On Scripts

Salon is not only still publishing, they’re publishing the shooting script of the Ronald Reagan TV movie that the conservative closet cases wanted to see on Showtime (the Queer as Folk Network). It’s an 8Mb pdf. Of a TV Movie. Starring James Brolin. About Ronald Reagan. You’ve been warned.
[For an invigorating Reagan text, try Joan Didion’s prescient 1997 review of DiNesh D’Souza’s Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. It costs money, but it’s worth it.
For the definitive Reagan movie, buy or rent David O. Russell’s Flirting With Disaster, in which Reagan has two cameos: on the wall of Mel Coplin’s first adoptive “mom,” and on the tabs of acid of his real parents.]
In today’s Movie Issue of the NYT Mag, Lynn Hirschberg convenes a “roundtable” with two screenwriters, Brian Helgeland and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, the Silver Surfer convo airdropped into the middle of Crimson Tide) “share some wisdom about the screenwriting life.”
1) We always knew Tarantino’s too much of a loudmoth to pull off the Terence Malick thing. 2) How many participants actually constitute a roundtable? I want to know who couldn’t manage to stumble over to the Regent and run up the Times‘s bar tab. 3) Reason enough to read it in print: the Favorite Screenplays Speed Round, which runs along the bottom of the piece. I may have my data entry lackeys in Madagascar transcribe it for your illicit online pleasure.
Tarantino scripts online:
Kill Bill
Jackie Brown (pdf)
Pulp Fiction
Natural Born Killers early draft
Brian Helgeland scripts online:
Blood Work draft (pdf)
LA Confidential draft
The Postman early production draft (pdf) [heads up: think Kevin Costner, not Pablo Neruda]
Assassins draft, with the Wachowskis
The script’s not online, but a A Knight’s Tale is out on DVD. [Have a hard time keeping the similarly comical anachronism of A Knight’s Tale (“An InStyle Editor in King Arthur’s Court” starring Heath Ledger) and First Knight (“Ralph Lauren Camelot Collection” starring Richard Gere) straight? No problem. Amazon’s selling them together. Supplies are supposedly limited.
Think you can do better? Well, get Final Draft and start writing, script monkey.
[links via Daily Script and Screenplays For You]

Things I want to write about, given world enough (or time)

  • Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycling through the red states. C1‘s playing in Boise, where it was shot (and Barney’s hometown), and C3 has apparently won the Strangest Movie Shown In Nashville Award. (Heads up, bootleggers: The Tennessean’s Kevin Nance has a screener tape!)
  • Gerry reviewed in the Guardian (“If you can imagine Dude, Where’s my Car? by Samuel Beckett”). Casey Affleck writes about working–as an actor, editor, and writer–with Gus Van Sant. Net net, this means the DVD is still years away, I guess…
  • Film, Samuel Beckett’s only screenplay (besides the aforementioned DWMC?), in which a man (Buster Keaton) is pursued by an only occasionally perceived camera. Film at The Modern World. Up to 30 of you can buy it on VCD from the Czech Republic. via Dublog
  • One 9/11 pseudo-docu too many, reviewed and excoriated in the Voice. (Still, it’s a good argument for getting HBO; this horrible-sounding Bushagiography is on Showtime.) Related: Gail Sheehy’s impressive Observer article about the WTC widows who are holding the administration’s obfuscatory feet to the fire over details of the 9/11 AM timeline.
  • The Hirshhorn Museum, reviewed by Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes fame.
  • On Writing A Screenplay About A Writer

    In the Guardian, British docu maker John Brownlow tells about the tricky business of writing a screenplay about Sylvia Plath, one of the most fought-over writers of the modern era. With duelling critics, conflicting biographies, testy literary estates controlling the rights to Plath’s and Ted Hughes’ poetry, and an ending even Hollywood can’t spin, it sounds like an impossible task. Oh, and “there had to be humor.” Humor and a head in the oven.
    Brownlow ended up completely re-researching Plath’s and Hughes’ stories to find a bearable story, and, after realizing the couple didn’t “speak in verse” with each other, he says, “[I] cut dialogue and if I couldn’t cut it I made it as banal as I could, while ensuring the situations were dramatic.”
    His writing war story is long, maybe not really of general interest, but if you write, you won’t want to miss it. Two good lessons: 1) Brownlow is a huge fan of treatments and outlines and the discipline they impose on the writer’s story, and 2) he wants to direct.
    Interestingly, I just rewatched Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris on DVD, and in his commentary (with the deeply shallow James Cameron), he talks about cutting and cutting dialogue, too, in order to reveal the characters’ emotional subtexts. From what he says, I think he greatly improved the movie (which I liked better the second time, btw). Soderbergh tells people if they don’t like the pacing of the first ten minutes, they should leave, “because it’s not getting any better.”

    Ugh. It should be called “American Publishers Yawn at Foreign Fiction”

    In the NYT, Stephen Kinzer easily pulls some horrible quotes from major publishers about how Americans don’t want to read books translated into English. From a marketing hack at Harcourt: “We [Americans] are into accessible information. We often look for the story, rather than the story within the story. We’d rather read lines than read between the lines.” And from a hack at Hyperion: “The hard fact is that given the reality of the world, we [Americans] simply don’t have to be concerned about Laos, but people there might well want to be or have to be concerned about America.”
    Granted, it’s not literature, but if a webful of kids can translate Harry Potter in German in two weeks [read Kottke comments here], why can’t the world of people who don’t work for ridiculous publishers start bubbling these things to the top and translating them collaboratively? Just to see what sticks.
    If I were Jeff Jarvis, I’d say this was a project for webloggers.

    On Taste Tribes

    via Boingboing: On Mindjack, Joshua Ellis writes at length about what he calls Taste Tribes, friendship by cultural affinity–liking people who like the same stuff. Blogs are the engines for the smarter artist/chiefs of their own taste tribes.
    shagpad logoI cooked something up along those lines in 1999 at Shagpad, which was based on the Austin Powerish, Abercrombie & Fitchy theory that people bought stuff in direct relation to its ability to get them laid. Or as the VC-Powerpoint presentation-ready slogan goes, “Shagpad.com leverages web and e-commerce technology to monetize aspirational lifestyle portfolios that facilitate getting mad play.” The idea came out of some client work which became, in part, Pop.com (They chose the wrong part, I thought.) At Shagpad are a couple of essays that are not quite embarassing enough to take offline (and besides, the buy-this-lifestyle Amazon links usually pay the hosting).
    [Update: It should be noted that I peeled off my friend Jeff’s last name; he’s a sculptor in Red Hook, and the Google searches were beginning to cramp his style. Now that Wallpaper* has declared Red Hook trendy, I’ll probably have to change that, too. Aaron, you have my sympathy.]

    I Like Sites We Like

  • Daily Script is an excellent-looking archive of html/pdf screenplays. I’m reading the Three Kings shooting script.
  • I got Daily Script from the Guardian film section’s Sites We Like, an excellent mix of the entertaining and useful, the mainstream and obscure.
  • Marc Forster‘s first film, Everything Put Together, is on Sundance right now, but I can’t watch it right now. With a tremendous DV transfer, it looks great while it bleeds all hope for suburban humanity from your system. Monster’s Ball‘s a veritable The Sound of Music by comparison. Read a good Indiewire interview with Forster.
  • Useless Screenwriting Tip #1: Write When Ronin‘s On

    John Frankenheimer and Robert deNiro on location for Ronin, image: dga.org

    According to the little-known Osmosis Theory of Writing, while trying to write a tight, sharp, crime thriller, you should watch a tight, sharp crime thriller, like, say, Ronin (directed by John Frankenheimer, screenplay by David Mamet on JD Zeik‘s story). It helps if it’s got insane chase scenes over roads you used to travel regularly (Paris, Nice, La Turbie). If you do this, the doors will fly open, and your screenwriting muse will spray you with inspiration, like so much shrapnel in a waterfront ambush.
    That’s the theory, anyway.
    Your screenwriting kit should include: Ronin (with the Frankenheimer’s commentary) and his 1962 classic, The Manchurian Candidate, on DVD, and Frankenheimer interviews at The Onion AV Club and Movie Express.

    Baltimore Is Burning

    Iraqi troops aren’t puttin’ up a good enough fight for you? Your teams didn’t make it into the Final Four? Your need to engage, even vicariously, in tales of the life-consuming urge to win is going unmet? Read Anna Ditkoff’s under-the-skirts, behind-the-scenes look at the Miss Gay Maryland pageant. [via Romenesko’s Obscure Store]

    [Doing sultry, smoky ballads instead of the more common, flashy, diva dance numbers] is a risky gamble, and in the four times that Jenkins has gone to Miss Maryland he has never placed higher than fourth. “In a contest, it’s about the crown, it’s about the name, it’s about the recognition, it’s about all these things that some of these insecure girls really, really have to have. And they’re willing to do anything for it,” Jenkins says. “For me, if I win, I win. If I don’t, I don’t, but you’ll remember me. You will remember my name.”

    Drag competitions, drill team championships, Westminster, rhythmic gymnastics, ice skating, track, cricket, baseball– I better stop there for now. Jennie Livingston‘s amazing 1990 documentary about Harlem drag balls, Paris is Burning, is currently only available on VHS.

    When Do You Cry Reading The Home Section?

    Alone Together, by David Graham, image: pondpress.com

    Hardly ever, frankly. But William Hamilton’s wonderful story of the Kellams, a couple who lived alone, together, on an island off Mount Desert Island, really got me for some reason. Hamilton mentions David Graham’s book about the couple, Alone Together, published by Ponds Press

    “What did he read to you,” Mrs. Kellam was asked…
    “It was always the right thing,” she answered…
    Kippy Stroud, a summer resident who runs an arts camp on Mount Desert Island, said, “We just admired them so much.” Ms. Stroud introduced Mr. Graham, William Wegman and other artists to Placentia to see the Kellams’ world as it faded, like a patch of light in a forest.

    The story has the best ending I’ve ever read.

    Bill & Nada’s Cafe

    Bill & Nadas Cafe Meal Ticket, from SLC

    Bill & Nada’s Cafe was where I had my first script idea. It’s not that the Salt Lake dance clubs were cooler than the ones in Provo, there were no dance clubs in Provo. (Don’t talk to me about The Palace; that was like a church dance in Orange County). So we’d drive to Salt Lake to go out. Finding a designated driver was never a problem (think about it). Then after the clubs closed, we’d go to Bill & Nada’s. Much cooler than Denny’s. And full of characters, whether at 3AM or 8AM or lunchtime. Clubbies trying to be bad, punks, mothers with home-dyed hair, Willy Lomans, and always a few grizzled friends of Bill at the counter, truckers, probably. Or prospectors.
    It was the time warp kind of diner that hadn’t changed since the early sixties. Ancient country music on the jukeboxes (one on each table. There’d always be some jerk who’d order up Patsy Cline’s Crazy ten times, just as he was getting his check. Damn college kids.) The most famous dish was eggs & brains, but I’d always get pancakes (“Breakfast served all day”), which were orange (fertilized eggs, they’d say) and tapioca pudding. Or a patty melt. Every hour, the head waitress’d saunter over and spin the wheel. If your seat number hit, your order was free (there are little stick-on numbers at each spot, it turns out). There’s a vintage Field & Stream-like mural of a mountain lake on one wall, and a portrait of Bill, in full metal jacket and chaps, on his show horse. Just like in the Pioneer Day parade, every July.
    There were stories, told on the way home, about why the pictures of Bill & Nada are so old, too. “Go ask where she is,” some smart ass’d say, but no one ever did. Uncovering the urban legend we were sure lurked behind Bill & Nada’s was to be my first documentary, I decided; So many characters! And so quirky! (I was running the International Cinema program at BYU my senior year.) Half-assed research and writing efforts in the following years yielded one problematic result: there was no mystery, nothing lurking behind anything at Bill & Nada’s. What do you do when the reality turns out to be far less sensational than what you’d built it up to be in your mind? In my case, you go to business school, I guess.
    I found this meal ticket from Bill & Nada’s today while sorting through some tax receipts. I bought it for the clean design. Despite the slogan, Bill & Nada’s closed at the end of 1999. On their last night in business, I took my DV camera down there and roamed around for a couple of hours, capturing the atmosphere, shooting detail shots, so I could recreate it on a set, when the time came. Looks like longtime patron Bert Singleton did the same thing before they tore the place down last January.

    Reading::Writing Drinking::Driving?

    In the Casino resaurant, not the slightest impedance at all to getting in, no drop in temperature perceptible to his skin, Slothrop sits down at a table where somebody has left last Tuesday’s London Times. Hmmm. Hasn’t seen one of them in a while….Leafing through, dum, dum de-doo, yeah, the War’s still on, Allies closing in east and west on Berlin, powdered eggs still going one and three a dozen, “Fallen Officers,” MacGregory, Mucker-Maffick, Whitestreet, Personal Tributes…Meet Me in St Louis showing at the Empire Cinema (recalls doing the penis-in- the-popcorn-box routine there with one Madelyn, who was less than– ) —
    Tantivy. Oh shit no, no wait–
    “True charm…humblemindedness…strength of character…fundamental Christian cleanness and goodness…We all loved Oliver…his courage, kindness of heart and unfailing good humour were an inspiration to all of us…died bravely in battle leading a gallant attempt to rescue members of his unit, who were pinned down by German artillery…” And signed by his most devoted comrade in arms, Theodore Bloat. Major Theodore Bloat now–
    Staring out the window, staring at nothing, gripping a table knife so hard maybe some bones of his hand will break. It happens sometimes to lepers. Failure of feedback to the brain–no way to know how fiercely they may be making a fist. You know these lepers. Well–
    Ten minutes later, back up in his room, he’s lying face-down on the bed, feeling empty. Can’t cry. Can’t do anything.
    They did it it. Took his friend out to some deathtrap, probably let him fake an “honourable” death…and then just closed up his file
    It will occur to him later that maybe the whole story was a lie. They could’ve planted it easy enough in that London Times, couldn’t they? Left the paper for Slothrop to find? But by the time he figures that one out, there’ll be no turning around.
    – Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow p. 293

    So I’m reading Gravity’s Rainbow, small, resonant details of which, I freely acknowledge, find their way into the animated musical screenplay. But when I mention Anthony Lane’s writing about Cannes one day and read this bit of Pynchon (set in Nice. !) the next, please understand –please, just don’t sneer– if Lewis’s post the next day about Cannes and the grisly fate of first-time filmmakers weirds me out just a little.
    Not that I’ve been expecting a full-blown review for Souvenir in the New Yorker…but, maybe a smart little bit in Talk of the Town

    Marie Kreutz (FRANKA POTENTE) tries to understand why a French news story has upset Jason Bourne (MATT DAMON).

    Post-script: A reader pointed out that using the mass media to send messages to the troubled protagonist is a plot point in The Bourne Identity as well. So what are you saying? That stealing ideas from Pynchon, the best I can hope for is to be Robert Ludlum? Or that I’m (un)consciously campaigning to have Matt Damon play me in the movie?

    I See Harrison Ford As The Daring Writer…

    Harrison Ford in a tuxedo Meryl Streep, Yale grad

    Film critic Anthony Lane is writing the diary at Slate. So far, it’s been torrid accounts of the perils of writing. It’s pretty suspenseful stuff, journaling as a pitch/plea for giving Lane the Charlie Kaufman Treatment. (Kaufman wrote the screenplay adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief, which became Adaptation, starring Ms Meryl Streep as Ms Orlean.) Vivid imagery, action movie material, even. Tuesday, rewrite day, for instance:

    “If this [my Tuesday as a New Yorker writer] were an Indiana Jones movie, I would merely have proceeded to the next plank in the creaking, swaying rope bridge over a ravine. Below me, the crocodiles gape. One more pace, twice as fraught, will bring me to the fact-checking department, into whose miasmic maw writers far stronger than I have disappeared, their cries fading into the dark. Pray God that I come out alive.

    (There’s much more of this in the book, Nobody’s Perfect: Selected Writings from the New Yorker. We should have breakfast about it. London? Fine. Tea.) I enjoy Lane’s writing. A favorite is his 1997 report from Cannes [Yeah, I got the book, hardcover. When you’ve been throwing out the paperback version every week, what can you do? Just buy it!]:

    …at Cannes, unlike anywhere else, the act of waiting justifies what you are waiting for, and deepens your need to get there. I wandered around town for two full days in a tuxedo, feeling like the world’s most underused gigolo, for no other reason than to smooth my path into screenings of films from which I would normally run a mile.

    Hmmm. Get me Richard Gere on the phone…

    Richard Gere on the phone

    Readin’, Ritin’

    Took a couple of short breaks from writing the as-yet unannounced animated musical (henceforth, AYUAM), just to read the paper:

  • David Kehr‘s profile of Paul Thomas Anderson. “[In Punch-Drunk Love, Emily] Watson plays one of the many guardian angel figures who populate Mr. Anderson’s films: those caregivers who seem to appear out of nowhere and offer protection and redemption.” Should all of one’s movies be about similar things? Or have readily identifiable common themes or threads? Or is that just Mr Kehr’s job to write about those things? [Other P-DL and PTA links: NYT’s NYFF review; Cigarettes & Coffee, a gold standard for independent director fansites; greg.org posts from May on Magnolia and P-DL #1 and #2. After all, it is all about me…]
  • Stephen Holden writes inconclusively about the “latest” attempt to revive the movie musical. His thesis, that it’s an “international salvage operation” (he cites Francois Ozon, Lars von Trier, and Baz Luhrman), forces him to ignore South Park, still the greatest modern musical for my movie (or DVD) dollar. I’ll come back to this later.
  • An interesting account by John Rockwell on Tom Tykwer’s new film Heaven, which was based on an unfinalized script from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and his collaborator, Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
    K&K’s process: “Mr. Piesiewicz would propose an idea, he said, and then he and Kieslowski would collaborate on a short-story-like prose version of the eventual script. Then Mr. Piesiewicz would write the screenplay, with ample input from Kieslowski.” Heaven was in the short story stage. Kieslowski’s films have topped my list of influences and inspirations for a loong time. (search the site for Kieslowski, or go to the complete movie index for references. And I met Tykwer in 1999 when he was in the US for the run of Run Lola Run. Nice guy. very low key, very smart, and pretty old for a new director, something I don’t think anymore, obviously. Bonus: The article includes a handy pronunciation guide for all three men’s names. Clip it and put it in your wallet for party talk.

  • Frank Rich proclaims New York the real capital of America and uneqivocally slams Washington, DC in every possible way. Setting aside whatever truth the article may contain, it strikes me (an adopted New Yorker who happens to be in our other home, Washington, DC as I type this) as pretty gratuitous, self-serving, and unnecessary. New York shouldn’t need this kind of boosterish bluster, just like it shouldn’t need those stupid Chicago-did-it-first-but-we’ll-do-it-third-anyway painted cows or whatever. Washington, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of company town that would have painted elephants and donkeys, art whose lame name betrays precisely what’s missing around here: Author gregPosted on Categories writing
  • Joseph Epstein: send me your manuscripts

    The way I read this NY Times article, Joseph Epstein is secretly hoping his advice is wrong. “As the author of 14 books, with a 15th to be published next spring…” he writes, “…don’t write that book, my advice is, don’t even think about it. Keep it inside you, where it belongs.” [via camworld]
    Send as-yet unpublished manuscripts; self-published books; slim volumes of verse; literary or creative labors-of-love of all kinds, whether yours or not, to:
    Prof. Joseph Epstein (author, most recently, of “Snobbery”)
    Northwestern University
    English Department
    University Hall 215
    1897 Sheridan Rd
    Evanston, IL 60208-2240