rewritiing

September 20, 2016

September 20, 2016

I felt terrible about being tardy on the very first day of a nine-month class and the panicked rush to minimize the damage made me even more nervous than I would have been anyway (which is pretty darn anxious). A fight-or-flight surge of adrenalin takes over when I have to speak in front of a group of strangers and unless I’m very careful, I talk at supersonic speed. I felt like I was making a terrible impression on this new group of kids which flustered me even more. There’s an obvious solution – think less about how I’m coming across and more about the kids I’m here to teach. Gradually I leveled out. I took some admittedly poor photos of my class that first day.

They weren't being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me - to help me me learn their names.
They weren’t being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me – to help me me learn their names.

This was the first day of my second year teaching Screen Writing Symposium at Columbia and I couldn’t imagine ever liking a class as much as I liked my first class. I kept up with them (as much as you can with occasonal updates on Facebook) but I actively missed our Thursday afternoons in Room E.  I struggled to remember the names of my new students. I thought, it will never be the same.

Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny
Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny

I was right; it wasn’t, in the same way my second child isn’t the same as my first and my third is quite different from both siblings. Inevitably, every class – especially one that meets four hours a week for nine months – develops it’s own unique identity. Comparing them is futile, they’re both special – irreplaceable – in their own way. Just like I miss the kids in my first class on Thursdays, I miss the kids in my second class (except, I taught them on Tuesdays, Fridays, and finally Mondays, so I didn’t associate them with a day).

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank

I hope to keep up with them as they traverse the real post-college world, probably via Facebook.  I’d like to see all of them again too.  I fantasize that if and when I retire, I’ll host a party at my house for all my former students and the ones that show up will regale me with the highs and lows of their careers. Hopefully, their wins will far outpace their losses.

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.

September 10, 1996

September 10, 1996

This was an exciting, productive time in my writing career. Maybe a few lucky screen and television writers enjoy steady careers uninterrupted by unemployment; I suspect the majority, like myself, are either overbooked or out of work and terrified their career is over. My specialty, which kept me employed – mostly by NBC – during this period was my speed. I could deliver a Movie of the Week (MOW) ready for production in two weeks. It might not win any Emmys or Humanitas awards, but no one needed to use a pseudonym or hang their heads in shame.

8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.
8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.

I felt the pressure but didn’t mind it; I thrived on the crazy deadlines. I enjoyed and respected the creative people I worked with. I loved how MOWs (especially green-lit ones!) went into production minutes after I handed in a script. None of the months and years of development that went into film assignments only to wind up abandoned when the studio regime changed.

NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday - year and everything) when they visited us in California.
NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday – year and everything) when they visited us in California.

Another perk – television writers exert considerably more control over their work than feature writers; this is far truer for staff series writers than MOW writers. Either way, you are far less likely to be rewritten in television than features. That said, I did my fair share of MOW rewrites as well as originals; my name doesn’t appear on some of them because, unless it’s a page-one rewrite, it’s difficult for second or third writers to get credit and it always involves a WGA arbitration.

Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.
Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.

Kanan Road – which became Malibu Shores – has a special place in my heart because it was a backdoor pilot for a series which was ordered into production early in ’97. It turned out to be short-lived (being scheduled at 8 PM on Saturday nights – what some people called “the Tower of London” because that’s where NBC shows awaited execution – didn’t help. Especially since the target demographic was teens). That said, I learned a lot and appreciated every minute of it. I’m grateful to everyone who made it possible.

NBC Dropped the ball on this one..........
Did anybody drop the ball, who knows?

 

May 5, 2012

May 5, 2012

Hollywood Bowl1
It was thrilling to explore a legendary venue like the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, any casual visitor to LA can explore its exterior – the site is neither gated nor guarded. Tourists can park in the lot, stroll up and down the shell, even take the stage if they choose on off-season days when no one is doing a sound-check or performing.

13 Daisy Dell

Backstage, of course, is off limits. That and its exclusivity endows it with irresistible mystique, at least to me. I’ve been backstage at a few rock shows (notably Bruce Springsteen, Motley Crue and Kiss) but on those occasions I was so in awe of the performers that specific details about the surroundings were a blur.

Dressing room, Hollywood Bowl
Dressing room, Hollywood Bowl

The tour Michael arranged was perfect. Our guide, who’d worked there for years,entertained us with anecdotes about the rich and famous and we could take our time. I took a lot of photos, many already in the clubs and venues section of my site, some reprinted here.

View from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl
View from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl

Why my interest in the inner workings of the Hollywood Bowl? I’m writing a novel about a defunct rock’n’roll band, famous in the sixties. One member went on to success beyond his wildest dreams. My hero did not. The book – half of which takes place in the 60s – is about their attempt to reunite 25 years later. Will the secrets and betrayals that shattered them in the seventies resurface in 2000? Have any of them really changed?

Hollywood Bowl Empty Seats

March 30, 1976

March 30, 1976

 My MFA program at USC required a non-fiction book as well as a novel and a screenplay. I don’t remember who told me about Sontag and Evans but their story fascinated me. Basically, Chris Evans – a family man – and his buddy John Sontag became central California folk heroes by repeatedly robbing the hated Southern Pacific Railroad. The story everything – exciting robberies, a noble cause, escapes from jail, mountain communities aiding and abetting the outlaws and a shootout at the Stone Corral!

Off to research Sontag and Evans - or something.
Off to research Sontag and Evans – or something.

My in-laws invited me to make their home my research base and I stayed with them for several weeks. Most of my destinations were less than thirty minutes away.  Today I could do it all faster on my laptop but in 76, I had to drive to actual locations, scroll through microfilm and handle old newspapers. It was hard work but to my surprise I loved it.

Tracking down obscure leads.
Tracking down obscure leads.

I wanted to focus on Evans’ oldest daughter Eva, seventeen. Eva broke them out of jail and married bachelor outlaw Sontag. Their union was brief because Sontag died from his Stone Corral wounds.

Where the heck is the Stone Corral?
Where the heck is the Stone Corral?
Now you know
Now you know

Information on Eva was hard to come by but I believe I discovered a few things nobody else knew. So why can’t you find my Sontag and Evans book at Barnes and Noble? Why didn’t I go the extra mile and write it after all that research?

Why am I not working on Sontag and Evans?
Why am I not working on Sontag and Evans?

Ironically, all that research sunk the project. I fell in love with how much I knew and got mired in minutiae. The smallest detail had to be accurate and corroborated. The net result?   My first paragraph required seven footnotes. Nobody wants to read a pedantic tome like that.

7 footnotes?I put the project aside, intending to resume when my research was less fresh in mind. That’s where it sits today, in cardboard boxes in our garage.

 

 

February 21, 1993

February 21, 1993
 Matthew Patrick was the young director of a movie I wrote for the USA network called “Tainted Blood”. As the title suggests, it wasn’t nominated for any Emmys but it was an entertaining psychological thriller (which adopted girl is the psycho-killer?)

Tainted Blood
The ad that ran in TV Guide when the movie aired in ’93.

Cast against type, Raquel Welch did a good job as an investigative journalist. Given her fame and beauty, I expected a cold bitch and was pleasantly surprised she was warm and friendly – not to mention every bit as stunning in person as she was on-screen.

Paralyzed by self-consciousness, wishing i could think of something fascinating to say.
Paralyzed by self-consciousness, wishing I could think of something fascinating to say.

I never felt like I “belonged” at Hollywood parties so they were stressful. In this case, most of the guests knew each other from weeks on the same set. I never went to the set and didn’t know anyone but the host.

The easiest Hollywood party ever -- my sister Janet's 30th birthday party, less than two weeks after Matthew Patrick's party.
The easiest Hollywood party ever — my sister Janet’s 30th birthday party, less than two weeks after Matthew Patrick’s party. With my sisters and Dolly Parton.

I’m not sure what Sam and Alex were doing at a cast party. To the best of my recollection, Matthew met them when we tweaked the final draft of the script at my house. I wouldn’t have brought them if he hadn’t invited them. His affinity for children impressed me. I thought Laurie Frank was great too (so did Sam) but our paths never crossed again.

Matthew Patrick
Matthew Patrick

Actually, everyone I encountered at the party was likable. I’m the one who erected barriers. No one laughed at my faux pas or dissed my ugly shoes; the only one paying  any attention  to my insecurities was me. When I stopped thinking about myself and turned my gaze on the other guests, I discovered open unpretentious smart and talented people. Too bad I didn’t figure this out till my thirties; high school would’ve been a lot easier.

Other people aren't so scary after all.
Other people aren’t so scary after all.

 

November 15, 1980

november-15-1980

This was an amazing day, full of promise, and it retains its magic quality in my memory even though almost nothing unfolded like expected. I got the assignment to adapt  S. E. Hinton’s classic novel, the Outsiders, for the screen. I did pose as a high school student and return to the high school I graduated from (more than a decade earlier) without getting busted.

Gio Coppola took this Polaroid of me with Fred Roos on this day.
Gio Coppola took this Polaroid of me with Fred Roos on this day.

Augie didn’t direct the movie, Francis did, which was the good news and the bad news. I’m awed by his talent; he directed some of the greatest movies of our time IMHO. How could this development possibly be bad? He’s an equally talented writer and took over the rewrite himself. When I saw the final shooting script, my name was nowhere to be seen.

Under the Writers Guild of America rules, this triggered an automatic arbitration because a production executive (director, producer etc.) sought screenplay credit. Three anonymous writers read all of our scripts and rendered a decision about screenplay credit. After a second and third arbitration and a Policy Review Board, I prevailed. It was a tense time.

After winning the arbitration - before the storm.
After winning the arbitration – before the storm.

This experience piqued my interest in the arbitration process and I volunteered to serve as an arbiter. Eventually I got to serve on the Policy Review Board, which I continue to do to this day.

Reading multiple drafts of the same script to decide who deserves screen credit provides a spectacular education in screen writing or, more accurately, rewriting. It was a front row seat to see exactly how scripts assume their final shape. I also learned a lot about human nature.

W/my sisters, wearing my Writer's Guild Strikes! tee-shirt. The WGA struck for the right to determine their own credits - and it was worth it.
W/my sisters, wearing my Writer’s Guild Strikes! tee-shirt. The WGA struck for the right to determine their own credits – and it was worth it.

There are significant financial rewards for getting your name on a script, even if the movie’s a bomb. That might have motivated a few writers to battle but I think most of them fought because they believed they deserved to win. It reminds me of the joke about the actor playing the gravedigger in Hamlet, who’s convinced the play is about the gravedigger. Time after time, writers clearly saw – and frequently exaggerated – their own contribution and missed or minimized the contribution of writers before or after them. I doubt I’m immune to this self-serving blind spot; no doubt I do the same thing, despite being aware of this trap.

I suspect this tendency isn’t restricted to actors and writers – that many, if not most, human beings focus on their own contributions to the exclusion of others regardless of their line of work.

 

October 10, 2014

october-10-2014

the-trouble-with-trouble My absolute all-time favorite game growing up was dress-up (today, it’s called role-play but it’s the same thing.)  I was up for a part in any fantasy – princess, boarding school, teen-ager, Rapunzel and Bonanza were perennial favorites. The only role I couldn’t relate to was horsy. Then as now, the appeal of prancing around pretending to be a palomino eluded me. For starters, playing horsy pretty much precludes costumes unless you count tucking a fake tail in the rear of your pedal-pushers (I don’t).these-bitches-need-some-class

I have only two requirements for a good game of dress-up.

  1. I play a human (no horsys!)
  2. I wear a costume – and hopefully a wig.

Beyond that, anything goes.

shopping-for-more-useless-stuffIt’s a shame that dress-up tends to be cast aside before adolescence. It’s all but forgotten by the time we’re adults. IMHO, this is a real shame. Luckily, like riding a bike, the requisite skills reside inside you, ready to resume active duty if called. If you can get past your self-consciousness for a  trip into fun and silliness, dress up is even more fun to play as a grown-up.

now-i-take-a-pill-for-that

Technically, each of us gets only one life to live. Dress up role play lets you dabble in as many lives as you can make up. If – like me – sometimes you get sick of being yourself, take a break. Cut loose and be somebody else – someone without a mortgage, congested kids, or pets pooping on the rug. All you’ve got to lose is your dignity. Isn’t it about time?

ANY GIRL CAN BE GLAMOUROUS. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS STAND STILL AND LOOK STUPID.
ANY GIRL CAN BE GLAMOUROUS. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS STAND STILL AND LOOK STUPID.

If you’re over 18 or past the age of consent: Dress-up role-play is unlikely to be hazardous to your sex life, if you get my drift. Enough said.

 

September 12, 2001

 

9-12-2001EDITED

As terrifying as this ordeal had been, it dwindled to nothing compared to the horror those doomed in the towers endured. Could there be a more excruciating choice than whether it was better to burn or jump?

911A

As I sat there, rigid and awake, it occurred to me that perhaps my hysteria wasn’t about dead or dying rodents at all. Maybe I was sublimating my helplessness in the face of the darkness, chaos, uncertainty and mortality of our world.

911B

If I’m not strong enough to walk past a mouse, what chance do I have against Al Quida?

911C

 

On a less philosophical, more mundane level, I was cursed with hideous hair styles in colors I didn’t know I loathed until it was too late to change them. I struggled to recognize myself in the mirror; I couldn’t spot my image in photos. Even when someone pointed me out, I couldn’t accept that weird lady was me.

 

I'm puzzled. Something is missing. Who is that person?
I’m puzzled. Something is missing. Who is that person?

If this was fiction, I’d deliver a more satisfying, uplifting arc. To dissolve the curse and live happily ever after, I needed to I summon my inner resources and look that lifeless mouse in its unseeing beady eyes.

 

DID I SUMMON MY INNER RESOURCES?
DID I SUMMON MY INNER RESOURCES?

That’s not what happened. At the crack of dawn, I raced to the local McDonald’s and used their restroom. Waiting for my McMuffin, I called my super to dispose of the carcass (reminding him that under no circumstances could I see its corpse in the trash). He was like, whatever, crazy lady.

 

Whatever!

 

I can’t avoid death. I can’t even avoid mice. The best I can do is minimize my chances of encountering either one. So far, so good.

August 24, 1979

To put this in context – I’d just learned that my spec script, which had been optioned by Steve Friedman’s Kings Road Productions to be a feature film, was going to be re-written by another writer. Bill Froug was my screenwriting professor and mentor at UCLA.

THE LATE GREAT BILL FROUG
THE LATE GREAT BILL FROUG

 

August 24, 1979_edited-1

DRINKING IS A SHORT-TERM SOLUTION
DRINKING IS A SHORT-TERM SOLUTION

My agent and my mentor were correct. Having your work rewritten by someone else is part of a writer’s life in the film business (less so in television but it still happens).  I ended up rewriting many more scripts by other people than having my own scripts rewritten which ought to make me feel better but it doesn’t. The fact is, it always sucks to be told you’re off the project – especially when it’s your own original spec script.

I suspect other professionals would react the same way if this was routine practice in their business. Imagine a surgeon being told that a new surgeon in town had been hired to  remove the heart he’s just transplanted in order to insert a better one – or an interior decorator who gives her best only to learn all of her work is off to Goodwill and a new interior decorator will start from scratch. It hurts to be replaced. And it never got easier, although I did get better at hiding my emotions. (Hint: It is considered bad form to cry like a baby when – not if – this happens to you.)

AS YOU DRINK,, BROOD ABOUT REVENGE
AS YOU DRINK,, BROOD ABOUT REVENGE

I understand why it sometimes has to be done. Sometimes it even works out for the best. It’s easy for a writer to get tunnel vision and see only one way to solve a problem. New eyes spot new solutions. Given the fortunes and executive jobs attached to the success or failure of a film, no wonder so many execs play it safe and bet on the flavor of the month instead of a newbie. If the “hot” writer tanks, at least they had a reasonable basis to believe he’d succeed.

If and when it happens to you, remember it’s not personal. It’s only business. And then cry your eyes out in solitude.

Cry your eyes out

 

 


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