I finished up with Groundlings this week as the six-week improv class came to a close. I've discovered many things about myself during this class - mostly that I live way too much in my head (typical writer) and that I find it really hard to express extreme emotion in public (that would be the Irish blood). Also, Meryl Streep can rest easy for now.
But on the plus side, I have experienced the joy and ego-trip that is making people laugh. God, it's better than an adrenaline shot to the heart (at least, I imagine). I've learned that scenes work better when you cut straight to the action. How a scene can go from sad to angry to happy in two minutes, and CAN STILL WORK. That being a loser in comedy is the role everyone wants. It's the genre where you try to avoid being the winner.
I really want to do the next improv workshop, but I'm low on weeks and the Austin Film Festival would be slap in the middle. So instead, I'm focussing on something I may be stronger on. A Groundlings alum runs a sketch-writing group at his house on Saturday mornings for 7-8 writers at a time and I've signed up for this. I'll report back on how it goes!
Also this week, I embarked on a punishing bar crawl on Tuesday, courtesy of Brits in L.A. These people are crazy, don't go out with them. If you do, you'll have a very fun night and wake up the next day with a banging head and no voice...
I was still feeling the effects last night when I went to the opening gala of the L.A. Irish Film Festival with a Brit actress friend.
There were loads of Irish people, plus a bunch of BAFTA people who heard there was booze (joking, folks) and some Americans (of course).
It was at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building in Hollywood, which isn't massive. I heard later that a lot of people showed up who couldn't get in, but luckily we'd RSVP'd nice and early.
It was a dress-up evening affair and I'm happy to report that L.A. Irish had pushed the boat out. There was a LOT of drinks and food - including an impressive amount of Irish cheddar on sticks.
They screened a film called Jump, which was meant to start at 7.30pm but didn't get going until 8.15pm, partly because about 7 people got up to make speeches (the director Kieron Walsh - who is a lovely guy - joked that it was "an Irish 7.30pm").
Jump is set in Derry and refreshingly, is not about the Troubles, but about the trouble a disparate group of young people get into on New Year's Eve. It reminded me of Doug Liman's Go - in a good way. The film boasts some really great performances and looks fantastic. I really felt like I'd been on a freezing cold night out in Derry - that's how much Jump draws you in. Well worth checking out when it hits a screen near you.
Then it was more drinks and more food, plus a very enthusiastic Irish trad band and a troupe of set dancers. Oh, and the California Rose was there wearing her sash and tiara. I tried to explain the Rose of Tralee festival to the non-Irish, but it's impossible. You have to have grown up with being exposed to the spectacle...
I had a great time at the gala, and unusually for a Hollywood event, where a lot of people tend to look stiff and bored, everyone else seemed to let their hair down too. Thanks to the festival for a top night and I'm looking forward to seeing some more movies over the next few days!
I went to a Writers Guild event tonight - they're running a series of panel talks on different elements of screenwriting. This evening's panel consisted of Parenthood writers Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel and Avengers writer Zak Penn, plus moderator Daniel Petrie Jnr (Beverly Hills Cop, The Big Easy) discussing premise and concept.
They spoke at length and to be honest, it was all fascinating (these guys have some stories), but here were the highlights:
They talked about how movies have now become either very low-budget or very high budget, with the middle-range movies getting squeezed out. And with TV getting much more prestigious, it seems like a depressing time to be a writer. BUT - Zak Penn pointed out that there are two genres in particular: comedy and horror, that people still prefer to see in a cinema, with other people there. And TV can't compete with that.
Also, marketing dictates what gets made a lot more now. As Daniel Petrie said, film is the only industry where the salesmen are allowed to say, "We don't know how to sell this" and are let away with this! A lot of films are never made because no one can see how to market them.
Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel write in the same room, on opposite sides of the same desk. And they write together, out loud, improvising dialogue.
All the writers emphasized the important of dialogue sounding natural (even Zak Penn, when he's writing science fiction, tries to stick with this) and respecting your characters by not having them do stuff just to serve the plot. They talked about establishing who the story is about - and how to pick the right character for it to be about. How can you come up with someone who feels real, who you can relate to? Ganz told a story of writing years ago on a TV series and having the actor Jack Klugman yell at him, "What do I want?". An important question to always ask - what does your character want?
Zak Penn spoke about the pressures of writing superhero movies - especially X-Men 2 and 3, which had many characters and a huge history to take into account. He claims 90% of the task is structure, and that comes from the characters' journeys. Also, it's important to establish, is this a war movie with superheroes? Or a road movie with superheroes? There will be an underlying story.
Lowell Ganz told a story about pitching the very funny Night Shift to the uber-producer Alan Ladd Jnr, and how Ladd's facial expression never changed during a frantic and enthusiastic pitch. He said at the end, "I like it, it's really funny" and a frustrated Mandel answered, "Tell your face!"
Lastly, if you haven't checked out Scott Myer's amazing blog on screenwriting, you should. One of his posts a while ago was about building a work schedule based on 14, 7, 2, 1. That's 14 hours of script development, 7 pages of script written, 2 movies watched and 1 script read, per week. Try it. I've been doing this for 3 weeks and it's amazing how much I've gotten done, despite my short attention span and the delights of Hollywood...