Archive for January 2013

Plastic Fantastic Lover

January 19, 2013

I was going to write a follow-up to my post about the new Black List script service that’s getting buzz because it offers another means for unrepped screenwriters to be discovered by Hollywood. Then former manager Jason Scoggins, who’s been tracking script sales through, launched Spec Scout, which also gives writers a chance to have their screenplays rated by professional readers, so I was waiting for my reviews to compare the two (between contests, BL and Spec Scout, I’m beginning to wonder if there are enough qualified readers to go around). In short, I had mixed results with both, which I’ll eventually write about.

However, the big news here in Hawaii is all about Manti Te’o and the revelation that his dead girlfriend never actually existed. They interrupted regular programming to broadcast the Notre Dame press conference because his life story had been built up to mythical proportions in the lead-up to the college football national championship game when number one ND got shellacked by Alabama. Manti is a terrific linebacker and by all accounts is a model citizen — such a good guy that you almost could feel he was going to get blindsided. Early into my recovery, one of the things I learned from AA is that we shouldn’t idolize any role models or put anyone on a pedestal, because humans are, well… human. We all have feet of clay, and to some degree we are all delusional. Especially writers and artists.

Ironically, the ones who have been the hardest on MT, are the so-called sports fans who spend most of their petty lives wrapped up in their own fantasy world of athletes and teams they follow as devoutly as religious fanatics or groupies that bow down to the “gods” they each worship. On sports message boards, these grown men hide behind made-up tough-sounding screen names and often post images of nubile young ladies they lust after in their own puerile fantasies. Yet they blast MT for being naive and gullible, and ask how he could be so stupid to fall for a girl he only met online and spoke to on the phone. This coming from guys who walk around in public wearing shirts with the names and jersey numbers of men they follow in fantasy sports leagues, while going into very real fits of anger or depression when “their” team loses.

It also reminded me of something a professor said in my Philosophy of Art class at Montclair State College, many years ago. The topic was Platonic love, I think, and he pointed out that the essence of love is desire. And what is desire? It’s wanting something you don’t yet have or cannot attain because of obstacles that make the yearning even stronger. In the Age of Facebook, it’s even easier to succumb to desire and yearning for someone who isn’t physically attainable because of actual distance or self-imposed limitations (oh, yeah, the dreaded lost love or first love from school days who reconnects via FB!). Little messages and email exchanges take on a life of their own in our imaginations as we fill in the details to suit our delusions and need to feel loved or appreciated. The problem with real flesh and blood relationships is they get messy because our flaws become all too apparent when we come together in the physical world.

Which brings me to the delusions of writers. It’s both necessary and unfortunate we must create fictitious identities for ourselves to survive criticism by others, who in their own universe deem themselves worthy of judging our work (for a small fee, of course). It’s necessary to believe in your own talent when no one else does, because in the end, it doesn’t really matter what others say. Life will go on, you will succeed or not on your own merits, and we all die sooner or later.

Having read the feedback from “professional” readers at BL and Spec Scout, I can honestly say some had good suggestions and pointed out things that could be improved; and some didn’t seem to know much about screenwriting or writing in general. It was as if they took a few film classes in college, read a smattering of books, cribbed notes from agents/managers, and voila —  they “knew” what constituted great writing. What they’ve really learned is how to come up with more creative ways to say “no” and pass on stuff they personally didn’t like or get — or more precisely, didn’t think the agents and producers they work for would like.

Now don’t misquote me… I’ll be the first to say 90 percent of the scripts and book drafts out there aren’t very good. But when I first began writing scripts, we talked about the goal being “workable material,” which I think is much closer to the reality of movie making. Screenplays aren’t novels. They are blueprints for directors, producers, actors and crews of people to construct an elaborate illusion from. True, bad scripts will never become good movies — and good scripts sometimes become terrible films. But rarely do any scripts, be it Nicholl Fellows or Oscar winners, achieve greatness on the page alone. It takes real people to breathe life and energy into our words. It takes conflict between directors, producers and actors to find — or create — actual subtext as opposed to what some reader thinks is subtext (or lack thereof).

You want proof? Take a list of movies made from Black List scripts or films written by Nicholl Fellows in the past few years, then look at their Netflix ratings by the general public. What you will find is the vast majority of movies — even the most popular rentals — are usually coming in at between 2 to 3 (on a scale of 1 to 5). Also, many of the films that do get 4 or 5 stars are documentaries… such as CATFISH, which I was recommending to people on Twitter and Facebook two years ago. Maybe it’s because reality is often more interesting than comic book stories that producers want to remake into modern myths (most just turn out to be tedious, overblown CGI exercises that require wearing plastic glasses).

Funny how CATFISH is now part of the lexicon, while so many blockbuster summer movies were forgotten the week after they came out. When it comes to judging original material, the truth is Hollywood agents/producers/readers aren’t very good at predicting what will be a hit, or what will stand the test of time. If they were as smart as they would like you to believe they are, 90 percent of the movies released would be rated higher than 2 or 3 on Netflix, and would have made more money than they did.

Anyhow, for some reason, the old Jefferson Airplane song, “Plastic Fantastic Lover” came into mind just before I wrote this blog. It may be about television… or computers? I’m not sure, but after all these years, it seems relevant again. That, my friends, is art.

Her neon mouth with the blinking soft smile
Is nothing but an electric sign
You could say she has an individual style
She’s part of a colorful time

Super-sealed lady, chrome-color clothes
You wear ’cause you have no other
But I suppose no one knows
You’re my plastic fantastic lover

Your rattlin’ cough never shuts off
Is nothin’ but a used machine
Your aluminum finish, slightly diminished
Is the best I ever have seen

Cosmetic baby plugged into me
And never ever find another
And I realize no one’s wise
To my plastic fantastic lover

The electrical dust is starting to rust
Her trapezoid thermometer taste
All the red tape is mechanical rape
Of the TV program waste

Data control and IBM
Science is mankind’s brother
But all I see is drainin’ me
On my plastic fantastic lover