Archive for March 2011

After the Quake

March 23, 2011

I’m not sure why I wrote about being half-Japanese when I posted my blog about contradictions on March 4, but after the sirens sounded here in Hawaii the night of March 10, I sensed something terrible was happening across the ocean in the country where I was born. Earlier, my wife thought the TV news bulletin of an earthquake in Japan was on a DVR playback from the week before when a quake triggered a tsunami alert. I told her, no, this is live. And this one was much, much bigger.

We live on the Windward side of Oahu, near a canal that connects to Kailua Bay about a mile down the street from our house. I felt fairly safe though, despite the later siren blasts and the news that the first tsunami waves were expected to hit our island around 3 am. People on our street who lived closed to the beach were evacuated. Fortunately, we were spared. Other parts of Oahu and the Big Island weren’t so lucky, but no lives were lost.

Anyone who’s ever been to Hawaii knows how closely we’re tied to Japan. Over 20 percent of the local population has some Japanese in them. You see the influences in the food, customs, aesthetics. Our economy depends a lot on Japanese visitors too. In Japan, hula is extremely popular and there are many “halaus” or schools that teach hula. (There’s a charming Japanese movie called HULA GIRLS, which is based on a true story about how Japanese women decide to put on a hula show to save a town when the mining company decides to shut down operations. You can rent it on Netflix.)

So people in Hawaii were deeply affected by the devastation in Japan. There have been all kinds of fund-raising efforts going on with a local angle. One that you might be interested in supporting is buying $20 “Aloha” shirts that have a red circle in place of the letter “o” that kind of says it all. All profits from sales are going directly to Japan, and I’ve already received the shirts I ordered just a week ago. You can go here to order them online from Butigroove.com, and here’s a link to another blog with more donation options.

It’s strange watching mainland TV news coverage of the events and fears of a nuclear meltdown. For a few days it dominated the airwaves… then it just sort of became old news as Libya took center stage. It sickens me that Charlie Sheen continues to get as much coverage as he has. I stop in to lurk at some screenwriting message boards, and the continual sniping and snarkiness that goes on between amateurs and professional writers makes me wonder what world these people are living in. Have we really become that ego-centric where all we care about is our personal success?

I guess so. Aside from buying some t-shirts, giving money and sharing my thoughts about the disaster in Japan, there isn’t much I can do either. Life goes on, Charlie Sheen is unstoppable (until he crashes) and the grass needs cutting. I still want to tell you my “Opposites Attract” story about writing a bizarre punk rock musical script that was optioned by ROBOCOP co-writer Michael Miner, but will save that for a rainy day.

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Random updates: After cracking the first Amazon Studios Top 50 semifinals list with LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE, have not had any luck in the two subsequent monthly script contests. So I added two new projects: STUNT GUYS, big budget action/comedy, and SNALLYGASTER, an Amish horror story… yep, I said AMISH horror. You can check both of them out by going to this link and downloading the pdf files, which are much easier to read than the horrid rtf versions they were making us post before.

Or you can go to these individual script page links:

SNALLYGASTER

STUNT GUYS: THE SULTANS OF S.W.A.T.

Thus far, I haven’t heard of any actual movie deals coming out of the Amazon Studios contest, but the fact that they’ve changed their policies about “open” collaborations (you can opt out now) and are finally allowing writers to upload pdf versions of their scripts tells me they are listening to suggestions. The question though is, are any legit producers or agents taking this contest seriously?

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BTW, remember my post on “Idea Theft or Coincidence?” Well, apparently TV writers aren’t the only ones who say they’ve pitched ideas to producers who then used those ideas without crediting the writers or paying them. On Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood site, she had an article about WGA contract negotiations, which resulted a long thread of comments — many of them pro screenwriters, who say they are being ripped off through “sweepstake pitching” practices…

According to anonymous commenters, it works like this: studio producers meet with repped pro writers to hear pitches for open assignments. Assistants take notes. Producers then sift through ideas they like, and turn them over to the A-lister they hire, without giving any credit or compensation to the ones who pitched those ideas. Sometimes the idea or set piece winds up in a completely different film, says one writer. As a result, some writers are passing on those meetings… but with fewer films being made, how many can afford to “just say no” to sweepstakes pitching?

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More Contradictions: Creative Types

March 9, 2011

Two days after I posted my Opposites Attract thoughts, read an interesting piece on Huffington Post, which posits that creative types contain a “multitude” of contradictions within their personality make-up… really rang a bell with me, especially the idea that performers can be both extroverted and introverted at the same time. Is that you too?

Here’s the link to that article.

Ever since I wrote about “coincidences” and idea theft last month, I’ve encountered even more weird coincidences.  First, there was my horoscope which said: “There really is no such thing as coincidence, only a series of symbolic events that we’re occasionally smart enough to notice… Once you notice, you’ll have the answer to that pressing question you’ve been asking yourself.” Huh.

Then after my long, rambling post on contradictions, I come across the Huff Post piece which seemed to speak directly to me since it was about how creative types embody conflicting personality traits. People who don’t know me well, often assume I’m an extrovert who likes to be the center of attention. They couldn’t be more wrong. I have terrible stage fright and a fear of public speaking. Yet in college, I played slide guitar in a band… and I did revel in my brief time in the spotlight when we performed. Of course, I had to be sufficiently drunk before I took the stage.

Anyhow, before I get around to Part 2 of Opposites Attract, which involves a screenplay that is about rock music, the movie biz, and an old college acquaintance named Bruce Willis, wanted to also share these Scientific American articles related to creative thinking. Some of the ways to boost cognitive intelligence are similar to things I suggested in my Opposites Attract piece towards the end. Yeah, I know it’s long for a blog — but again, that’s part of my contrary nature, I guess.

To sum up the Scientific American article, which is also lengthy (worth reading though), the five primary principles to increase intelligence are:

1. Seek Novelty

2. Challenge Yourself

3. Think Creatively

4. Do Things The Hard Way

5. Network

And here’s the other S-A article that says “mind-body dissonance” can help creative thinking — in other words, displaying emotions that are opposite of what we’re actually feeling inside. Hmm, that’s kind of like what I was saying in Opposites Attract too, isn’t it?

Opposites Attract

March 4, 2011

My life is one big contradiction. Perhaps it’s because I’m half Japanese, half Polish-American, and was born on a U.S. military base in Sapporo during the Korean war… Modern imperialism versus ancient feudalism. East meets West. Yin yang and all that jazz from my days growing up in Jersey and New York City before pulling a geographic and moving to Hawaii, because I knew I’d drink or drug myself to death if I stayed in Manhattan. I’ve always been a writer — yet I hate writing, and avoid it as much as I can. But I can’t escape this world I’ve created inside my head that is overflowing with ideas I feel compelled to fashion into stories of one sort or another.

And that’s the problem. I have the opposite of writer’s block. I’m sometimes paralyzed by the inability to focus on one project at a time. Although my office is neat and orderly, befitting the Virgo that I am, I am flanked by small stacks of folders, notebooks and printed-out pages for half a dozen screenplays, two stage plays, and three novels, all in various stages of incompleteness. But I haven’t worked on anything new for months, and the pain is getting too great for me to continue my strategy of avoidance. So I’ve been running, reading a lot and cleaning house — because that’s what I do when I’m ramping up to start a new script or play. I have to be physically ready for long bouts of sitting at the computer. Reading multiple books each day sharpens my thinking. The dusting and vacuuming allows my mind to go blank and wander. Zen and the art of non-writing.

Among the books I’m alternating between, are three non-fiction works and “The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore”… which I will have a lot to say about in a future post because it’s conceptually similar to my “Uncle Monkey” talking chimp books that I’ve been writing for my nieces the past few years (without the sex and profanity in “Bruno,” that is) and raises some of the same existential questions that I explored in a script called APE/MAN, which I wrote about five years ago: a computer genius gives the power of speech to a gorilla that knows sign language while lusting after the ape’s “teacher”… then trades bodies with the gorilla through an experimental brain implant to learn what the ape is actually thinking since the gorilla has a limited vocabulary that is subject to  human interpretation. Pretty bizarre, yet based on real science. “Bruno” goes in a much different direction, however.

Where was I? Oh, yes… opposites attract. Physics, relationships, philosophies. Doing the contrary thing has been my writing modus operandi from my very first screenplay 15 years ago. I wanted to create stuff that no one else would write because they would think it wasn’t commercial or didn’t fit the Hollywood formula. My debut script was a black comedy based on  the 28 days I spent in rehab with other recovering alcoholics and  drug addicts. But when I started showing it to TV and movie people, they said, “You can’t write a comedy about drunks and meth heads! Addiction is a downer — no one wants to see that.” Of course, other movies and cable TV series have come out since then that showed there’s a big market for black humor if it’s done well.

However, one TV producer actually liked it and thought I could sell it. That little bit of encouragement led me to believe that taking the contrarian approach might work. And it did when my second script, which went against the grain in every way, was optioned by the co-writer of the original ROBOCOP movie. I’ll tell you that story in Part Two.

First though, I wanted to briefly mention the three non-fiction books I’m plowing through. I was thinking about writer’s block (or more precisely, the opposite of that) while perusing “Page Fright” by Harry Bruce. It was recommended by a writer friend, Porter Grand — author of “Little Women and Werewolves” — who occasionally posts comments and words of wisdom on this blog under her Lycan Librarian blog moniker. She’s a very inventive writer and her description of the book made me want to read it. Basically, it’s a collection of anecdotes about the habits and superstitions of accomplished scribes. Many of the stories are interesting or humorous, but it’s more about the physical aspects of putting words on paper than what’s going on inside their heads while writing.

If you want insights into the creative process, I’d recommend the other two books I’m halfway through: “Life” by Keith Richards, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat.” Talk about opposites! Yet in their own ways, they’re both consummate professionals. Keith was largely self-taught. He studied records by black R&B musicians, and would learn guitar riffs from more experienced players in England and America when the Rolling Stones toured the states. Sondheim had his Broadway musical mentors. But each of them synthesized what they absorbed from others, then went off in new directions by experimenting with different styles.

When Keith talks about writing “Satisfaction” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” you have to smile at the stories behind these classics. On one hand, he seems to be divinely inspired — he knows he has a gift — then he’ll humbly admit the origins were pretty mundane. Example: Mick Jagger was woken up by loud sounds outside his window where the band was staying, and asked Keith who was making the noise. Keith said, “Oh, that’s Jumpin’ Jack”… a farm hand who was stomping around in heavy boots. Jagger later added “Flash” and a hit song was born. The opening lines of “Gimme Shelter,” were written by Keith while there was a storm raging outside his place. The metaphors came later.

Keith’s book is conversational in tone, and he comes off surprisingly intelligent, while being maddeningly casual about his drug use (until he fesses up to being a junkie). I kind of skimmed the partying stuff, since that gets boring fast. But when he talks about music, even an amateur guitar player like me can be inspired by his admission that much of what he did was simple trial and error. He experimented with different tunings and methods of distorting his guitar sound through the use of amps and fuzz boxes — stuff that I did too in college when I played in a band. I thought I wasn’t that “good” because I couldn’t play scales and used open tunings. He took the same open tunings I used, removed one string, and came up with a unique sound.

Sondheim is the complete opposite of Keith in his story-telling style. He is erudite and extremely critical of other song writers, as well as himself. Yet he’s similar to Keith in that Sondheim picks apart lyrics and melodies with the same attention to detail that Keith picks up when listening to musicians he admired. What Sondheim did for musicals is very much like what good screenwriters do with their dialogue: he gives each song words and music that match the interior make-up of his characters on stage.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if you’re looking for inspiration to make your writing more original, look outside the world of conventional writing advice. Go to a museum. Listen to music. Read poetry. Then write something totally opposite of what others are doing just to experiment and push beyond your normal boundaries. That’s where you will find the unique twist that makes a formulaic plot sound fresh and new.

Squashed Gecko in the News!

March 3, 2011

My next real blog post is running long (as usual) so I’m editing it and will turn it into a two-parter. In the meantime though, wanted to share this actual news item that appeared recently involving a hapless gecko. Alas, its demise was not caused by the Swinging Door of Fate, but death by baking. Here’s the photo and article:

New meaning for ‘high protein’ loaf

February 25 2011 at 11:39am
By Tarryn Solomons

A Cape Town man has an awful TAIL to tell after he found a dead gecko baked into his bread.

Yusuf Moses, 62, says he sent his daughter’s boyfriend to JP’s tuck shop in Belhar to buy bread.

Luckily, before they started eating it, he spotted the little sliced up lizard in the slices of bread.

Yusuf says his daughter, who had left for work by then, would have made sandwiches with the loaf.

“On Wednesday morning, when I saw the bread was still neatly wrapped and not eaten, I knew something’s not lekker,” he said.

“I saw the (paws) of this black thing and realised it was actually a lizard baked into the bread.

“When I opened the plastic, I saw this really was a little dead animal.

“I was so (angry) because imagine if my pregnant daughter ate the bread? She would’ve gotten sick.

“I immediately went to JP’s tuck shop and showed the shop employer what they were selling.

“When I told them I’m going to the papers, they gave me the bakery’s number.”

Yusuf says he called Kwick Bake Bakery in Bellville South, but did not confront them.

He says he merely confirmed that they had supplied the bread.

Yusuf then approached the Daily Voice with his loaf and caused a stir among curious staff.

The Daily Voice called the bakery and manager Ebrahiem Ebrahiem acknowledged its mistake.

“The lizard could have been in the flour before it was mixed,” he says.

“These things can happen and it is not impossible.

“Sometimes it’s unavoidable, so there is no point in getting upset.” – Daily Voice