Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Envy of Every Toy Collector

Toy Collectors everywhere bristle with envy over the attention Andrejz Jones recieved on the September 27th show of NPR's All Things Considered.

"What makes him so special?" they say. "Why does he get to be on a public radio show for doing what we do every time we pick up a toy?"

Then, they all cried.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Texan Spelling Lesson

Websites I Like: Marmaduke Explained

It isn't funny when you explain the joke. Unless, of course, it is a really bad joke.

And now...

Marmaduke Explained

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Portfolio Piece - The Office Script

I found the secret to getting a promotion in corporate America - do the job for free for at least a year. Corporate guilt doesn't exist unless you possess numbers that shame, and the only way to get numbers is to get an annual comparison of some sort.

No one will listen to you until you have to have the ability to say, "Look at these numbers! I've been saving this company x amount of dollars for a year and haven't gotten compensated for it. I need a raise/promotion or I'll have to go someplace else that pays me what I'm worth."

This principle applies everywhere, especially in entertainment corporations. If you want to write for a TV show, the only thing you can do is write a spec script. Then you develop a portfolio of writing that is recognizable and exciting.

And since I practice what I preach, I'm including in this blog post a spec scrip for the popular television show, The Office.

The Office - "Vacation Day"

Making Lemonade IV - Not Suitable for Children

Most of my scripts stay in the safe comfortable PG to PG-13 area.

Not this one. You have been warned.

This screenplay has a long, rich history that I do now want to mull over right now. But here is the summary - I wrote this screenplay originally to submit to the Sundance Film Festival.

I am definitely not a fan of most of the product that comes out of Sundance. Sundance films tend to be dull and formuliac, but are stuffed full of unnecessary pedophilia, incest, or necrophilia in a desperate attempt to be "edgy."

So, I thought, as an artistic experiment, I would write a Sundance screenplay. It would be true to my particular voice, and deal with issues I care about, but somehow I could manage to cram all of that of Sundance nonsense into it.

So here you go.

Intimate Objects Screenplay

Making Lemonade III - Sour Grapes

I belong to this screenwriter's website where truly atrocious screenplays get defended by pretentious, condescending screenwriters. And every time I write a review along the lines of, "Dude, your screenplay shouldn't be about a dude who writes a screenplay and somehow, someway, the screenplay makes Catherine Zeta-Jones fall in love with him. If you do that, people will be able to dissect that meta-narrative pretty easily," I get a response that runs along the lines of, "Illiterate mongoloid! One day when you grow a vocabulary, you will begin to comprehend my genius. Sincerely, Cre8tive_Booger9928"

So it is a bit of a humbling when I write a screenplay I really like, but it doesn't even place in a short film screenplay contest. Because now I relate to the MonkeyDudes226es and the Cre8tive_Booger9928s of the world. The writer's arrogance flares up, and part of me wants to lash out at people who don't recognize the sheer genius of the work. Of course, the first step is simply acknowledging you have a problem.

Here's the downside - I didn't even get notes, so I don't know why they didn't pick the script. If it needs to be improved, fine. Tell me what you want and I'll make it better. But silence... sometimes silence is too much.

So what can I do about it except gripe in my blog about it?

Well, nothing. So there was the gripe, and here is the script.

Working Girl

Making Lemonade II - More lemonade...

I attend an art group, but I never seem to show up with material to present to the group.

So one afternoon before the meeting, I dashed off this short film screenplay. The art group seemed to like it, so I entered it in the Screenwriting Expo contest. It didn't make it to the quarterfinals, so- Hey look! I found some blog content.

The working title I had for this was, "Oceans 11, but with idiots." Because you don't rob a bank for the money, you rob a bank to get a woman to fall back in love with you.

Eight Days After screenplay

Making lemonade...

So there is this Screenwriting Expo going on in October. And they're giving away free passes to winners of this Screenwriting Expo writing contest.

Since I like free things, I entered four short film screenplays.

Sadly for me, none of them even placed. They didn't even make it into the top 25%.

Happily, they can now go onto the blog when I'm too busy to make a real entry.

So here you go, the screenplay for the short film Rough Draft.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Why English Majors Don't Win Trivia contests

I remember one time when I entered a trivia contest. The question was, "Name the secret link between 'Ghostbusters' and 'The Crow.' "

My answer was a 5000 word essay about how both films are meditations on the divided nature of mankind due to the separation of the genders, and how this separation keeps people from fully accessing the realm of the spirit. The two films, 'Ghostbusters' and 'The Crow,' explore this limited-ness inherent in human nature within the context of a life journey moving from a corporealworld to a spiritual one.

'Ghostbusters' takes a coarser, more sexually explicit approach, one that invokes pagan rituals and the bestial nature of mankind. In order to open a gate to another world, the cheap Freudian symbols of Key Master (as a representative for the archetypal masculine) and Gate Keeper (as a representative for the archetypal feminine) have to join together, become beasts, and then open a portal to another spiritual world. By doing so, the physical world is threatened with extinction by an androgynous being without apparent gender - Gozer the God who first appears as a glam rock star, but then assumes the gender-neutral form of the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man. The film mixes the Puritan sexual anxiety (i.e. a fear of punishment) with a bawdy sense of anything goes. The tension between these two forces is presented to a humorous effect.

'The Crow' on the other hand is more about the purification of the masculine spirit by systematically removing the anger and hatred residing within it. Once the masculine half is ritualistically purified through violence, the feminine half appears, as if a gift from heaven, joins with the masculine soul, and then guides him into the spiritual world.

Both films focus on masculinity, femininity, and spirituality, but each take different approaches. While 'Ghostbusters' takes more of a pagan approach, 'The Crow' is more steeped in high romanticism, justifying violence and revenge ultimately by the power of love. But despite these differences, both films reflect the mystery of the human existence and striving of the human soul for something spiritual.

The answer they were looking for was this:

Ernie Hudson was in both 'Ghostbusters' and 'The Crow.'

Needless to say, I did not win the contest.

Which is fine, because in retrospect, what would I have done with a 'Crow 2' poster, anyway?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards, Rest in Peace

There are many litmus tests that designate Texans from non-Texans. Here’s one - how do you refer to Ann Richards. People who call her “Former Governor Ann Richards” are not Texans. Real Texans equate the Governorship as a lifetime appointment. Even though she hasn’t served in office for years, Texans still call her Governor Ann Richards.

I had the pleasure of hearing her speak once at the Texas Book Festival. Well, not really speak so much as invite us to pull up a chair and listen to her tell stories. She talked about Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, Texas’ first female governor. Apparently, in the 1920s, there was a heated debate about bilingual education. Ma Ferguson stomped her feet and put an end to the debate with the proclamation, “If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, the English language is good enough for the good children of Texas.”

Texas breeds characters. We aren’t the smartest, or the best, but we are the most distinctive. We know a good joke and we know how to tell a good tall tale. Set aside politics, set aside ideology, and you have Texas grit. And that is what I will remember the most about Our Governor – she was truly a Texan.

She was larger than life.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Listen Up Follow-Up: Fidelity Video

Really nice art direction throughout. Very simple and elegant.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Listen Up: In the Clouds

Growing up in the 70s, my first musical memories are all of disco and muskrat love. Most of my adult life has been spent cultivating taste and conquering the impulses that tell me the finest moment in human musical achievement is “More than a Woman.”

So when I say that Under the Influence of Giants is a Bee Gees for a new generation, it is not necessarily a compliment. Even though it is totally true.

The song “In the Clouds” is a perfect example of the band’s particular form of retro musical power. Striking the bad boy pose with the line, “I like the morning after pill, hello!” the song follows up with these sweet lyrics.

“I want to f___ you in the fire, yeah.

I want to hold you til you breathe no more.”

Nothing quite says, "I love you," like immolation and suffocation. You would think that if the singer finds a partner who doesn’t mind being on the receiving end of such affection, the rest of the song would be just a series of joyful proclamations. Hooray! I found someone as messed up as me and somehow, some way, we are perfect for each other.

But no… instead we get to the chorus and we hear:

“Let me have my doubts.

Let me work it out.

Don’t you take it personal.”

So, after a rousing evening of fire f___ing and erotic asphyxiation, you get to hear “And on top of all that, I’m just not into you.” Niiiiice.

The only way a band like this can get away with saying something like this if the dark edge of the lyrics is mixed with a heckuva lot of musical charm. And, like Outkast’s meditation on punctuation in “Hey Ya!” (“Don’t want to meet your momma / just want to make you comma”), Under the Influence of Giants somehow manages to present something offensive with a cheer and a groove that makes you not care at all.

The only thing that could save lyrics like this is some sweet music, and, indeed, the music rises to the occasion. A funky, thumping beat drives the song and practically transforms you into an extra in the cast of “Zoolander.” It makes you want to dance and prance, to primp and pose. Decades of cultivated taste just wash away as the doom-doom-doom of disco fills the senses.

So I find myself in a position where I wind up saying, “Yeah, it has offensive posturing, and yeah, I can see how it could offend someone. But, man, this song rocks!” Because it does. Besides, rock and roll is all about offending sensibilities whether you are Gene Simmons offending mothers everywhere or Phil Collins offending fans of Gene Simmons. The best thing to do it just sit back and enjoy the ride.

There was a real energy in the music of the seventies that has been mixed up with the cultural trappings of the decade. The music of Under the Influence of Giants manages to capture the essence of that style of music while separating it from the bell bottoms and flared hair of the time. The song is exciting, vibrant, and definitely worth a listen.

Under the Influence of Giants homepage

Under the Influence of Giants MySpace page (listen to In the Clouds and other music here)

In the Clouds – iTunes

Under the Influence of Giants –

Under the Influence of Giants – iTunes

Brilliant Song, Brilliant Concept, Brilliant Execution, Brilliant Video

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Listen Up: Fidelity

Regina Spektor holds up the raw sounds of her songs and examines them, showing off little nuances you would have never thought of. In The Ghost of Corporate Future, she advises the listener to drink a lot less coffee or even lick a rock. This fascination with raw sensuality (not necessarily sexual, just living fully within your senses) makes her musical escapades so fun to listen to. She takes a musical phrase or syllable and repeats it, putting different emphasis on the tones or forming the words with different accents. This kind of noise experimentation seems more suited for late night coffee houses and art classes, but Regina Spektor merges this experimentation with pop music. Catchy, fun, accessible pop music.

In her songs, she works in such oddities as clicking noises in the back of her throat or the rhythmic beating of a stick on concrete, but still the result is pure pop. Each of her songs begs a degree of scrutiny, and each one merits a mini essay.

I chose to write about Fidelity for a number of superficial reasons – it happens to be the first song on her new album, Begin to Hope. It is also one of the better examples of Ms. Spektor’s brand of experimental music/radio playable pop, and, finally, it has a music video I happen to like.

The song begins with the words “Shake it up,” and then crisp, staccato strings and a thumping bass line that invoke both classical music and hip hop. When Ms. Spektor’s voice begins, she sounds delicate and thin with the words, “I’ve never loved nobody fully, but then quickly disturbs this image with an accented, accented pronunciation of the word “ground.” If the opening beats don’t hook the ears, this vocal trick certainly will.

She quickly begins to draw parallels between insanity, being in love, and the creative process as a whole, leading up with the lines:

I hear in my mind all of these voices.

I hear in my mind all of these words.

I hear in my mind all of this music.

And it breaks my heart.

At this point the song reaches the rich, sensual world of Regina Spektor, as she repeats the “breaks my heart” line repeatedly, but never in the same way twice. The word “heart” can be anywhere from one to fourteen syllables. The accent can be vaguely Eastern European or vaguely Brooklyn. The song, having hooked you at the beginning, takes you on a journey through the sheer joy of making joyful noises.

The song performs a similar sonic experiment moments later, this time with the word, “better.” Are the “t” noises hard or soft? Is the ‘e’ noise at the beginning in the top of the mouth or the back of the throat? Is the emphasis on the first syllable or the second? The answer is always yes yes and yes. The power of music can be anything and everything.

The song concludes with Ms. Spektor rocking back and forth on the meter, letting you know that not only does “it BREAK my heart” but that “it breaks my HEART.” Yes, a heart is broken, but now we can all share in the joy that was trapped inside it.

Regina Spektor homepage (view the video here, listen to the music here, too)

Regina Spektor MySpace page (listen to Fidelity and other music here)

Fidelity – iTunes

Begin to Hope –

Begin to Hope – iTunes