Archived posts from this Category
Archived posts from this Category
I’m done typing. It’s all about the newfangled talking thing.
John August and I will be doing this podcast regularly. I expect we’ll be talking about the same things I used to write about, but hopefully more in-depth.
And you can listen to it in your car. iTunes-ability on the way.
Here’s the inaugural episode.
Oh… and while many of you Gen Xers might remember the opening music as the CBS “Special Presentation” intro, did you know that music was actually lifted from the Hawaii 5.0 soundtrack?
Been a while.
When I started writing this blog back in… 2005 was it?… I had no idea how long I’d do it or how many people would ever read it.
Turns out the answers to those questions were “years” and “a lot.” And when you grow a site to the level where it gets national attention, you feel like you have an obligation you never really wanted. I have a job and a family and friends, and suddenly the blog was a slog.
Then, one day, I sort of ran out of things to write about.
I say “sort of,” because there’s actually a bunch of things I have to say, but I just didn’t feel like putting them down in words anymore. I took a month off from posting, which turned into two months, which has turned into pretty much a year.
And it was a good year.
Of course, while I let the weeds grow, the world kept on spinning. There’s plenty left to discuss about the craft and business of screenwriting, but I’ve obviously lost (at least for now) the passion for publishing it all week after week.
Let me confirm what’s blindingly obvious: The Artful Writer is pretty much kaput as a blog. I just don’t want to do it anymore. However, there’s Something New coming, which should please a few of you, annoy a few of you, and hopefully entertain and inform the great rest of you.
Until then, I want to thank everyone who visited this site and read what I had to say, as well as all everyone who participated over the years. It was a strange, gratifying, frustrating, useful and useless venture, which is about all I could have ever hoped for it to be.
If you’re not already following John August’s site, you should be. He’s the Lou Gehrig of screenwriting bloggers.
And in a week or so, he’ll have some cool news.
Leslie Nielsen has died.
His performances in the ZAZ movies meant the world to me as a kid, and it was a true honor to work with him. Ever the professional, there was nothing he wouldn’t do. Didn’t matter how old he was, didn’t matter how physical the gag.
I thought today of the things I asked him to do. Spit milk at school children. Walk around nearly naked in front of an auditorium full of hundreds of people. Punch an old lady in the face. Climb into a coffin with a beautiful young woman and squeeze her breasts.
He did it all without ever complaining. Particularly that last one.
Leslie Nielsen wasn’t a natural comedian. He didn’t get into show business to be a clown. It was his unclown-ness that made him so great. I can’t tell you why certain lines were only funny if Leslie said them. All I know is that they were. When we wrote lines for Leslie, we knew they were “Leslie” lines, unperformable by any other human.
No one else could get away with it.
Leslie’s characters could be stupid, insane, proud, delusional, racist, violent, sexist… and people loved him anyway, perhaps because he played a deadpan dementia that made you excuse every word that came out of his mouth.
And yet, when the cameras weren’t rolling, he wasn’t a clown at all (well, there’s the matter of his famous “fart machine,” which someone will no doubt pull out at his funeral). He was a gentleman, a man’s man from an era that’s sadly bygone. Even in his old age, he was tall, broad and strong. He treated everyone with kindness. It didn’t matter that I was the new guy. It didn’t matter that I was the four thousandth director that had come and gone for him. It didn’t matter that he had achieved more in his career than I could ever hope to in ten lifetimes.
It didn’t matter that I asked him to do and say things no octagenarian should do or say.
He was respectful and professional, and he always tried. Leslie never phoned in anything.
I will miss him and anyone who worked with him will miss him, but more importantly, comedy will miss him. People can imitate him, but no one can bring that magical insanity he had. We lost one of the all-time greats today. I can only hope he’s in heaven with that Laplander…
And thank you.
So here’s my excuse for not blogging in a long time.
For the past few months, I’ve been writing The Hangover Part II with Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips. I’m not telling you anything about it, so don’t even ask. It’s more fun to see the movie not knowing anything anyway, right? All I’ll say is that Todd Phillips and the cast are doing an amazing job, and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this film.
In a few hours, though, I’m leaving the set and getting on a plane for Austin. I’ll be speaking on a number of panels at the Austin Film Festival. If you’re a blog reader and you see me there, wave hi or something. I’ll be hanging around with John Lee Hancock, John August, Derek Haas & Michael Brandt, John Turman, Jeff Lowell and everyone’s favorite computerized special-needs screenwriter, The Robotard 8000.
On Thursday, I’m moderating/participating on a panel about the business of screenwriting, at 1 PM. At 2:45, I’m on another panel about how to take a meeting.
On Friday, I’ll be doing the screenwriters roundtable at 1:45 PM. And at 10:45 AM on Saturday, there’s a comedy screenwriters roundtable.
I’ve never been to Austin before, but this is one of the few screenwriterish festivals that looks good (I also do the Nashville Screenwriters Conference, which is terrific). Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.
Bear with me. I’m busy, which is good (especially in light of the recent LA Times article about how sucky it is out there for screenwriters).
When I’m back (soon, probably early August), I plan to write about the following:
What’s next for credits and the WGA
My preview of the upcoming negotiation season
The world of screenwriting classes, books and coverage services
Hulu and new media
Whatever the hell else comes to mind
For those of you that don’t subscribe to my RSS Feed, consider doing so. It will alert you when new posts are up.
Hope you’re having a great summer. See you in a few weeks…
Someone sent me this Ask Men article about the top ten screenwriters, written by Craig Mazin.
It’s a different Craig Mazin (yeah, there are something like three or four of us in the world). I don’t write for Ask Men. I also don’t write lists of stuff.
And this list doesn’t include Larry Kasdan, so I don’t like it very much anyway.
After the jet ski and poisson cru madness (which never really ended, but who needs to hear about that anymore?), the adventures really began.
First, I want to point out that while Couples Retreat obviously did very well at the box office, I think there’s a lot more cinematically to Bora Bora than just the resort. For instance, Mount Otemanu. It looms up and over the lagoon, typically peaking somewhere in the clouds. What’s inside that thing? Probably just more rock, but in my imagination, there’s a whole temple to explore. So hey, that’s at least a few shooting days I’m going to try and arrange for on location. Naturally, whatever’s inside is gonna be built on some stage…
Second, as I went on my adventures, I was accompanied not just by my fellow screenwriters and our French hosts (and Jonathan), but also by the French Polynesians themselves.
I love these people, and I really don’t like people in general, so that’s saying something.
They’re proud. And while it’s true that they are colonized by the French, there are vast areas of little assimilation, because there’s no reason to assimilate in the first place. There are no natural resources to strip mine, no military bases to control. In fact, what French Polynesia really has going for it are the very things that aren’t French. The landscape, the people, the traditions, etc.
Like steering a boat with your feet. Mmm…maybe that’s not a tradition, but this guy did it. He was awesome. When he took his wrap off to reveal a thong, maybe not as awesome. But with wrap on and foot-boating? Yeah. Loved him.
The Tahitians and Marquesians move easily between French and Polynesian, sometimes within the same sentence. I was honestly surprised how quickly my high school French came back to me; if people spoke slowly and simply, I was able to understand 80%, and by the end of the week, I could communicate haltingly, but enough to get along in French. Not so with Tahitian (I can say “Hello” and “Thank you” and “Breadfruit” and “Transsexual”).
(Pro Tip: “Oui” is yes, but “Wheh” or “Weigh” is yup or yeah…and that’s what the cool kids say).
After learning how to crack open a coconut with a just stick and a rock--and it’s both harder and more satisfying than you’d think--we made our way to a part of the lagoon where you can pet manta rays and snorkel with sharks.
Funny thing about Bora Bora…people say “go snorkel with some sharks” and for whatever reason, you shrug and say, “Sure, sounds like a decent idea.” Happily, the rays and sharks and one very evil-eyed barracuda were all so well-fed by the time we got there that they were completely disinterested in eating us. The barracuda did devour one smaller fish right in front of my face, but I think that was just emotional eating…
As beautiful as that was, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the splendor (yeah, it’s a mushy word, but whatever) of the Coral Garden. To be honest, I’m not a big marine life kind of guy. And coral is just…what the hell is coral anyway?
I think it’s alive, partially, but also dead…you know, I’m not going to look it up. I’ll keep it a mystery.
When I got in the water to frolic with the manta rays, I made the bad choice of not properly closing the battery hatch on my underwater camera. On the other hand, that meant I could just steal photos from Chris Markus and Jeff Lowell. I could even be in some of those photos.
The coral garden was full of fish that didn’t seem quite real. Oh, and there were oysters? Clams? I can’t tell the difference. I called them “whore mouths” because, well…look at the colors. Those lips border on obscene. I do know that, at the very least, those things were alive, because I would slowly extend a finger toward them, and they would pucker up in fear.
Shortly after returning to the boat, it was patiently explained to me that I should not have done that, because, you know, they can bite your finger off. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but then again…I think the entire point of having clam lips the color of Prince’s wardrobe is to entice things like fish…or fingers…to wander near the biting zone.
The next adventure I had was probably the only one I’d call “life-changing,” inasmuch as I experienced something that has been seared into my brain.
We went whale watching.
Now, when I heard the words “whale-watching,” here’s what I free-associated: boring, water, watching, waiting, lesbians.
I don’t know why. In the back of my head, there’s a serious overlap between the venn diagram ovals for “lesbians” and “whale-watchers.”
Well, if it’s at all so, then I congratulate my lesbian sisters for being right.
We headed out into the open waters between Bora Bora and Moorea on a pretty big boat…45-footer, I’m guessing. Joining us for the trip was a marine biologist (from Berkeley, I think) who was stationed in French Polynesia. After a lengthy and choppy ride in waters that would have surely made me…
Wait, have I talked about The Patch yet?
Ah, I see I haven’t. Okay, so here’s my deal. If you put me on a big boat in choppy ocean waters, I throw up. If you put me on a small boat in calm waters, I throw up. If you put me on a docked ferry, I may throw up. I’ve thrown up from sitting in the back seat of a limo. Dig? So in advance of this trip, I called my doctor and got a prescription for the Patch, otherwise known as Transderm Scop. The “scop” is for “scopolamine,” which is an alkaloid derived from the belladonna plant, so that’s +1 for medieval witches knowing what the hell they were doing.
By the way, do you know why we get motion sickness? When we are in situations like the deck of a pitching boat, the visual input from our eyes doesn’t match the balance input from our inner ears. Well, okay, but why does that make us hurl? Turns out there’s something else that often causes the exact same differential between visual and balance cues: being poisoned.
Yup. The body presumes that the dizzy feeling you’re experiencing is the result of ingesting something toxic, and so it cues the brain to make you whistle carrots. And as everyone knows, it’s a terrible, terrible, vacation-ruining feeling.
Sartre was wrong. L’enfer, ce n’est pas les autres. L’enfer, c’est le mal de mer.
I had never tried the patch. Instead, I’d been sticking with a more traditional remedy known as “don’t get on a frickin’ boat.” In French Polynesia, though, you have to get on a boat. You have to get on a boat to get to breakfast. Or your room. Or another island. Unless you’re getting on a tiny plane (more on that later). You have no choice.
Dear people at the Novartis Pharmaceutical Company:
I love you.
The Patch transformed me from a upchucking puke machine into a seafaring soul. Waves? Rocking? HA! I will not lie down or turn green. I will stand at the pitchiest part of the deck, and laugh into the wind! For lo, I am Nautilus!
Seriously, it felt like that.
So…I and my trusty patch are on the boat, and we’re heading out to “where the whales are.” We finally spot one. For the next thirty minutes, we circle around a mother humpback and her calf…or at least the parts of them we can see. Jeff Lowell snapped a picture, which is impressive, because they would only come up for seconds at a time…
But the truth is, it was really boring. We’d watch the shadowy thing come up, it would go down, we’d circle around, I’d smugly remind myself that I wasn’t puking, then we’d do it again, over and over…
The whole time, the marine biologist kept saying, “If we get close enough, we’ll snorkel in and swim over to the whales.” He said that a lot. But we didn’t do it. Ever. We just kept boating around in a circle. For whatever reason, after the 12th time he mentioned it, I decided to take my shirt off, grab my mask and snorkel and wait.
The 13th time he said it, it went like this. “Okay, we’re close enough. Let’s go.” And he immediately jumped off the boat. Our Man Jonathan In Tahiti made a “whoa, okay” face, and then jumped in as well.
A small voice in the back of my head said, “Hold on, should we even--?” but another voice said, “JUMP IN THE OCEAN, DICK,” and I jumped.
Boats are really tall. I think I fell for about three months. Finally, I hit the water, came back up…and saw that the marine biologist was swimming like frickin’ Aquaman toward a distant point. Jonathan went after him, and I went after Jonathan.
We basically sprint-swam for a quarter mile, which is weird when you’re snorkeling, because your own breath makes you sound like Darth Vader. Jonathan and I took a three-second breather at one point (enough for me to say “This is exhausting!”…which he will not let me forget), and then we swam swam swam as hard as we could through the current until we arrived at a spot where the marine biologist had met up with some other French snorkelers.
We dip under the water, and they point to a murky shadow in the depths below.
A very big murky shadow. But honestly…if that had been it, I would have been pretty annoyed, because the swim back wasn’t gonna be any easier.
A humpback whale…the calf…swam up from the depths, and then slowly circled around me…maybe 10 feet under the surface, and maybe thirty feet away from me. It swam slowly in a circle, as if presenting itself. I just turned slowly to follow it with my eyes, attempting to process the impossibility of it all.
It was religious. Like seeing an alien. An alien the size of a schoolbus moving gracefully around me. Its body, which appears nearly black above water, looked blue and turquoise and striated and bioluminescent under water.
I looked into its eye.
That’s one I get to keep for the rest of my life.
This video, right around the 2:00 mark, is about the right distance in terms of where I was vis a vis the whale. As a movie, it’s cool. In real life, it’s absurd.
Up next, the final installment…Danger on the High Seas! And the saga of Death Island!
Between work and baseball and something viral in my lungs that wasn’t swine-derived, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for blogging. I’ve got the final installment of the Tahiti trip stuff, plus my thoughts on the WGA election and the recent foreign levies settlement…all coming up.
Or not! That’s the fun of blogging fer free.
A little video snack. Hopefully a new post goes up tonight.
So here’s what I knew about Tahiti.
Bubkus. To be honest, I was only vaguely sure that it was in the Pacific, as opposed to the Caribbean. Here’s what I know about it now.
What we think of as “Tahiti” is actually French Polynesia. And “Tahiti” is merely one of the many, many islands that comprise French Polynesia, which is scattered across a massive portion of the Pacific Ocean. There are basically three sections (by basically I mean “more than three, but three big ones”). The Society Islands include most of the resort destinations: Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea (not to mention the late Marlon Brando’s private island Tetiaroa). The Tuamotu Archipelago contains lots of the best diving locations, including Rangiroa. And the Marquesas, which include Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, are the more rugged islands that were featured on Survivor.
My adventure began with an eight hour red-eye from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti (the only “city” you’ll find in French Polynesia). Let me just take a moment to sing the praises of two drugs. Ambien is a tiny little pill, but it has the magical power to transform an endless, sleepless, jet-lagging flight into what is basically teleportation. You sit in your seat, you take the pill, you close your eyes…you open them and you’re there. Awesome.
Side note…if you haven’t read Stephen King’s short story The Jaunt…you should. It haunts me to this very day…
After landing, we jumped on what would turn out to be the first of about four hundred thousand small plane rides, this time heading from Papeete to Bora Bora. Our accomodations were the luxurious overwater bungalows at the Intercontinental. I checked in, put my bathing suit on, walked out the back door of my bungalow, and jumped in the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to get used to the brilliant color of the French Polynesian water. Depending on the depth, it’s either deep blue, sky blue, turquoise blue, aquamarine blue, or some other alien-world shade of blue. The depth changes abruptly, so the water changes color along clean lines, as if someone carefully painted each lagoon.
After a short swim, the wonderful madness began.
Our two main guides for our trip were Franck Priot of Film France, and Jonathan Reap of Tahiti Tourisme. They were a pretty amazing duo. Franck’s job was to design as many possible inspirational and educational moments into each day, and Jonathan’s job was to figure out exactly how to do it. In theory, it’s a recipe for disaster, but in practice, they were brilliant. Franck planned every moment of every day as if our lives depended on how much we could possibly experience. Jonathan…well…Jonathan is basically the Mr. Wolf of French Polynesia. If you need something, anything, at any time of day or night, he’s your man. He solves problems. He makes stuff happen.
I’m not sure, but I think Jonathan knows every single person who lives in French Polynesia. And they all owe him favors.
Between the two of them, Franck and Jonathan could pretty much get us into (and out of) as much excitement and trouble as they desired. Case in point: the jet skis. Our first mission, undertaken just hours after arriving, was to jump on jet-skis in the lagoon in Bora Bora and then ride out into the open ocean and arrive at the atoll of Tupai.
Here are some facts.
None of us had ever been on a jet-ski. People aren’t traditionally allowed to jet-ski out of the lagoon. There were reports of 3 meter swells in the ocean. The Coast Guard was advising against the mission. And people aren’t normally allowed to set foot on Tupai anyway.
To which Franck and Jonathan said, “N’importe quoi.” And off we went.
I have to say that it was a wonderful feeling to be free of the normal American bubble of fear-of-litigation. Within minutes of learning how to jet-ski (sit down, press accelerator, hold the hell on), we were all catching air, getting smashed in the face with seawater, slamming into massive waves, chasing our guides at absurd speeds, wind screaming in our ears, our asses banging against the seat…
I loved it. Nick Schenck actually got tossed off his jet-ski. Our guides finally gave up fighting the waves and said we had to head back to the lagoon. Franck announced that this first mission was a “failure,” but he couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a complete success. My heart was pounding, my legs were aching (all of us were muscle-cramped for days), my eyes were burning…but I was already in love with this place.
A simple observation: if you involuntarily shout “OH!” more than ten times in an hour, you’re getting some living done.
After our jet ski adventure, we took a boat to a private motu (motus are small atolls), where we had a traditional Polynesian lunch. This was the first of many meals that centered around poisson cru (literally “raw fish”). Polynesians are very proud of this–their most famous dish–which is typically a mixture of raw tuna, onions, lime juice and coconut milk. It’s quite good, especially when someone cracks open a fresh coconut, grates the inside of it using a traditional tool, then squeezes the coconut milk right into the tuna. On the other hand, every single person we encountered in French Polynesia fed us poisson cru. Every…single…person. It was as if they hadn’t considered that other Polynesians would have had the same idea. So while I really enjoyed poisson cru, by the time we had our fifteenth serving of it on day 7, it was a bit much.
Got bad enough that we eventually decided we would name ourselves The Poisson Crew. I know…but trust me, it’s very funny…if you’re really tired and eating poisson cru. Again.
Up next…swimming with sharks. The real ones.