. Proving once again, as Goldsmith said at the top of the Oscar panel, there are a million ways to skin a cat. Seriously, you should listen to the panel. There's some good stuff there."

Article written by Adam Stovall

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why The Hurt Locker DESERVED To Win


There was a general uproar at the Oscar party I was at when The Hurt Locker won for Best Picture. Everyone was happy with Kathryn Bigelow's win - it was a woman's turn - but better than Avatar?

My answer is yes. She also deserved best director and not just because it was her turn. If a man had done the same movie, he would have also deserved to win. (How funny to say that?)

Avatar was great. It hit all the major Save The Cat story beats, so much so that there was a document circling in Hollywood for a while that took the one-page for Pocahontas and switched the names to the characters in Avatar - revealing that they are both the exact same movie. (If you want it post a comment requesting it- and if you have clicked "follow" on the right side of this screen, I'll be able to shoot you an email with it).

And there are rewards for following those screenplay rules - they make people feel comfortable, and those people reward you by making your movie the biggest selling movie ever.

The Hurt Locker didn't follow all of those expected beats, in fact everytime I had an expectation it soon - literally - exploded right before my eyes. I was thinking "no way is Guy Pearce going to die, he's the most famous person on screen!" And then his head blew up in his helmet. Same when Ralph Fiennes scene came - and went. I was waiting for the big emotional speech by the lead actor, that didn't come either, instead, with no speech at all, we saw him walking through a grocery store in rural America and knew, this guy ain't gonna make it. In a war movie! It's the grocery store that does him in. But okay, enough of that. It was fresh in it's approach, great.

Here's what made it so special. In the space of two hours, it captured who we are as a country so perfectly that you could put it in a time capsule and in 20 years take it out to see who we are as a country, right down to our dialogue traveling to Iraq so that an Iraqi kid selling DVD's thinks it's cool to call someone else, "my nigga." And it created a character who should have been called Captain America, because he was America - brave, at times heroic, but brash and so addicted to war that he can't appreciate what is right in front of him.

And I know Avatar had a good anti-imperialism message and was all for saving the environment and that was great, but the bad guys were BAD guys, and the good guys were heroes through and through. The hero of The Hurt Locker, was smart, good at what he does, but, completely crazy. And it takes us the whole movie to gradually dig beneath all of those other layers to realize that he's crazy. Real bravery as a filmmaker is making the hero of your movie the biggest lunatic. It's Eugene O'Neil's "The Iceman Cometh." All along we've been dancing to the song of a pied piper who is leading us off the edge of a cliff.

And then without any commentary on war at all, just through this one character, we get it. War IS crazy. It IS a drug, a dangerous, stupid, 'why do we get into these messes drug.

But okay... I'll give you what your about to say - but that's the SCREENPLAY not the movie. So I'll add - to do an independently financed war film and be in such physically demanding conditions while shooting and get the tone so pitch-perfect, and real, and adrenaline laced and put the audience in that world in an an almost visceral way is hard. I, argue, that it is harder to do than to create a whole new 3D Pandora when you have a half a billion dollars (!), the absolute best special effects team in the world, and you're shooting in comfortable soundstages, and doing your effects in cushy production bays, and you can always add or take something away in post. I am arguing this as someone who has done all special effects projects (albeit music videos), and I have put Common & Macy Gray in an all CG created "space," Dashboard Confessional inside "sound" and taken ODB out the pen and inserted him into the movie Dolemite.

Avatar is still a fantastic achievement, but to everyone who is going on and on about it changing the face of filmmaking, I just have to say I just saw Alice In Wonderland - all 3D, most of it occurring in this bizarre over-the-looking glass, all CGI world with talking animals and beautiful dense forests and castles and I thought, if this is just three months after Avatar, then Avatar didn't change the face of filmmaking so much as being the first to have the kind of budget (and a good script) with which to implement that kind of filmmaking.

...But, that doesn't make Hurt Locker worse because it wasn't set in Pandora.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quote Of The Day

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined”
-Henry David Thoreau

Today's quote from the lovely and talented Abby Dobson. Check her out

You can also leave a comment and rate her song “Born 2 Luv U” at:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Alec Baldwin's take on hosting the Oscar's

This is dedicated to Ms. Cherry Blue who loves Alec Baldwin flawlessly. I couldn't agree more with his thoughts on last night's show.

"A television show like the Oscars is a strange bird. It's not like SNL or Letterman, where performers come out and do their thing and every one goes home. With awards at stake, awards that might actually change the course of the winners' careers, the proceedings possess an unavoidable and unique tension that does not exist elsewhere. At the Tonys and Grammys, musical performance provides a level of entertainment that the other awards can't hope to match. Yet, the Oscars remain the most important awards program for many people, probably because the movies, at their best, make audiences feel things about themselves and life that other media don't bring into focus as completely or effectively. Only books, I would argue, do a better job.

Hosting the show is an odd experience because you're out there, but it isn't about you. Steve Martin and I worked rather hard, along with the writers and producers, to make sure our contribution did not detract from the primary purpose of the evening, honoring the highest achievements in film. We tell some jokes and show some clips, but the night belongs to the great talent in that room.

I had a wonderful time at the Oscars this year, because the reality of just how many remarkably talented people work in the movie business was never more vivid to me than last night. We all have our preferences (I had to be careful to keep mine to myself in advance of the show). We all think that someone should have been nominated that was overlooked. (500 Days of Summer, anyone?) That someone should have won who didn't. Here are some of the things I will remember about last night's Oscars.

- Carey Mulligan at the Vanity Fair party. I talked with her briefly and thought, "This young woman has everything, absolutely everything, to have a great career in the movies."

- Quentin Tarantino's look after the show. A look that said, "I'm gonna dust myself off and win this thing next year." Gracious and restless in the same moment, who's tougher, and more talented, than Tarantino?

-- Christoph Waltz taking in the fact that he had won the Grand Slam (SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar) for what is the year's best performance.

- Lee Daniels before, during and after the show. Daniels made the film that was the hardest to make. Few filmmakers and few casts of actors go as deep as the Precious company did. Had they won everything last night, who could argue? Daniels should know he was among the biggest winners, with or without the Oscar.

- Kathryn Bigelow trembling onstage as she accepted her second Oscar in under two minutes. Bigelow was, no doubt, headed for the press room as the newly crowned Best Director when Hurt Locker won Best Picture and she had to spin around and pick up her other statue. Kathryn Bigelow's award buoyed the evening. History made as the best director of the best picture is a woman making a war film.

- Sandra Bullock sitting in a room just outside the VF party with her husband, spending a moment taking it all in. Sandy has made a lot of movies. And those movies have made a lot of money. I believe, however, that Sandy, whose career began with movies like Demolition Man, had that dream that we all have and had it all along. Money, fame and privilege all fade into the background. Winning the big one would be... oh so nice. That was the wonderful look on Sandy's face last night. That the reality is every bit as fantastic as the dream.

Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Small Picture

The following article is from one of my favorite blogs

I'm sure she wasn't writing this about filmmakers and screenwriters in particular, but, how applicable it is. I wish more films focused on the "small picture," stereotypes and stock characters would disappear and we would have an infinite series of wonderfully specific characters, new souls whose stories are worth caring about.

This is an unexpected example, especially on Oscar Sunday when we're supposed to go deep, but the "small picture" is the reason Boomerang was such a great movie.

Lady Eloise was a fantastically detailed character, vain, overtly sexual, in her 60s, and a little crazy, but still a shrewd enough businesswoman to be outraged by the original Strangé commercial. There was never an opportunity missed with Lady Eloise. A scene in which she appears, just in passing, gave us the gem, "Marcus, I don't have any panties on."

Strangé, was the same thing, but it was the commercial director who proved that even the smallest moment could be memorable. He didn't need to go for big gag to be funny, "Steel vagina, marvelous..." was far better, and came out of exploring the details of his kinky character rather than heaping on gags that didn't add to the humor.

I could expand this idea to Coming To America as well, and for that matter 48 Hours, but I'll just sum it by saying, Eddie Murphy movies were funnier when the characters were detailed, intricate, multifaceted. It's when his movies became "fat people are funny," that we all got bored. But I digress...

Here's the article...

The Small Picture
2010 MARCH 3
by Grace

Why do people always say – focus on the big picture?

What’s so special about “the big picture?”

Unless you’re making a god damn collage.

I like the small picture.

Details. Nicks.

Iridescent. Mumbling.

Within them I see everything I need to know.

Take this little gem, for example.

Can you count the lines that mark its face?

How about the chips and cracks that claim its age?

Did you count the creases of the skin it hugs? Weathered

with traces of travels,

and god knows harboring how many secrets.

Do you wonder?

And would you believe me if I told you that every single fragment of the sea

gave away, as I threw myself onto them

and then

quietly crawled close and

pressed into me?

That each one felt like a memory yet to be claimed,

a wonder yet to be understood,

a dream faded before it was known…

Would you believe me if I said

That I actually don’t know what I’m typing half the time,

That I sometimes look away and just tap out patterns of what feels good,

That sometimes the jumble of words stare back at me, wild-eyed,

And I stare back in return, wild-eyed.

That maybe I string them together like pastel shell-shaped candies,

Into little neat stacks of

Short lines that rhyme

Just so people can

Call it poetry.

That maybe I do that just to feel the rhyme.

That maybe I do that just for an excuse to post photos of seashells.

That maybe I am a seashell.

That maybe I just want an excuse to be the girl that fumbles in seashells.

That maybe I just want to be that girl

In itty bitty little pictures.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscar Bingo!

Bingo cards courtesy of

"For the first time since 1943, the Academy Awards've nominated 10 Best Pictures — which likely means you'll have to endure nine hideously boring montages before they get to the one with Mo'Nique. Fight the monotony with Thrillist's Oscar Bingo: 24 randomly-generated potential events to watch for, ranging from timely (Jeff Bridges gives rambling acceptance speech; mentions father) to timeless (Helen Mirren tits still luscious), plus the requisite "Free" space -- we'd give you Mo', but that's too much for any one man to handle."

Click the link below-

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Best Screenwriting Advice

1st ACT – Get the character up a tree
2nd ACT – Throw rocks at the tree
3rd ACT – Get him out of the tree

Be harder on your characters – be meaner to them (throw BIG rocks at the tree - boulders).

Jump into the middle of a scene and leave early.

Let the protagonist make their own trouble - they set the tree on fire and have to get out.

Every scene should reveal something new.

There. Go write.

“Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” - Martin Scorsese

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quote Of The Day

"It is defeat that turns bone to flint; it is defeat that turns gristle to muscle; it is defeat that makes men invincible. Do not then be afraid of defeat. You are never so near to victory as when defeated in a good cause."
- Henry Ward Beecher

Monday, March 1, 2010

Free Screening -Shutter Island

WHAT: Creative Screenwriting Magazine cordially invites you and a guest to a free screening of the #1 box-office hit - Shutter Island - followed by a Q&A with screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis!!!!

WHEN: Tuesday March 2nd at 7:30 pm.

WHERE: The Los Angeles Film School - 6363 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019
--- Please enter the theater from Ivar Ave., directly next to the parking structure - there is NO entry from Sunset Blvd.

PARKING: Is free and based on a first-come- first-served availability in the structure next to the LA Film School on Ivar Blvd. If parking on the street, ple If parking on the street, please read all signs.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Seating is on a First Come, First Served basis and is NOT GUARANTEED for you or your MAXIMUM ONE guest. We will overbook specifically so that we fill the house. If you arrive early, a line will begin forming OUTSIDE the theater. Some seats will be reserved in advance inside the theater for special guests of Creative Screenwriting magazine.

If the list is shut down - and you still wish to try and attend please read the new WAITLIST instructions below.


PLEASE only RSVP if you plan to attend this screening for sake of a proper head count. events.html