Quentin Tarantino on American Idol?

Yeah, I said that with a question mark when I first heard it. Quentin Tarantino was the guest mentor on this week’s American Idol, as the category was “songs from movies”. Of course, since AI mentors are generally professionals in the music industry, I thought to myself “what’s QT going to offer these kids? He’s no singer, not a songwriter or musician (of any note). WTF?”

Q himself explained it thus: That he would be “directing” the singers as he would an actor. He listened to their performance, gave them notes, and then asked them to make adjustments.

Again, though, I thought “what kind of notes can you offer that will be relevant?” And again, I was surprised.

Just as an example, his advice to Danny Gokey, who was so emotionally invested in his song that he was gesturing intently with his hands: [paraphrasing] “When you’re so emotionally invested, performers find lots of ways to dissipate the energy they’re feeling… through their hands, for instance. Put your hands in your pockets, and try again… channel that energy you were losing through gesture into your voice and your eyes.”

I walked away feeling a little humbled. His direction was about dramatic performance, about channeling the emotional content of your song/story/script in ways that will optimize its communication. It was insightful, intuitive and on point, and it was cool to see him play to his own strengths to find a way to offer valuable notes to the kids.

I may not love all his work — his first two or three films are by far his best stuff (Reservoir Dogs is still brilliant), I nearly walked out of Kill Bill and had to fast forward most of Death Proof — but there’s no denying that he’s an immensely talented guy. Just an immensely talented guy whose tastes have unfortunately parted far from mine in recent years.

It was neat to watch, and I bet I’m a little bit better a director for having seen it.

John August is doing something cool (again)

John August is doing something cool over at his blog… short video screen captures, looking over his shoulder as he edits a screenplay segment. I’ll just offer links, rather than embed them here, as to send your traffic to his blog.

Writing better scene description.

Writing better action.

Don’t just watch the video, but read the comments too… it’s illustrative of the fact that while there are many ways to screw things up, there are also many ways to do them right… and some of John’s readers raise legitimate alternatives to his edits. Which doesn’t invalidate his changes, of course. All the alternatives are better than the bad passages he starts with.

I’m sorely tempted to try something similar. But of course, as I am not John August, nobody will care. ;P

New horror project: Day four writing

Another day down already.

Sean had worked on some dialogue for the upcoming scene and forwarded it to me last night. I’d gone through it and fleshed it out, so when he got here we just had to review it, paste it in, and format. Then a quick polish, and on to the next scenes.

We’ve found their lost dog, introduced the Ranger and the Grad student, learned about other missing animals, gotten their generator running, and were warned about fires. Oh, and one of the couples had hot mad monkey sex.

We ended up adding 6 or 7 pages today in pretty short order. That brings us to 25.5 pages more or less. According to early outline estimates, we should be at 23.5 pages, so we’re still running a little long. But my original estimate was a conservative 82 pages overall, and I’d really like to hit 90-100, so I think we’re just fine.

(NOTE: We’re using Zhura, an online script writing collaboration tool. It’s kinda buggy, and the page count it shows you in edit mode doesn’t exactly sync with the page count it shows in display mode. And neither quite matches the formatting you get when exporting to PDF. So we’re fudging a little on the numbers.)

What we’ve learned about the collaborative process is this: one or the other of us can work independently and come to the table with a first draft of the day’s scene(s), and that gets us mechanically through the outline pretty efficiently. But it’s not the most creatively rewarding system. It’s like we spend our time together editing each other’s work, rather than brainstorming and creating. We’re going to focus more on that, and less on independent work. Because when we do that, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. And isn’t that the point of collaboration?

Total hours in so far (Chip): 28.5

New horror project: Day three writing

Sean spent a little time on his own over the weekend writing some first draft dialogue for the upcoming pages. So when we sat down today to work, we had a kind of a head start. We pasted in his notes, then set about refining and formatting them.

By and large it all worked. He hit all the points the outline called for, the dialogue worked well, it had the appropriate subtext. I hadn’t expected to have that head start, so that’s cool, but I am curious how it might have looked if we’d written it together. But so long as it all works, and we’re making forward progress, I’m not going to stress on it. 🙂

We added 7.5 pages today, so now we”re at about 18.5 pages. According to my early estimates, we should be at about 16.5, so we may be running a little long. But we’re going to save any deep edits for the next draft, and continue forward.

Regarding the story, the secret past relationship between two of our principals has been revealed, they’ve found the first stripped coyote corpse, and had our second (even more strange) interaction with crazy-old-lady.

Now the Ranger is about to appear, setting up a few plot points for later payoff. That’s for Wednesday.

Total hours in so far (Chip): 24.5

New horror project: day 2.5 update

It’s Sunday night and this upcoming week looks less than full of writing… Tuesday I’ve got a lunch with a buddy and great writer from Sacramento to BS about writing, toss around some story ideas, and whatnot.

And since I got the part in the commercial, Friday will be all about the shoot.

So we won’t get five work days in. But I still hope to get 15-20 pages written this week. Too ambitious? We’ll see…

You like me! You really like me!

I started taking acting classes every Sunday a few weeks ago. No plans to be an actor (it would be cool, but that’s not my goal). I’m doing it to inform my writing, and to make me a better actors’ director. The instructor, Ralph Peduto (site here), is a local pro, and a friend of mine. It’s been a lot of fun (and instantly humbling — so much more appreciation for my actors — not that I didn’t already appreciate).

Anyways, Ralph was kind enough to let me know about a local audition for an upcoming commercial. I was unsure, but decided the experience would be valuable (I find that most are). So I went for it just the other day.

Got the call today — landed the part! I play the inventor of the micro-chip, Jack Kilby. Not a speaking role, btw. Which is probably why I got it. 😛

I’m so stoked. Looking forward to the shoot next Friday. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks, Ralph!

Seth Rogen and date rape

Haven’t seen the new Seth Rogen film Observe and Report, the Paul Blart: Mall Cop sequel — (what? It’s not a sequel? Weird! What are the chances?). But there’s some controversey over its dark nature, including one scene in particular — the alleged “date rape” scene.

See this discussion with Rogen and Faris here on EW.com.

Can one make a judgment without seeing the scene in its context? Some are trying. For those of you who would like to try, the (R Rated) trailer’s at the bottom of this post. The scene is at the end of the trailer. Apparently, Faris’ character gets wasted (to the point of throwing up a little). Cut to: Rogen humping away on her limp form – presumably unconscious. Gasp, right? Wait for it, wait for it… Rogen realizes she looks unconscious, stops with a concerned look, and then she asks (eyes still closed) “Why are you stopping, Mother Fucker?” Cue the laffs! Har Har!

Hmmm. So, she knew what was going on, right? And Rogen was concerned when he thought she was unconscious, right? And she apparently actually wasn’t, right? She was all wasted, had sex with her eyes closed. Maybe even fell asleep. It’s funny because it’s true, right?

Anyone here ever fall asleep during sex (drug induced or otherwise)? I’ve been close (not with you, honey). And frankly, some of the best sex I’ve had has been after a bottle or two of wine. And I hear the sex on Meth is pretty amazing too (heightened awareness and all that).

Some say that a woman under the influence by definition can’t give consent. I’m not a woman, but I’m also not sure this is gender specific.  Do we just say that a woman (or perhaps anyone) simply can’t give consent if under the influence? Is every kid that has a hit of X at a rave then hooks up being raped? Every person who goes out on Prom, gets schnockered and then laid being raped? Every bride or groom retiring to the Honeymoon suite after getting loaded at the reception being raped? Hmmm… if so, that means I’ve been raped a few times, too.

I don’t want to be a dick about this. Don ‘t hate on me. Somebody help me out, here!

So here are the Q’s: Is she unconscious in this scene? If so, is Rogen’s character taking advantage, or stopping because he’s concerned about taking advantage? Assuming she’s not unconscious, but a consenting drunk, is that rape? And to keep things kinda movie centric, what responsibility or obligation do filmmakers or actors have on representing the subject?

SIDEBAR: Watched High Plains Drifter the other day. Watched Clint (or “The Drifter”) drag a woman into a barn, throw her down, hike her skirts while she fought and yelled at him to stop, fuck her for about 90 seconds (all the while being voyeured upon by a little person), then climb off her and walk away. I think he even said something like “You could use a good smacking around”.

Okay. The floor is open.

New horror project: Day two writing

Day two of writing done. We’ve taken our principal characters from their meeting with the crazy old lady all the way into the mountains to the old cabin. They’ve gotten the boards off the windows, we’ve established their relationships and personalities a little more, and we’ve finally got them through their first night in the woods. And, we’ve heard the creatures for the first time! Good stuff.

We added 5.5 pages. That brings us to 11. According to my rough estimate, we should be at 11.5 pages, so we’re a little ahead of the game. At this rate we should be able to finish draft 1 in around 17 working days. And working days for us are far less than 8 hours, what with the family obligations and all.

Unfortunately that won’t be 17 consecutive working days. This week in particular has been less than optimally productive, since it’s Spring Break and my son is home from school all week and I’m Mister Mom. But my awesome wife has had him go to work with her a few times, so that’s been really helpful. Nevertheless, Sean had a doc’s appointment that took him out of town for the day, I had a couple things come up, and Friday is Good Friday. So we’re just getting two days in this week. Next week I hope will be better.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Finally saw this movie… it’s one of those that’s such a “classic” and “groundbreaking” film that filmies love to talk about (and some growed up mens still say scares them), figured I’d better see it.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it.

Lame.

Sorry. Poorly written, acted and directed. Yes, I get it, it created the genre. Yes, I get it, it had a black lead who didn’t traffic in his blackness. Yes, I get it, the flesh eating zombies were super graphic for their time.

It also had about four lines of dialogue simply repeated throughout the second act: “We should stay downstairs, we’ll be safer.” “We should stay upstairs, we’ll be safer.” “Why do you get to hold the gun?” “Shut up and help.”

And the lead (the black guy) pretty much just kills the whiny pudgy guy for no reason (other than he was just crazy irritating).

But mostly, and it bears repeating here, badly written, acted and directed. And really, since we’re talking about movies, not about good intentions or accidental historical being-in-the-right-place-ness, those are the things a “movie” needs to do right to be simply “competent,” and needs to do expertly and artistically to be “great”.

So yeah. Whatever. I laughed, and barely made it through. I’m glad it opened doors in a variety of ways, but let’s be honest. It’s not a good movie.

It’s not.

New horror project: Day one writing

Day one is in the can (bag? hard drive?).

Zhura‘s online screenplay collaboration tool is working well.

It went quite smoothly… we plugged through the first half of our characters’ first day, getting all four primary’s introduced, learning a bit about the remote mountain locale, and meeting the creepy crazy old lady down the road. 🙂

We ended up with 5.5 pages of completed script, and it read pretty well. We’ll tweak on it, but it’s readable, and that fits in just fine with our “crap but done” goal for draft one (though really, I’m way too anal to accept crap, even in a first draft).