New horror project: more feedback

Well, it’s been a while since this series has been updated. We’ve had a series of illnesses, a wake to attend, a short road trip (to attend said wake and then to forget about said wake), some storyboards for a music video to get done, and on and on.

But now we’re back at it.

We did hear from the InkTip lead that was looking for just this kind of script: It was a no-go. I suspect that it was largely a budgetary concern… they wanted to make a movie for under a million dollars but our script has heavy CGI, a house that burns down, another building that blows up, and lots of gunfire. Chances are the synopsis alone told them they couldn’t afford it. Just as well… I think the script deserves more lovin’ than that.

We did get feedback from two more readers (here’s the first set of feedback). Reader C called for a little more back story and a little more humor, but overall:

Great job … I think it is ready to rock.

Reader D was very positive:

GOOD FUN! I would really like to see the movie. Excellent gore levels. I particularly enjoyed the character depth and the complex relationships… Thank you for having strong female characters that are actually friends and not having it become a big jealous catfight over a guy. That is so tired. Overall, it was awesome and fun. I’m impressed.

So the feedback overall is solid. Both readers suggested a small amount of additional back story to help explain the Crazy Old Lady’s history with her missing father, as well as some small clarification on the two female leads relationship… this is similar to what we heard before.

We’re folding in many of the minor suggestions people have given us, and expect to have it ready for primetime within a week.

Thanks for following along!

The logline affect… er, effect

Just got this lowdown in my email on a film from the upcoming New York International Independent Film & Video Festival.

It’s About Time
When the Earth’s Atomic Clock is altered by one second, three friends must deal with the unexpected affect it has on their lives.
Directed by Kevin Shinick (Writer/Director/Actor, Without A Trace, Robot Chicken).
Starring: Seana Kofoed (Actor, Men in Trees), Matthew Edwards (Renaissance Man), Jennifer Carta (Actor, 24, The Game), Jim O’Connor (Undercover Brother), Paul Bartholomew (Actor, Medium, ER) and Tony Randall (The Odd Couple). 90 min. Romantic Comedy.

So instead of saying “Wow, cool idea, great pedigree” I found myself saying “Affect? Affect? That should be “effect”. Why does the logline* of a legitimate movie have incorrect English**? How hard is that? Doesn’t anybody care any more?”

Does that make me small?

*This is the same logline that appears on the IMDB record for the film.
**Usage note:
Affect and effect, each both noun and verb, share the sense of “influence,” and because of their similarity in pronunciation are sometimes confused in writing. As a verb affect means “to act on” or “to move” (His words affected the crowd so deeply that many wept). The verb effect means “to bring about, accomplish”: Her administration effected radical changes. The noun effect means “result, consequence”: the serious effects of the oil spill [this is the usage indicated in the above logline].

DF Indie Studios – dedicated to production & distribution of indie films

dfilogoGood news in tough economic times… an exciting new studio is launching in NY, with a stack o’ cash and a distribution network in place. Is this the best time to launch? Or the worst?

And what does it mean for screenwriters who aren’t attached to a production company? A quick look at the “Greenlight Process” page seems to indicate that they’ll accept scripts, but only filtered through agents, talent, producers, etc… so your script will still need to be vetted and championed by someone with more juice than the average indie spec writer might have. That’s the part of the Hollywood model that will hopefully serve them well… a focus on projects for which they can commit the resources to complete, and for which they can identify a market. That’s just good business.

Of course, this kind of thing looks familiar for those who remember Larry Meistrich’s The Shooting Gallery (TSG).Through the ’90’s, Manhattan based TSG had big plans to build sound stages to support their slate of projects, but ended up with more misses than hits (Laws of Gravity and Sling Blade remain perhaps the two most recognizable successes) . Ultimately their demise in 2001 may be attributed to their lack of focus on proven Hollywood business practices, choosing instead to fancy themselves a dot-com technology start up with an eye on becoming a new-media powerhouse.

Will dedication to core industry business competencies (managing resources, backing projects with proven audiences, proactively managing distribution pipelines, staying in the movie business) keep DFIS from becoming a repeat of TSG? Will it have longer legs, and stay focused on the nuts and bolts of film rather than thinking it needs to be a new-technology company? Or does the new universe of online social media, marketing and distribution (that didn’t meaningfully exist during TSG’s lifetime) demand just such a bifurcated focus? Was TSG just too early, that landscape just too new and volatile?

Maybe DFIS will need to strike a balance between the two to find success. With the hard lessons of the dot-com bust firmly in our rear view mirror, we can only hope that DFIS remembers that the threat of mishandling that balance still looms larger than it may appear.

REUTERS: “Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher unveiled DF Indie Studios late Friday to eventually produce 10-12 films annually with a production cost of $10 million or less. They plan to guarantee distribution in the U.S. and Canada, backed by what they say is $150 million in equity financing.

DF Indie Studios (DFIS) has the support of big-name movie makers such as brothers Tony and Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) and independent film veterans Ted Hope and Anne Carey. (“Adventureland” and “In the Bedroom“).

“We’ve been amazed to see the competitors in our budget range have pretty much disappeared,” Dickinson told Reuters.

“That’s why we’re excited about this time period,” added Fisher. “We see it working in our favor.” [See the full article HERE.]

See the DFIS website HERE.

Why Zhura isn't perfect

(Follow up post here…)

As you may recall, my writing partner and I are using the online script writing collaboration tool ““. We usually use Final Draft, but wanted something that was web based, would allow us both remote access to the script, and preferably simultaneous access for true collaboration.

We looked at a number of options, including ScriptBuddy, CELTX and others. We arrived at Zhura because, at least at the time, it was the only one entirely web-based and offering true simultaneous logon and editing. Zhura offers a free and a paid version (comparison here), and we opted for the free version. Not because we’re cheap, but because we thought it did everything we needed it to.

Since then, it’s proven to be useful but terribly buggy.

Early on, I had ongoing problems with the system throwing in strange spaces, line returns, and so on. It was pretty consistent, and being an old Information Architect and Web App Usability whore, I did a careful QA on the glitches, took copious notes, and shared them with Zhura. They kindly got back to me, we swapped a few emails, and ultimately, I was told that I shouldn’t use Internet Explorer… that Zhura was optimized for Firefox. (Now, the site says Zhura works with Firefox, Google Chrome, IE and maybe one other…)

Okay, I like Firefox fine. So I dedicated myself to it, and continued on with Zhura.

There is no “import” feature to bring a doc in from another application, but in edit mode, I am able to paste in new content from other sources with a simple “paste” button. So we started by copying our outline from Word, and pasting it into the Zhura editor. It didn’t stop us, it didn’t give a warning, and there is nowhere on the site that says we shouldn’t do it. So we did.

Over time, we began getting some troubling glitches…

  • Everything would suddenly be italicized, randomly, while in mid-edit.
  • Everything would suddenly be formatted as an ACT, randomly, while in mid-edit.
  • Zhura includes an option to highlight the recent edits, color-coded by authorship. But when I clicked that button, our script would revert to its original version — just the outline — all our weeks of changes gone. Leaving the page and coming back would correct this, but it was very troubling.
  • And we would occassionally, randomly, find large paragraphs of strange code suddenly appearing at strange places in our script. We could delete them, but they’d reappear at will.

We were concerned that we could never be sure if we were looking at our most recent version. We began to wonder if we should stick with the tool.

So I sent another set of notes to Zhura. They did respond, nicely and promptly, as they always do.

Again, it was my fault.

This time, for pasting from a WORD doc. I was told that as a paid “PRO” member, I could upload files from other apps. But to copy/paste from a WORD doc would create issues as I was experiencing.

Now, there is no place on the site that I can find that tells me this is an issue. The tool offers a “paste” option. It offers no warning. I looked at the “help” files (which are colorful and graphical, but not terribly helpful), I looked in the “discussion forum” (which is largely novices asking other novices “how do I format dialogue”), and could find nothing about what I could paste and what I could not.

I did find the “Free vs. Pro” comparison table. This chart indicates that the Pro version will allow me to “Import and Export Rich-Text, Word, WordPerfect, and OpenOffice”. The expanded explanation states:

If you have a script in Rich-Text (.rtf), a document written in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), or a screenplay in OpenOffice (.odt), as a PRO member, you can import them directly into the Zhura editor. You also have the option to export your Zhura scripts to any of these formats.

But remember, I don’t want to “import” a file. “Importing” a file is a very different action than is “pasting” content. All indications are that I should be able to copy and paste my doc, because I am given a “paste” button in the tool, and am not told that this is a restricted activity. My assumption, and I think a reasonable one, is that the tool will default to a “plain text paste” function, stripping any formatting.

Clearly I was wrong.

Other ongoing issues that I’m keeping an eye on:

  • Page count is random. The page count shown in “edit” mode doesn’t quite match that in “view” mode, and neither quite matches what I get if I export to a PDF.
  • It makes a new historical version of the script every time it saves. And it auto saves about if you stop typing for more than about 30 seconds. So right now, my script (on which I’ve worked for about two weeks) has 1,425 historical versions on file. Seriously? I don’t even want to look at any of them. Not a bug, not a glitch. Just seems like a terrible waste of space to me.
  • Sometimes an element will appear properly formatted in “edit” or “view”, but won’t be so after export to PDF. (e.g. – an “action” sequence looks right, but simply doesn’t show up in the PDF. Going back into “edit”, I discover that it’s actually tagged as a “character” — even though it appears left justified and otherwise formatted as “action”. For some reason, this confusion of the system results in the passage simply not exporting to the PDF at all.)
  • Strange extra “spaces” at the end of a sentence, after the period (I can’t put my cursor immediately after the period). Backspacing to remove the space also removes the period… meaning the period and the space are treated as one character. Big issue? Probably not, but troubling, as it indicates another weird bug that may or may not impact the integrity of my script file.
  • And there are other random little hiccups.
  • And some, none or all of these may or may not also be the result of my pasting in text from a WORD doc.

But all is not lost. Zhura has proven to be a convenient tool for us, and I suspect will continue to be refined and revised. But the easy, short term fix for in-built systemic restrictions is to communicate them clearly for users. Zhura really needs a more thorough and explicit set of FAQ’s and HELP files. It’s not acceptable for users to struggle with  apparent bugs and submit help tickets, only to be told that they’re using the system incorrectly, when there is no clear help (contextual or otherwise) to offer actionable direction.

I like you a lot, Zhura. But I don’t love you yet.

But opinions vary, as seen here on WriteForgeAhead… “Working With Zhura” – parts ONE and TWO.

(Follow up post here…)

Yes, I know what genre it is.


Acting class today. Had a scene from True Crime, in which I played Eastwood’s part, Steve Everett. Had the script for a week or more to work the lines, but only practiced with my partner Chelsea in the hallway for 20 minutes. Nevertheless, we (as Randy Jackson would say) “worked it out, dog.” Scene came off really well. Ralph said he was impressed with us and that he really believed my character lived in that bar… “no hobbies, no friends, just his car out front and drinkin’.”

It’s so nice to have real life experiences to draw on. 🙂

And it’s a long way from doing that scene from “According to Jim” and having him ask “You do know this is a comedy, right?”

But it’s true… I felt the difference. This thing actors do (real actors, not me) is hard work. Till today I always felt self-conscious, not really listening to the other person between my lines… I was (cue John Lovitz) “ACTING!”

Today was cool. Now if I can only maintain. Next week, Jerry McGuire.

That’s a horror flick, right?

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

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 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).

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

What a great looking movie… amazing production design, Tim Burton-esque without the curlicues… characters designed and shots framed as though they were fine illustrations. The universe of the film has a strange, surreal quality that feels as though you’re inside an illustration, as though the universe ends at the horizon. In other films that’s a quality that takes me out… particularly films that are working hard to create an alternate reality, like sci-fi. In my sci-fi I want to have a sense that the universe extends well beyond the frame (Blade Runner, Alien) and doesn’t just exist where the camera is pointing (Total Recall [which I understand is being remade]). Here, though, that’s a quality that makes perfect sense. Some of the backgrounds put me in a mind of The Wizard Of Oz (the original, not that unwatchable sci-fi channel remake with Zooey Deschanel). Continue reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

3D films, pirating, indies and writers

The current trend toward 3D films (and there are several technologies vying for supremecy – vhs v beta all over again – see a great FORTUNE article here, and a more current TIME article here) means new complications for pirates (movie pirates, not seafaring pirates — meaning pirates of movies, not pirates in movies) and new opportunites for indies if they can figure out the basics and pull off the shooting.

There’s a discussion over at John August’s blog … check out the comments to see how some readers are deconstructing the pirating process. And a discussion over at among the micro-indies about how to pull off the shooting.

Is 3D a filmmaker’s hedge against pirating? And for how long?

Will micro-indies be left behind as audiences come to expect 3D, or will they be able to find micro-budget technologies that will allow them to compete?

And will 3D change the stories writers choose to write, and the way they write them?

Write a screenplay 140 characters at a time – on Twitter

Marilyn Horowitz (author of “How to Write a Screenplay in 10 Weeks” and creator of The Horowitz System®, award-winning university professor, producer, screenwriter, script consultant and [stops for breath] successful writing coach) has a Twitter stream dedicated to crafting a group screenplay. Follow the tweets, add a line at a time (140 characters only of course) — just send her your next line of the script as a private message at — and watch it grow.