Monday 20 December 2010

The Home Alone Conversation

Did you watch it?


Are you going to watch the second one?

Yeah, probably, but it's longer.

And it has the bird woman.

I hate the bird woman.

Everyone hates the bird woman. Shall I edit her out?

What do you mean?

I'll do an edit of the film and cut out 
the bird woman.
Will it make any sense?

Do you care?

Cut out the bird woman.

Anything else?

Can you add stuff in?

I'm not shooting a sequel, I'm just cutting out
the boring bits.

Could you add in the Fuller Pepsi bit from the first
movie and the scene when he's running away
from the van full of teenagers?

What van full of teenagers?

When he's wearing leg braces.

That isn't Home Alone.

I didnt say it was.

You want me to do an edit of Hone Alone 2 with
a scene from Forrest Gump?

It'd be fun.

This is quite a lot of work and it'll make no sense.

Then keep the version with the bird lady.

I'll put in Forrest with the leg braces.

Care to share?

Previously, On THE WEST WING

Because of Chandler Bing, we're all a bit better at delivering a funny line. Because of Frasier, we're able to say "that's your subconscious feelings" and have people believe we know what we're talking about, and because of Ally Mcbeal we're able to feel a bit more comfortable with the crazy inner-lives we lead. That's what our favorite shows do, they show us the way, they give us permission to be our deepest selves.

THE WEST WING represented an idea. It's about 5.30am wake-up calls. It's about dedicating who you are to something bigger than yourself. It's about loyalty and doing something that matters. It's about working weekends and having dinner at 11pm on a Thursday night in the office because you have to get things done, because if you don't the world isn't going to operate properly come the morning. 

We're inspired and in awe of who they are; not because they're the fictionalized leaders of the American government, but because they're us. They're all of us on January 1st when we make resolutions to get up earlier, to update our Resumes, to work so hard on our projects that we're almost going to explode. The West Wing is about people who had one rule: to stand up for the very best. They represent this incredible part of us that we're often too shy or conflicted or embarrassed to be. 

The Presidency of George W. Bush scared the hell out of all of us. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying in Iraq, New Orleans was under water --- but in The West Wing's President Bartlet; we had someone who kept us sane. It's not just escapism-- it's reminding ourselves that we're still human, that we still care, that there are still people in the world who offer hope. We were reminded of the hope within each of us, again and again and again. 

I recently finished watching the entire show, again; and found myself loving the final two seasons. Many people criticised everything that came after season four, because Aaron Sorkin  had jumped ship. At first, I agreed with that; but now, I don't feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, Aaron Sorkin is my favorite television writer, but I still love what came after. The final years of The West Wing had a real weight to them. We had been together for seven years. That's a long time. Some of my friends I've hardly looked at in the eye for years, some of my family I haven't spoke to in months; but for many hours every week I am present in the moment with Josh Lyman, CJ Cregg and co. That's what happens when you love a show; you're there with them. You clock in more hours with them than you do with almost everyone else in your life. 
It's not just a DVD you switch on and off. It becomes more. We watch characters mature over seven years (in the show's timeline). It's not just about the people running about on screen, and you sitting there in your pyjamas. It's about the space in between. You can't say that Friends was just a TV show. We all drink coffee differently now. We all find New York cooler than we did. We all do the Ross Geller hand movements. That's what happens. It's a big deal. 

The West Wing gave us Josh Lyman - the master strategist and campaigner. He'd do anything for you. It gave us Sam Seaborn; who at first glance was just a pretty-boy with some talent, but on closer inspection he was someone who would give you a verbal ass kicking if you dared betray him, his friends, or his country. Toby Ziegler was that cold, horrible old man that you hate to work for; but pretty soon you realize he's as dedicated and as ethical as they come and there are no barriers that will stand in the way of him doing what he perceives to be right. And then there's Leo McGarry, the one with the experience and the know-how and the mind and the heart to steer the ship exactly where it needs to go. These are all processes that we see and feel within ourselves, but sometimes it's hard to believe in them. But they showed us the way. 

I have absolutely no reservations in saying, without doubt, that I believe The West Wing to be the greatest television show of all time. It raised the bar. It invented a new bar. 

The final season was tough. We could see it was ending. President Josiah Bartlet, Leo McGarry and CJ Cregg were a lot older than when we began-- but they brought a gravitas; a weight, that you rarely see in television, or in life. We need them. They represent the type of leadership and eldership we all need, within our selves and from those around us. They're who we want to become. And people kept turning up who we hadn't seen in years, Amy Gardner, Sam Seaborn, Ainsley Hayes, Joey Lucas; they're people who we knew from earlier seasons. They felt like friends. We could feel life had changed and people had moved on, yet they still had such unique bonds between them. It makes you think about your own lives and how much things have changed, and leads you to question whether you've held on to those bonds as tightly as they did in the walls of the Bartlet White House. 

The West Wing was deadly serious. The West Wing was silly and hilarious. The West Wing was all about the work. The West Wing was all about relationships. The West Wing was all about us. 

Care to share?

Still Searching

A Guest Blog By Simon Peters

There are certain moments in your life when you realise you’re empty. You have them. It’s not for me to say what they are. It could be looking on Facebook and seeing that your first girlfriend is married with two children. It could be looking at yourself objectively and realising that any task you have so far set yourself has been left unfulfilled. No matter what it is, it’s a mirage. You think you are empty because you think everyone else is fulfilled. You think you’ve failed because everyone else has succeeded (and they can spell succeeedddded). You think being married is a goal you’ve always had, but one that you haven’t managed. You think you’ve always wanted a child, because other people who have a child seem fulfilled. You have a nagging sense that you’ve failed at something, but you’re not entirely sure what at…

The simple fact is that, whenever you feel down, whenever you feel unfulfilled, whenever you feel EMPTY, you have to realise… It’s because you are still searching. Find what you want to do. What inspires you? What are you good at? What do you like? Ask these questions. Answer them. Act on them. Some people need a job/husband/baby/new console…What do you need?

The answer is… Well, that’s up to you. If you genuinely ask the question, you’ll know how you want to spend your life.

Ps: if you can’t answer these questions, it’s because you’re not really trying. Don’t answer ‘What inspires you?’ with ‘I know people are inspired by this…’. Don’t answer ‘What are you good at?’ with ‘People have said I’m good at this…’. Don’t answer ‘ What do you like?’ with ‘Everyone I know likes this’…

GENUINELY answer the questions for yourself, about yourself, using yourself as a barometer.

The strange thing is, that’s once you know the answers about yourself, they aren’t important.

You end up just wanting to help others ask the questions…

Care to share?

Sunday 19 December 2010

JESSICA BENDINGER Screenwriter Interview

JESSICA BENDINGER knows a lot about writing. You can't come away from an interview with her without being inspired. Her first credit as a screenwriter was the hit movie "Bring It On" starring Kirsten Dunst. Jessica's other screenwriting credits include "First Daughter" and "Aquamarine." 

 "Stick It," in 2006, was her first film as a writer/director. There'll be many more to follow. She was also brought in as a writer during the 4th Season of "Sex & The City." That's a lot of work for someone whose first screenplay credit was only ten years ago. But when you speak to Jessica, it's not hard to see why she's been a great success.

Let's begin with the most important question--- what is your favorite movie and why?

I think trying to identify your favorite movie is an impossible task for movie lovers because we are drawn to movies based on what mood we are in at any given moment in time. So my favorite movie changes, any minute of any day of the week, depending on what my mood is. However, some of my favorite moves are Diner, American Graffiti, Lawrence of Arabia, and Bad Santa!! It just depends on the day and my mood.

What do you love most about screenwriting?

I love the freedom of this career, and I use that freedom as a part of my process. I thrive on it, but have the ability to reign it in and generate concrete, timely results if I need to. Somebody once said to me, “Hard work is for people without talent,” but I think you need both. You need talent, but you still have to know what lights you up and what will get your butt in front of the computer whether there’s a paycheck involved or not. I do know the more I write, the easier it is to write. The less I write, the longer it can take to start the car. I mess up all the time, I fall into patterns and struggle to stay conscious, integrated and connected, but I’ve learned to relish the harder stuff for the clarity that follows.

The percentage of women screenwriters in Hollywood is still very low. What thoughts do you have on this, is it getting better?

I honestly don't know if it is getting better. Probably better in TV than in film. I believe that the hours and the solitude are too crazy-making for most people - men or women. I'd be curious to see the numbers of Hollywood versus the rest of the job population. How off are we? I need to see a power point.

I feel that when screenwriter's write about women, there is so much to explore, because we are still more likely to see the journey of a man when we go to the cinema. Would you encourage writers to be more diverse in regard to gender - or do you think people should stick to whatever comes naturally?

I think you should be true to who you are as a writer. I don’t think about diversifying at all. It never even occurred to me. In a weird way I know I'm branded that way, this female empowerment writer, but really, writing is writing to me, and I write what I am most interested in and am most enthusiastic about.

You are credited as one of four writers on "The Truth About Charlie." How was the experience for you; what was your involvement like?

I didn't think the movie should be adapted, to be honest. I was dubious, and I'm not sure I was totally wrong. I did the first pass when Will Smith was attached to star with Thandie. Will dropped out, and Jonathan wanted to have a whack at the script on his own. That's the extent of it.

Of the films that you've written - have you been mostly happy with how your work has been portrayed on screen?

Bring It On and Stick It because they are my original ideas from start to finish, are my babies. The other work - rewrites - is a more detached animal, because you are repairing someone else's work.

"Bring It On" was a very big success. Were you expecting this? What effect did it have on your career?

I was not expecting it, but it was delightful and very gratifying. I have been working steadily ever since, so that's been awesome. It’s great to have created the mother ship of such a huge franchise. That’s hugely flattering and very validating, certainly. When I created it, I suspected it would have an audience. In a full-circle moment, I actually went to a psychic who told me it was going to be a really big hit. It was called Cheer Fever, at the time. He also was very specific about how it was going to be successful, which was interesting. He said it was going to have a huge cult following after its initial release, which is what’s happened with the DVD sequels.

You did some work on "Sex & The City" as a creative consultant. Could you share a bit about what your job entailed?

All that means is I was a writer on the show. It was my credit for working 1 day a week vs. 5 days, as I was coming off Bring It On at #1 two weeks in a row, and very busy/in demand with movie stuff. But Sex & The City was a blast! Season Four was a good time to join the show, because they were coming off a ton of criticism from the end of Season Three (drag queens on a rooftop, anyone?), and they were ready to ventilate the world of the show with some fresh air. It was really fun to get into the skin of the characters, but we had to bring all our personal stories to the writers’ table. We were expected to be brutally honest about experiences we’d had or had heard about, so inevitably everyone’s voice got transfused into the mix. We were like a giant dialysis machine. No — wait! A giant blood bank? A bone marrow transplant? Oh, just pick your own transfusion-y analogy and run with it. I think the new blood challenged some of the old "rules" they had for the first 3 seasons, and it brought a new gravitas to the show that was amazing.

You made your directorial debut with "Stick It" - how was the experience for you?

I loved it and learned so much from it. It is very challenging to shepherd a 28million dollar asset to the finish line successfully. You make huge sacrifices to usher an experience like that through your life when you don't know all the variables. It is an all-consuming, all-encompassing, exhausting trade-off you make. There are wonderful rewards, but also huge drawbacks personally, physically and emotionally. Although “Stick It” was my first stab at directing a feature, I'd directed music videos first. Having a background in Music videos was great because it taught me how to stay out of the way, for one. I think first-timers make the mistake of trying to exert too much authority on set, and that’s absurd. You are working with cast-members and crew members who have logged more hours on sets than you will ever log as a director in your lifetime. Therefore, hang back. Observe. Stay out of the way. If you’ve done your job, by the time you get on set everyone is doing theirs. Directing is an amazing opportunity to experience collaboration on a massive scale. You get to work with these very specific craftsmen who have vast reserves of experience. It's incredible.

Do you want to do more directing?

Yes, definitely. I have two projects in the works. The first is the adaptation of my novel, The Seven Rays. And the other is a music-driven movie.

I often share a view on this site that, sure, you can read screenwriting books- but more than anything, you need to find what works for YOU. Is this is a view you share?

Totally!! There are many ways to come up with ideas, write outlines and birth screenplays. The biggest journey we all have is finding out what works for us, and the beauty of that is that it will be so radically different for everyone. I believe in following my enthusiasm, my curiosity and my fear. Not necessarily in that order.

Finding the discipline to write features is tough. Even people who call themselves screenwriters and dedicate their lives to it find it hard to sit down and do the work. Why is this? And what advice can you give?

Writing features is tough! You have to involve so many other people to get it from being the written word to being a screenplay and most people don’t survive that process. It’s really kind of rigorous and it rewards people who aren’t necessarily the best writers but they are the best at the process of screenwriting, which is this really unruly social and political process. I think I have charted the waters of writing in Hollywood by trying to have a really unique point of view. I love what I love and I’m unapologetic about it. What works for me is to be true to myself, and trying to write the movies, books and TV shows that I want to see. Hollywood is very much a geo-political, commodity-driven economy, and that truth can really stop/impact people in lots of ways. Make sure qualified readers with genuine critical discernment are giving you notes. If you don't have access, then pay for it with a reading service if you can (Script Shark, ScriptXpert), etc. Just write for the joy of writing and the joy of expressing and cultivating your craft. Very few scripts get made. Make it your business to relish the process of writing so you got something out of it besides a movie. The world is a better place when people have something meaningful and happy-making in their lives, so do what you love and do it as much as you can.

We haven't seen any films that you've written for a few years now. I know that you were busy writing and releasing a novel, but now that's done- what can we expect to see from you in the coming years?

I’ve been busy writing my next original movie, which takes place at a Berklee School of Music type of place. My mother is a musician and my dad was in advertising and wrote jingles, and I grew up very much in the margins of the music business, so this movie is a love letter to the more working side of show business. It’s less the American Idol and Glee version of that and more what happens to people who really explore it as a career and how hard that is. It takes place at a music conservatory college and follows four different students with different majors in music. I’m really excited about that.

And, I’ve also co-written music for a long time, so I’m also co-writing a solo album for a new artist. That’s very gratifying. It’s so nice to work in three-minute chunks, after having worked on movies and novels. Songs are a really sweet vacation from such a long form. My dad was a jingle writer, so it’s really in my blood. I never did it seriously because my parents did it professionally, so I was always daunted by that. I’m having fun working on other people’s material, where I don’t have to be responsible for the whole thing. I just do my part of the song, and then I get to hear the finished product. It’s really nice.

Care to share?

Saturday 18 December 2010

L. A. After Midnight - A Fantastic New Film Blog

Don't you love it when you find a new favorite writer? Or a new friend? Or a new place to go visit every single time you get a chance? That's what you hope for when you discover a new blog. Writing a blog is easy. Writing a good blog is fairly easy. But writing something that matters; something that's important; something that makes life better is a trickier thing, and I'm jealous of those who can achieve it.

L. A. After Midnight is written by Dennis Bartok. At the time of writing, it has only three blog posts and four followers. But that will change very soon. I love film, and I'm passionate in my own way. But I love it when I see somebody else who is passionate; but entirely in their own unique way. And passion for film jumps out at you the second you visit this blog. The things Dennis is writing about and covering are fascinating in themselves. But what makes it vibrant and important is the voice behind it.

In the post Ken's Tuesday Night Film Club - he allows the spirit of Ken (his subject) to be the voice, along with the amazing images. His article Future Of Film Projection In Jeopardy? simply and effectively makes you care about something that two minutes before you probably didn't, or at least didn't to quite the same extent. And the Lost Film Theater In L.A.'s Chinatown is exciting because; for us film lovers, old closed down, derelict cinemas represent something symbolic, something important and touching that we can't quite put our fingers on. But when Dennis writes about it and shows us, we get a bit nearer to it. We feel it.

If you get in on the act now; L.A. After Midnight will be like that band who you saw in the basement of some dive when only six people knew about them. But that opportunity won't be there for long, because if this guy keeps blogging; he's gonna be a writer that everyone who cares about film is going to know about.

Care to share?