Script Frenzy: FTW

At the beginning of April I wrote that I was starting Script Frenzy: a challenge to write a 100 page script in the month of April. Well the month is almost over, and — as you can see on Author's Page — I did indeed complete the task. Officially, I completed 103 pages (although it ended up a little longer when I tweaked the formatting.)

The story flowed pretty easily, and I had no problem sticking to my original "plan". In fact, I really didn't do much coercion (except for introducing the plausible-but-a-little-hokey cell-phone failure.) For the most part, the story just moved along of its own accord.

I re-read most of it and it seems pretty good. I did notice a few typos (like when Bob the waiter just drives off in their car, apparently) and sometimes I'd introduce a character or a place and a couple pages later the name would inexplicably change. But I noticed that the things I cringed at when I was writing — just to keep the flow going — don't seem nearly as out-of-place and absurd as I thought.

Not to brag too much, but I was impressed at the multi-faceted story arc, like the way the scenery changes with the organic changes in the characters. That was kind of a surprise.

I mentioned in the post introducing this that one of the things I learned from my NaNoWriMo experience was that I really needed to keep tabs on my characters. I made a separate document with the names of characters and any things I said about them, or about their past. It helped a lot. Plus, I only had two central characters, so keeping track of them was much easier.

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Script Frenzy for April

A few years ago, I completed the National Novel Writing Month challenge, writing 50,000 words in the month of November. (I ended up with about 60,000 words then stalled with my characters in a place I didn't care about.) Well, NaNoWriMo has a spin-off project called Script Frenzy. The challenge is to write a 100 page script in the month of April.

Well I love movies, and I have an idea kicking around that touches on a number of topics dear to me along with some interesting personal anecdotes I always thought would make a good movie, so I decided to take up the challenge and write a screenplay. You can track my Author's Page here to see how I'm doing — I got about 4 pages done today so that's pretty good. I'd much rather start out ahead of the curve (for teh math-challenged, I need to average 3 1/3 pages a day to succeed.)

I won't give too much away until I get something more concrete in place, but suffice it to say it's a modern cross-country road trip that'll require the venerable CB radio.

What I learned from my NaNoWriMo experience was that I really needed to keep tabs on my characters since halfway through I couldn't tell one minor character from another. I also felt like that was a freshman effort that can safely be hidden away forever. I don't think it's bad, per se, but it probably has more to do with personal therapy than anything worthwhile to read.

Hopefully I'll see this one through and make something of it.

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The Beast Pageant in Boston

About this time last Thursday, I was arriving in Boston. As an actor in The Beast Pageant, I was tagging along with filmmaker Albert and costume designer Vanessa to The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF). The Beast Pageant's artistic dream-logic metaphor was just barely appropriate for the horror-and-gore territory covered by the festival.

The opening-night screening was Hobo With a Shotgun at The Kendall Square Cinema (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — where all the rest of the films would be screened. I found "Hobo" fantastic — a 1980's action-exploitation film with Rutger Hauer, no less, in the lead role as a hobo trying to make ends meet but cornered into violent action. The bad guys are played with comic-absurd gusto as all parties are supported by a tongue-in-cheek script.

Afterward, that night's part was at T.T. the Bear's Place (10 Brookline Pl., Cambridge, MA), right around the corner from Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub (472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA). There were several bands and The Whore Church was performing live video mixing. Unfortunately it wasn't much of a place to chat (nor was there food) so we went to the Middle East for dinner which was pretty good. We weren't particularly impressed by T.T.'s as service was blasé and drinks were expensive ($2.50 for a soda, really? — but I guess that's Boston for you.) We got the last train on the Red Line to get home around 12:15 a.m.

On Friday we headed to The Gallery Diner (11 P St., South Boston, MA) which was fantastic. We made smalltalk with the friendly owners Paul and Colleen and the food was great. Exploring the Harvard Square area, we stopped at a few record and comic stores and I got an excellent fresh, locally-produced shake at the regional fast-food chain b.good (24 Dunster St., Cambridge, MA).

I checked out the "BUFF Family Values" short film program back at the festival and was pleased with all the films — some disturbing, some powerful, some funny, and some just strange. Later that night, we all saw Machete Maidens Unleashed which was a pretty decent documentary about the Philippine exploitation film industry in the 1970's and 1980's. I opted to see the 1973 film The Twilight People which was made in the Philippines during that era — a terrible film by nearly all counts. I recall listening to the dialog and thinking, "I wish they'd stop talking" and a scene later when they were walking through the jungle, "I wish there was more dialog". It was astounding to me that someone put this film together and decided they were done — continuity, plot, editing, and special effects came second to, well, cost, I guess.

Saturday started with an acceptable breakfast at Mul's Diner (75 W. Broadway, South Boston, MA). From there we went straight to the festival to catch "OMFG LMFAO!" and "Psychedelicinema" — a pair of shorts programs. The first offered a few chuckles but we didn't find it all that funny. The second was, in my opinion, a little better, but it was really abstract films and not psychedelic. We stayed for about half the program, skipping out partway through the 30-minute final film.

Between screenings I met Josh MacDonald, writer of The Corridor. I skipped the "Where the Music's At" music-videos short program, to see Josh's film. It was really excellent: evenly paced and gradually asking for suspended disbelief at the increasingly paranormal activity ensuing on screen. Despite its evenness, it delves into some extremely dark and gruesome territory — I found it highly successful.

We had a break and got to hang out (finally!) with other filmmakers at The Friendly Toast (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — and the only event to include free food. [I realize I'm knocking the festival for lackluster treatment of out-of-town guests, but I also know they're running on a shoestring budget and just didn't plan things out very well for us.] We finished the day with a pleasant at-home dinner with friends and family.

Sunday I met with my college friends at The Daily Catch (441 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). In 2002 I went to The Daily Catch (323 Hanover St., Boston, MA) and loved it, so I had to go back. The location in Brookline is bigger so Jan, Griffin, John, Michelle, Rob, Kevin, and myself could comfortably fit. Unfortunately they didn't open until 2 so we dawdled on the street, hanging out at the super cool Irving's Toy and Card Shop (371 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). At lunch I had the pistacio-encrusted swordfish which was fantastic. Everyone had a good meal for sure. We stayed and talked for a couple hours then Kevin and I headed back to the festival.

We got there a bit early and had plenty of time to get into the big event (for us): the screening of The Beast Pageant (and on IMDb). About 40 people showed up to watch it and, as best I can tell, really enjoyed it. It was fun to be part of the question-and-answer panel.

Afterward was the closing night party at Tommy Doyle's Irish Pub and Restaurant (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA). (The festival runs once during the weekend, and then nearly all the films are repeated during the week, making it possible to actually see every screening.) I had a celebratory shot of 18-year-old Glenlivet scotch — my first alcoholic drink since the beginning of December when I quit (I permit myself a rare taste of something extraordinary, or under truly extraordinary circumstances.) The Beast Pageant won a runner-up "Director's Choice" award for best feature.

On Monday things got amusing. We got up for breakfast and I headed out around 11:05 to get the train back home. We had been averaging 15 minutes to get to the South Station where I was to get the train, but today buses were running on a half-hour schedule rather than every 10 minutes. I called for a taxi around 11:30 and was promised one immediately; I passed on boarding a bus that arrived shortly after. Alas, the cab didn't show up in time. I took the next bus and got to the Amtrak station (Summer St. and Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA) about 20 minutes late — if only I'd have hopped on that 11:30 bus. Alas, I traded my unclaimed ticket for one tomorrow. At least I got to see "Future Imperfect" — the science fiction short film program. It was okay but not great. Kevin was kind enough to let me stay at his place.

That night he and I went out and got dinner at Punjab Palace (109 Brighton Ave., Allston, MA) which really had great Indian cuisine. After that we went to see bands play at Charlie's Kitchen (10 Elliot St., Cambridge, MA). We were disappointed in the first act and headed to The Lizard Lounge (1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA) for an open-mic. That was a blast and we stayed quite late. We got back to his house and I slept on the futon couch.

I left when Kevin went to work, taking the T into the city packed with all the commuters. I found the Banksy graffiti art that Kevin mentioned off Essex Street then went to The South Street Diner (178 Kneeland St., Boston, MA) for breakfast. The staff was friendly and the breakfast burrito was quite good. I hung around and chatted for quite some time, arriving at the train station with plenty of time to spare.

I was happy to be on the train home. I arrived in Albany a little late but had about an hour before it left again, so my parents stopped by and we had a quick and decent Italian dinner at (if I remember right) Rudy's V & R Ristorante (483 Broadway, Rensselaer) across the tracks from the station. I was worried for a bit but got back in time to get back on the train home.

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The Savages at the Dryden

Tamara Jenkins' The Savages played at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) and Ali and I went to see it. They also screened one of her short films from film school, Family Remains. It had a very stylized veneer and told the tale of a mother and daughter who need to confront the death of the divorced husband. It was generally pretty good, but obviously less skillfully made than Jenkins' later work.

The Savages was an excellent film as in its own right. It tells the tale of two siblings, Jon and Wendy, reunited when their father is diagnosed with dementia. They put him in a nursing home near where Jon lives in Buffalo and end up learning a lot about one another's lives in the process.

I was disappointed to that some scenes felt contrived — although Ali disagrees and enjoyed the organic serendipity of it. In one case, it's important for Wendy to meet with Howard, one of the caretakers at the nursing home. She had brought her cat from New York and is allowed to let it stay at the nursing home. I thought it contrived that the cat gets in a fight with another cat at the home, so when Wendy goes to get it, she and Howard end up cornering it under a couch which and end up having a conversation one-on-one.

In all, though, that's a minor fault. One of the best things about the film is that Laura Linney as Wendy and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jon are both excellent leads. To be completely honest, though, the movie is stolen by a perfectly invisible performance by Philip Bosco as their dad, Lenny.

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Emerging Filmmakers #46 at the Little

Tonight was The Emerging Filmmakers Series #46 and Ali and I made it to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see it. I liked ABC Movie by Elisabeth Tonnard once it got rolling and I figured out the literary angle of the visual collage that plays on "apple", "book", and "clock". Fallen by Jon Noble was a zombie horror short on a budget … although imperfect, there's a solid talent there. The real gem of the evening was Last Time in Clerkenweell [not Bathtime in Clerkenwell as I had noted … although the descriptions and reviews seem remarkably similar to what we saw] by Alex Budovsky — it was a superb black-and-white animation set to a catchy song. It had an art-deco feel to it as well as a darker military-jingoism just under the surface.

At times, though, I found that I was being more critical than usual. I recall being able to look at a work and see the artistic merit, or a glimmer of skill somewhere, but it seems I'm now a cynic about it and judge things quickly as crap. Like Untitled by Eva Xie: I found it to be a blunt so-so metaphor on the gradient of going from a girl to a woman; its artistic technique was akin to being clever with language by removing all but the punctuation marks to make your point. ",,.,,'.:-;." if you know what I mean.

But even that really had its merits — after all, for what is often a first-time film for someone, just learning all about making it is a challenge. It's much harder than it appears. [You may not argue that point until you produce a short film that beats all that I've seen before.]

Anyway, I liked all the films at least a little. The Can Man by Sean Cunningham was a strange film that reveals a sinister world of bleak post-apocalyptic dehumanization. Boxed In by Joy E. Reed was a coming-out story between a woman and her mother and it did a good job of revealing some rather deep characterization. SNEW by David Lachman and Jody Oberfelder was a nifty playful piece with cut-out letters and people — a somewhat experimental piece that was fun to watch. And finally, Loose Ends by Rachel Gordon was an okay, professional-looking production about a woman dealing with dating in her 20's.

I thought it was interesting that Karen vanMeenen had selected two films with a literary metaphor. I don't recall having seen that before, but maybe it's fresh in my mind what I think the bias might be.

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Atonement 'fore Penelope at the Cinema

Ali and I headed to The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) to see the double-feature: Atonement, and Penelope. This time, we didn't get a chance to hang out with the cat — I guess it's done with us.

So Atonement took me a while to get into. I had thoughts of the day swimming around and couldn't get into it fully. I noticed that the foleying was performed louder and more stylistically than in other movies — obviously for artistic effect but, to my ear, deliberate to the point of distraction.

The story is not particularly unusual: Briony — a young girl — misinterprets the passionate love between her sister, Cecilia, and her beau Robbie as some bad thing in her sexually-budding mind. Through a lie of serendipitously important placement, she gets them separated. The World War II intensifies, and Robbie leaves to fight, able to see Cecilia only briefly.

As the emotions intensified — from the sterile complacency of the aristocratic life to the ragged edges of human existence — I became much more engaged in the film. And then was absolutely surprised to find it has a bit of a twist ending — one that looks squarely at what is real and what is not, unraveling the tapestry laid before me.

Penelope, on the other hand, was brutally terrible.

The story is that Penelope was affected by a curse of her father's lineage such that she was born with the appearance of a pig. To break the curse, she must wed one of her own — another "blue-blood" aristocrat. Unfortunately, her appearance is so hideous that all suitors literally run away from her at first sight, never getting to know the kind person she is inside. So does she finally find her prince? Will the curse actually be broken?

Let me save you 102 minutes of your life: yes, but it's the down-to-earth guy who actually likes her and he's not really a blue-blood, and yes, but the curse is edited partway into the film so that it's when she finds the one who loves her truly — and it is she that finally loves herself that breaks the curse, turning her back into regular-old Christina Ricci.

The fundamental flaw of the film is that it attempts to hit the exact middle-ground of all aspects. It's a cartoonish fairy-tale set in realistic modern-day England. Penelope is so hideous that she drives suitors away, but she's not bad looking at all. The chemistry between the designated couple is vaguely lukewarm — more like cooked pasta than a roaring fire. The resolution is absolutely insipid — that the curse forged in vengeance against a whole bloodline is really just a way for a girl to get through her issues and the evil witch was a big-hearted softie after all.

And then there's the script — oy. The fundamental message is that superficially loving mothers end up smothering their children's sense of self and must be shut the hell up. Or at least that may be on the mind of the scriptwriter. Then again, I guess if you love Everybody Loves Raymond, then — as this is the same writer — you'll probably love this script too. And apparently so do hundreds of commentators on Internet Movie Database.  And I find that to be more disturbing than the fact that this movie got made at all.

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Untraceable at the Cinema

Ali and I decided to check out the double-feature at The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) The two films were Le scaphandre et le papillon(The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Untraceable but I'll talk about them in reverse order. Oh, and this time Ali's lap was graced by Princess, the Cinema's resident cat — forcing her to be paralyzed for 3 full hours.

So Untraceable is a film about how the Patriot Act is good and how brainy people in universities are the source of all truly evil enemies. See, the FBI, NSA, and law-enforcement in general are all infallible organizations: when they go after someone, that person is guilty; otherwise, they wouldn't go after them, would they?

This is proven in the introductory sequence of the film where FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh finds someone using stolen credit cards on the Interwebs. She uses credit-card fraud techniques learned from a television commercial and deduces that it isn't the little old lady in the house whose IP address is the source of the transactions, but rather the next-door neighbor using her wireless access point. After all, the guy has guns which means he's a criminal.

Then a tip comes in about a website where someone's letting a kitten die on live-fed video. But the site is [wait for it …] untraceable. The film uses mumbo-techno speak to explain how the site is being redirected from foreign countries and stuff so it can't be traced. Then the guy starts killing people and the mystery is on.

Well, not the real mystery, but the attempt to find who the guy is who's doing all these mean things and why. The real mystery is how this evil, university-educated genius can transport and set up elaborate killing techniques that would make James Bond scriptwriters blush. He has access to all sorts of equipment, drugs, and chemicals that — to the average person — would be all but impossible to get, requiring lots of signatures, picture ID's, and money. It must be that pesky university! But even if we write that off, he is also able to transport his computer rig to anywhere in the city without anyone so much as blinking. Whatever explains these magical powers is probably the same one that lets him move around victims with equal ease and invisibility.

In stark contrast, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was excellent. It's about a guy who was perfectly healthy until a stroke rendered him completely paralyzed except for being able to move and blink his left eye. He starts out feeling trapped, depressed, and annoyed. Once a speech therapist helps him to speak by reading letters to him and blinking when she gets the right one, his imagination and memories come to the forefront and he eventually decides to complete a book contract he had. It's an interesting movie exploring the will to live and the human need to find contentment and happiness in any situation.

I have heard reviews where people talk about it being "amazing" what this man went through, but in a way, it was more a demonstration of necessity than anything. Because of his condition, there was no way for him to kill himself — in fact, it was because of the quality of health care he received that kept him alive at all, so in a way, it wasn't that he was unable to kill himself, but that he was unable to prevent others from keeping him alive.

See, there appears to be a level of personal happiness that is unrelated to one's life condition. If happiness truly were tied to one's life condition, then extremely well-off people would be constantly overjoyed and poor people would beg for brevity in their miserable existences. Clearly, though, this is not true.

But remarkably, it seems to have no limits. It's challenging to imagine a worse fate than being completely paralyzed and kept alive irrelevant to your consent. Yet here was Jean-Dominique Bauby (the character was based on a real person) who lived that very nightmare. His personal disposition — once the trauma of the sudden, dramatic change in his life wore off — seemed to return to a level not dissimilar to himself in his past, fully ambulatory life.

Anyway, there's sort-of a game to see how the Cinema's double-features are related. This one is a tough one. Judging by how I personally felt, I think Untraceable was supposed to be as bad as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was good — that the latter was to cancel out the former, and you were supposed to leave the theater feeling exactly the same as when you went in. In 10 years, I invite you to recall this combination and see which still has relevance.

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Dead Man at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Dead Man. I convinced Ali to not see it with me because I was worried it wasn't her kind of movie — and with other options like food at her parents' house or the video shoot for The Lobster Quadrille also going on, I didn't want her to feel like she wasted her time. Now after the fact, I think she probably would have liked it. One of the things I really enjoy about the Dryden is how the introductions bracket the film — to give one a way to see it and understand it rather than to find no way to understand it and simply dismiss it (especially in a case like this).

Anyway, Dead Man is an excellent movie: a meditative cinematic poem about death on all sorts of different levels. All the actors in the film were stunningly convincing. The direction and cinematography offered a deliberate, steady pace with plenty of room to simply observe.

It's about a guy named William Blake who goes west for a job in the town of Machine. When he arrives, there is no job for him — and he had spent all his savings to get there. He meets a woman, but his bad luck isn't done because her fiancee returns and in a blur of passion, shoots her and Blake who in turn shoots him. Injured, Blake heads for the hills and is aided by a Native American named Nobody — who happens to be a fan of poet William Blake in a moment that transcends the "fourth wall" like none other. The fiancee happens to be the son of the brutal, sole industrialist in Machine and puts a bounty on Blake's head. Meanwhile, Nobody declares Blake to be a dead man and spends his time preparing Blake for his journey to the other side.

But that's not what the movie is about at all.

What I got out of it was that it was about the reality of death. Not the part that it's inevitable, that it's permanent, or that it's man's greatest fear, but simply that it was, is, and will be. The Europeans slaughtered the Native Americans, for instance; and no matter how good or bad we feel about that now, it happened and we cannot change it. There's a certain beauty to the notion of impermanent existence — that no matter what we do in life, we end up part of the same earthly goo from which we came.

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