Monday, November 26, 2012

Back in lovely old Dublin...

First of all, I got interviewed by fellow screenwriter Chris Jalufka for his (amazing) blog, and he made me sound so good I'm embarrassed... you can check it out here.

Meanwhile, I'm back in Ireland, back at work and back in one of the world's maddest climates. It's been really strange to go from a place where every day is the same (hot and sunny) to Dublin, where no day is the same. And where instead of writing every day and schmoozing, I'm going out to work (:().

BUT - I'm working to raise money for a good cause, to fund my next visit to L.A. Some men spent most of World War Two trying to escape from Colditz. I just need to save a load of money and get a spanking new visa that will defeat the suspicions of Homeland Security. How hard can it be?

Well, it's not THAT hard. But it's not a piece of cake, either. Basically, as a writer I can apply for an O1 visa, which will give me at least a year in the States (and can be renewed thereafter). With this visa, I can work as a writer (and that includes web writing, journalism etc. as well as screenwriting). Two visa lawyers have looked at my list of credits and reckon I have enough to apply for an O1. But to apply, I must have a sponsor, and that means securing a manager/agent.

I did PRETTY well with getting reps to read my scripts while I was in the States. One agent and four management companies, to be exact. In a situation so typical it might have been an episode of Entourage, the agent said he liked my script, but had no buyer in mind for it. However, if I found a buyer, he'd be happy to represent me! (And take his 10%). I'm still waiting to hear back from some of the managers. But I have to believe that it's going to work out. That someone's going to take a chance on me, a chance that will pay off some day very soon.

On a good note - and there are many good notes, three professional screenwriters helped me out big-time before I left Cali. One got a reader from a top production company to read my script, another gave me some gold-standard advice on writing TV specs, and the third chap - a studio reader himself - spent 45 mins going over my script on Skype. Bear in mind, they got nothing in return apart from a lot of good karma. I made a promise before I left that I, too, would try my best to pay it forward, in whatever way I can.

For now, it's back to writing, rewriting, and outlining. And schmoozing and networking, even it's not on the same scale as it was in L.A. Wherever I'm living, whatever the weather's like, 2013 is going to be the year all my biggest movie dreams come true...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The last week: movies, Stanley Kubrick, a play, and Michael Bolton....

And so it ends... well, nearly. I'm going back to Ireland on Wednesday as my temporary visa is running out. But I'm already plotting and planning to apply for an O1, which would give me 12 months in the States and also allow me to work on a limited basis (I'm not allowed to work at all on my current visa).

I'll update on this in the next post, as it's a subject that I've learned a lot about recently.

But in the meantime, last week was my last full week in Hollywood. And it kicked off in style when I got to see Rust and Bone, Marion Cotillard's new movie - with the lady herself in attendance.

This was an AFI gala screening, so while it was free, I had to queue up for an hour in advance with my friend Sarah and the two ladies we were bringing with us. But this was a pretty small price to pay for excellent seats at a screening at the Chinese Theater and a chance to see an interview with the leading lady.

It has to be said, the interviewer - an L.A. Times journalist - was not a natural at drawing people out. He kept asking Marion Cotillard inane questions and repeating himself. She even looked at him several times as if to say, "Really?!"

The interview was so terrible that I zoned out several times, but I did glean from it that Cotillard considered giving up acting at one point due to the poor roles she was getting. She had one more audition - for Tim Burton's Big Fish - and decided to throw in the towel if this one fell through. Of course, she got the part and the rest is history.

The director Jacques Audiard and Cotillard's co-star Matthias Schoenaerts were also there in person and Audiard gave an interview through a French interpreter, which was quite funny. The Americans LOVED it.

Anyway, the movie. Rust and Bone is about Schoenaerts's character Ali, who's left in charge of his young son and travels from Belgium to Antibes to live with his sister and her husband. There he meets Stephanie (Cotillard), a killer whale trainer at a water park, and they form a bond after Stephanie suffers a terrible accident.

To say any more would spoil the movie. But what I can say is that while the film is brilliantly acted, looks beautiful and boasts totally amazing performances, I couldn't help feeling that there was something missing. It nagged at me for days after I'd seen it, what this "missing" thing was, the crack in the diamond.

And finally I worked it out - I didn't know what Ali's goal was. What he wanted in the story was never made clear. Stephanie's goal - while never made explicit - was easier to understand, but Ali's remained unresolved. And as a result, it was hard to care as much about his journey - and bear in mind, he is at very least a co-protagonist, so understanding his motivation was kind of crucial. I'd love to hear from anyone else who's seen the movie and has any thoughts on this! Maybe it was just me - I'm willing to be proved wrong.

Tuesday night was, of course, election night, and I ended up watching Obama win in a bar on Melrose with a bunch of ex-pats, a group of American gay guys, two very unhappy Republicans from Tennessee and a guy from Cuba. It was actually really exciting to see it all happen in real time, and amazing how fast the results come in (I'm from a country with PR voting, so getting a concrete election result can take days. In individual constituencies,  even weeks).

LACMA has an incredible retrospective on Stanley Kubrick at the moment - I also went to see it this week and there are some pics of the exhibits here. There are movie posters, clips from his films, scripts, development notes and of course, props and costumes. But the autobiographical stuff is the most fascinating. For example, I didn't know that he had been a press photographer at one point. There were dozens of pictures that he had taken for Look Magazine, many of which betray a very cinematic eye (especially his pictures of boxers).

Kubrick was also obsessed with chess and was an avid player. And the game features in many of his films. When asked about chess playing once, he said, "If chess has any relationship to filmmaking, it would be in the way it helps you develop patience and discipline in choosing between alternatives at a time when an impulsive decision seems very attractive".

Saturday morning, I had my last comedy sketch writing class. I'm going to miss it - it was a a fun class apart from anything else - but I've learned a ton in six weeks about writing sketches. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a newbie. I'm just a much better-informed newbie.

Here are a few of the things I've learned - the basics were covered in this post:

  • Most sketches have an A, B and C. A is the normal situation, for example: a vampire is about to bite a lady. Well, that's not NORMAL, but we've seen it a lot. B is the twist on the normal situation - the vampire's teeth keep falling out. C is the comedic result - he is unable to "perform" successfully as a vampire because of his teeth problems.

  • Keep your sketches simple, broad, clear and relatable. They must have universal appeal. Don't over-complicate things or try to have too many premises. There should be one, clear premise.

  • Figure out which sentence should result in a laugh. Then take any extraneous words out of that sentence and make sure the funniest word is at the end. In fact, use as many funny words as possible. Don't say heroin, make it crack. Don't say juice, say Snapple. It's shocking how basic this sounds, but also how effective it is.

  • Record yourself reading the script. Does it sound like you imagined? With the perspective gained from listening to a recording, is it still funny? If not, keep going until it is!

The great thing about doing something funny like this is that you want to do more and more of it. So from here on, I'll still be writing film scripts but also the odd comedy sketch - even if it's just to give myself a laugh.

Later on Saturday, I went to a play at The Actors Studio theater, which is off Sunset Boulevard behind The Hart House. This building used to belong to William S. Hart, a silent movie cowboy. Inside, there's a picture on the wall of Lee Strasberg and a cast of actors from the Fifties, including one strangely glamorous-looking blonde. Marilyn Monroe.

The theater is a tiny 60-seater and all the seats have someone's name engraved on the side. The one in front of me said Al Pacino. Anyway, the play was one by Ronald Harwood called The Dresser and it was excellent. Obviously a great script, but the performances were just amazing. It's set in London during the Second World War and I assumed the cast was all British. But my Brit friend who worked on it told me afterwards that the actors are all American. Their accents were top-notch - I'd never have guessed!

On Sunday night, I went to the opening of The Grove's Christmas tree. It being L.A., instead of having some soap actor flick the switch, they had a lineup of seven performers, including Michael Bolton and The Backstreet Boys. And Mario Lopez unsuccessfully trying to interview small kids about what they want for Christmas....

And that's it, apart from sorting out some loose ends and going out for one last drink. I've had a great 3 months, but I'm not going to miss L.A. too much, because like Arnie, I'll be back. Soon. In the meantime, I'll miss my lovely gay neighbourhood, the nice weather, the crazy fit people, the endless optimism and of course, all the great people I've met and become friends with. See you in 2013...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Hollywood Halloween, a famous Hollywood house, and a Hollywood classic...

So the first thing that happened after the Austin trip was the (major event) that is Halloween.

The Saturday before, I went to a vintage store to buy my costume, which was for a character I made up called The Killer Bride. Basically, an effed-up white dress and veil, plus an axe. You can see the results - and a lot of other, much more amazing costumes here.

The dress was easy, then I had to get some fake blood, a fake axe and a veil. There was only one thing for it, to go to the Hollywood Toys and Costume Store on Hollywood Boulevard.

My flatmate used to work for a famous hip-hop label owner whose brother was in a seminal Eighties rap band (that's all I'm allowed to say!). And said Label Owner was in town from New York, without a costume. So she was tasked with getting him sorted. He was going AS his brother, which seemed very meta to me....

She drove us up to the Toys and Costume Store, which was MENTAL. There was a huge line of people out the door, and inside, it was the biggest costume emporium I've ever seen. Wigs, fake chains, knives, makeup, latex masks, you name it.

So we got my items in no time, bought some fake gold chains for Mr Label Owner and then it was down to the Adidas store on Melrose for the rest of his costume (yes, that was a clue).

But it turned out that he was staying with a big Hollywood director, which meant a drive into the heart of Beverly Hills to deliver the stuff. This director's pool featured in an episode of Entourage a few years ago, and it was every bit as cool in real life. Amazing paintings, photos taken by the director himself featuring all sorts of famous types, cool furniture and objets d'art everywhere, and of course, the pool where Johnny Drama once begged him for a role.

I'm sorry to say that there was no sign of either the Label Owner or the Director, but we did get to meet the Director's two charming Filipino maids. Next time, I'll be taking a swim in the pool... I wish!

That night, it was off to a Green Card party (two British ladies had just become citizens), where the good news was celebrated with champagne (fair enough) and in true L.A.-style, karaoke. I hope their walls were soundproofed!

Halloween night itself was just as crazy as I'd hoped. Everyone gets dressed up and started promenading around in their costumes from about 6pm, while the streets are lined with a lot of very camp performers on stages singing endless versions of Thriller. At one point, the mayor of West Hollywood tried to make a speech flanked by drag queens, but everyone was too busy oohing and ahing at the mad costumes to listen.

I can't do justice to how incredible some of them were - people really went all out. My favourites were the guy with the TV on his head (complete with lampshade), the guy dressed as The Queen, and the dragon.

It was a great night - and the Killer Bride went down well. I must have had my picture taken with 20-30 people. Kind of felt like being one of those guys dressed as Spiderman on Hollywood Boulevard....

On Friday, I went to a screenwriters mixer organised by the ISA, which unfortunately took place in a cocktail bar called Mixology 101, with a DJ spinning (noisy and bad) discs. Hardly a good venue for a load of nerdy people to make conversation and contacts. Having said that, I did meet a lot of people and  exchanged some cards. I just had no voice the next day...

Thankfully, Saturday was a quiet-ish day, sketch class aside. I went to an AFI screening of a digitally-remastered Sunset Boulevard at Graumans Chinese.

Now, a few things about this. AFI Fest tickets are FREE, and all you have to do to get them is book them online, and pick them up at the box office. And we all got a goodie bag afterwards, with a copy of the film on DVD and a specially-produced poster. I don't know how AFI manages financially, but I'm glad it does!

Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard is the ideal film to watch in Hollywood, particularly at the Chinese Theater. And seeing it there with a big crowd was something special. Gloria Swanson's terrifying Norma Desmond gets the most laughs, with the biggest ones coming after William Holden's down-at-heel screenwriter tells her she "used to be big". "I AM big!", she snaps back. "It's the pictures that got small!".

But killer lines aside - and this movie is brimming with them - this is a tragic story at heart, about people who can't give up on their dream and head back to Ohio, or in the case of Norma, accept that they're no longer a star. I'd seen the film before, but had forgotten the creepiness of Norma's morbid, crumbling mansion, and the unnerving butler Max. An early scene featuring a midnight burial for a scary-looking pet chimp is straight out of a Hammer Horror.

This is a very dark film masquerading as a comedy, directed by someone who knew just what a high price people are prepared to pay for fame. I loved seeing it on the big screen where it belongs - and if this version gets a wide release, you should check it out.

I'll update again later in the week on the rest of AFI, election night in Hollywood, and a run-down of the (tiny amount) I've learned about comedy sketch writing so far...