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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Sorry it has been so long since I've posted. My trip has been fabulous, and I'm having a great time catching up with family, friends, and business contacts.

I didn't want to let things go too long, so I figured I'd just toss out a brief post here, and (hopefully) give you some words of inspiration. I picked up the most recent issue (Summer 2006) of Written By, the WGA West magazine. In the editor's opening note, I read the following line:

Or google psychotherapist Dr. Robert Maurer's behavioral studies demonstrating that successful people fail more often than the majority -- their trick is to use rejection as a personal learning tool.

This reminded me of something I've heard from a rabbi I know. He's said it on a number of occasions, but I don't know the origin of it. Which is that the difference between a good person and a bad person (for lack of better terms) is that a good person falls down nine times and picks himself up nine times, but a bad person just falls down once.

I think both of these things speak to the same point. The key to success, be it in art or personal growth, or anything else, is perseverance. Screenwriting is a very hard business. There's a lot of competition, it requires a lot of skill, and even when you succeed you rarely get the respect you deserve. The key is to have your own goals, your own means of measuring success, and your own motivations.

Good luck!


Thursday, June 22, 2006


I'm glad I've never written anything embarrassing on here. Not that I ever really have much in life to be embarrassd about. But still...

I've noticed, over the past few days, that at least one person, if not more, from my new company have been coming to check out the blog. Of course, I told them about the blog, and have never tried to keep it a secret from anyone. But still funny to see.

So if any of you from the company are reading this: I'm looking forward to meeting/getting to know you! :-)


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

End of an Era (BIG Announcement)

Big changes afoot here in Fun Joel territory! Where to begin?

For the last few years I have happily been working as what would liberally be called a "full-time freelancer." I've loved it. I've loved the flexible and erratic schedule. I've loved working from home (largely). I've loved the variety.

However, of late I've been growing a bit fed up with it all, as if I've had enough of this lifestyle. I've been able to make a living, but just barely so. And that would be 100% fine with me, if it meant that I would have the ability to use my other time to work on my own writing. But the truth is that more and more I've seen that it has been taking so much time and energy for me to just (barely) pay my bills, that I'm left with none of either to dedicate to my writing.

So the status quo has been (a) not really making a living, paired with (b) not writing (at least not as much as I want to/should be).

Thus, I started thinking it was time to change the status quo. Time to start looking for a new job. I had few main requirements for this job:

  • generally regular hours
  • enough pay to cover my expenses (hopefully plus enough to let me save something)
  • ideally something that I'd enjoy, and that uses my skills
I wasn't going to take just any old job that came along, but at the same time I was open to considering anything. It certainly did not have to be within "the industry," and was actually more likely to not be, as I think an industry job would be less likely to meet my first two requirements.

I definitely was willing to "think outside the box." Some of the jobs I considered to one degree or another (either for interim part time work or for longer term) included: substitute teacher, notary, screenwriter's assistant, and mailman.

But then a friend mentioned a job at her company to me. She felt that it would be great for me and I agreed. Not important what exactly it is, but I interviewed, was offered, and accepted the job. I will be doing a lot of writing in the job, but not particularly creative stuff. This will certainly use my skill base, and I hope it will help me further hone my use of language, while also not tapping too much of my creativity.

Other pros to the job:

  • Good pay. While not an exorbitant amount by any means, the best I've ever made, and about a 75% increase over last year, which was not my best year. (Since I've never made a lot of money, to say that it is not that much, but also more than I've ever made is not an oxymoron. Though it is a lot by my relative standards.)
  • Very good benefits.
  • Good location. Conveniently located, which is especially important since I am one of those odd people in L.A. who, even after more than 2 1/2 years here, still does not own a car. (Yet. Hopefully after a few months, I'll be able to afford to buy one.)
  • Good working atmosphere. Everyone in the department is creative -- other screenwriter and novelist types who, just like me, were looking for some more stability. In fact, there's even a guy there who sits by himself in the break room each day and writes his screenplay for an hour at lunch. Maybe I can use him as my painter. I also have a few friends who work at the company, which is nice as well.
  • Regular hours. Which means I will ideally have time to write.
What does this mean for the blog? Absolutely nothing. I will continue to post here regularly, just as I did. If anything, I guess the change will be more posts at night, instead of during the day!

What does this mean for my work? I would like to continue doing some freelancing, and the job actually allows me to do that. I'll still write for scr(i)pt, will still do my own script reading as I've advertised on here, and I hope to still do some reading for the companies I currently read for, just to keep up with things. But of course, that will be the main area that I cut back on.

What does this mean for my career? Ideally, I hope this allows me to really focus on my writing. I hope to finish and/or revise a few scripts, and take my career to the next step. And if not? Well, the way I see things, I'm currently not really making a living and not really writing. So even if I fail to meet my ideal, at least I will have gotten rid of one of those two "nots."

I start the new job after I return from New York and New Jersey, 1st week of July. So as I said, big changes for me and my life. Exciting changes. But hopefully not much that will change the way you and I interact (until, of course, it allows me to take my career to the next level, and you start getting advice from a pro screenwriter!). I'm excited for this next phase in my life's adventure.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Towards World Domination

I kid, of course. Previously I mentioned the links I received from blogs in other languages. I thought that was pretty cool.

Well, now I've had the honor of seeing my work translated! Yep, Kovács M. András has translated my 336 Hours post into Hungarian! I can't say I have no idea what it means, since it was (or so Kovács tells me) a direct translation. But it looks cool nonetheless!

So now I guess I can say I'm "internationally published," right?

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Time's Up!

The 14-Day Screenplay Challenge has come to an end. I hope my words about writing under pressure were helpful to some of you. And though the Challenge has ended, the challenge continues. So I'll also point you all, albeit late, to David's advice on the subject.

I particularly like his "Egg Timer of Doom" technique. Check it out!

So, who participated? How successful were you in reaching your goals?

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Back East

One of the linguistic peculiarities I've noticed about Los Angeles is that everyone refers to the East Coast as "back East." This is true even if they've never lived, or even visited, that side of the country. My guess is that it has something to do with the way our country grew over its history, with settlers moving gradually from the East to the West. Who knows? Just something I've noticed.

Regardless, for me to say "back East" is appropriate, since it is where I was born and spent the majority of my life. And thus, I must tell you all now that I am (temporarily) heading back East. Yep. I'm taking a nice medium-long trip back to New York and New Jersey, so if any of you live out there and would like to meet up, let me know! I'll arrive in the middle of the night, this Thursday (technically the wee hours of Friday morning), and will be running around until July 4th when I return to L.A.

Looking forward to it, and would be nice to meet some of you, if I have the time. So drop me an email, if you like.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Writer's Arc for Fall

Guidelines for Round 1 of the Writer's Arc are up! 5-10 pages due on June 30th. The stuff you must include:

Names: Parker Lam & Alex Mackenzie
Location: yard
Prop: card

$45 entry fee, and 2nd Round Finalists notified 2 weeks later. Be aware, as discussed previously, The Arc is trying a different approach for the Fall competition.

I'm going to aim for this one! Best of luck, everyone.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why Superman Returns Will Suck

...in my opinion, of course!

Here's just my prediction. No, I have not read the script. I did read an article in scr(i)pt magazine about the writing of it, and I also spoke briefly with a friend who has seen some of it. But there are not really too many spoilers in here, since I don't know that much about it. (Still, if you're the type of person who likes to know nothing at all about a film before you watch it, skip this post, for now.) Additionally, that means I could be totally wrong. But this is just my feeling/prediction.

Still, I feel like it is going to suck, and I have no significant desire to see it. Why?

Let's start with the point that rather than a reinvention of the Superman movie, or a "reboot" as was Batman Begins for that franchise, this one is a just a rehashing with a bit of tweaking here and there. The plotline (from the little I understand of it) is basically just a redo of the plot in 1978's Superman: The Movie. And instead of making major changes in thought to reinvent the franchise for today's audience, the writers made only little changes. For example, instead of seeing bullets bounce off of Superman's chest, they now bounce off his eye. Instead of saving an airplane, he now has to save an airplane and the space shuttle at the same time. Or something like that. Big deal!

Okay, I guess the subplot/character changes of having Lois now a single mother, with a new man in her life adds a bit to the whole thing, but is that really enough?

Now, I know that there is an argument that there was really no need to "reboot" Superman the way there was that need with Batman. The Superman franchise had not been as sillified (for lack of a better word, at least that I can think of right now) in the same way that Batman was by a film like Batman & Robin. (I won't even link to it, since it was that horrible.) Well, I still think Superman needed a significant reinvention, and here's why:

When the initial Superman movies came out, they were really the only kids on the block. There were not any other significant superhero movies out there, so the competition was less. Now, however, we have three vibrant superhero franchises in X-Men, Spiderman, and the reborn Batman, along with a host of other lesser but still intriguing other superheros. While many would say the first two franchises are essentially ending, thus suggesting the timing is right to launch Superman again, the fact remains that each of those franchises contain much more interesting characters than does Superman. I know I'm going to piss many of you off with this, but in comparison to the characters and issues in those other franchises, Superman is just boring. When he had less competition, no problem, but now he needs a true reinvention to stand up against those others.

That's my opinion, and I'm sticking with it. Though I know I've probably ruffled some feathers here. Here's my prediction:

Big, but still disappointing (in terms of studio hopes) opening weekend, then a sizable drop-off after that, once word of mouth spreads. Come on, how many people do you know who are truly psyched to see this film? I mean itching, can't wait to see it, edge of their seats kind of excitement? Not too many, and certainly not enough to give the film the opening the studio wants.

Will it become profitable? With ancillaries including foreign and DVD, little doubt of that. But I still think it will be much less successful than the studio will hope for, and that it will be a movie I will have no desire to see.

And while I'm making predictions, I may as well throw out my other no-brainer, less controversial prediction. THIS will be the number one movie of the summer.

Thank you.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Storytellling Devices

I'm writing an article now for scr(i)pt magazine about good and bad use of flashbacks (and if I have more space, then other devices, such as voiceovers). I'm planning to highlight a number of films that have used them effectively, or not so effectively. I've already got a few in mind, but I'd love to hear from you.

Tell me some films in which you think flashbacks (and/or voiceovers) were used well or poorly. I will probably explore the topic a bit on here, but before I mention any of mine, I'd love to just get some of yours. Good and bad.



Friday, June 09, 2006

A New Exercise

One of the areas of my technique that I think can use some work is my characterization. I don't think it is terrible, but it is definitely something I've thought about, and want to improve. To wit, read my various Enneagram-characterization posts for one of the efforts I've made in improving that area of my craft.

I've recently decided to start another exercise. I thought about it via the confluence of two recent things in my life. The first was that I just wrote down a couple of snippet scene idea that popped into my head recently. These things come up all the time, when you think of some cute line or idea and say, "I've got to put that in a movie some time." But it seems to be happening slightly more frequently for me lately, so I've written a few down, in brief. Then I was reading an article from a screenwriter, talking about his project, and he mentioned how he typically starts from character and builds the story from there.

So my idea is that I will periodically write down brief character-related scenes. In regular screenplay format. But just random scenes. They will be unconnected, and not driving towards any specific story at all. Just something that will help give a window, albeit briefly, onto a specific character's life. They might entail some clever dialogue, or just action, but they will all be aimed at characterization alone.

Perhaps, in time, I might find that I begin repeating, and slowly developing a few specific characters, and if so, I might then try to build a screenplay around one or more of them. but if that happens, it will really just be gravy. My main focus will be to hone my craft at effectively portraying character, and building unique and interesting characters.

Anyone out there do anything similar to this? On a regular basis, or just sporadically? How has it worked out for you? Just curious.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

On The Da Vinci Code

I just noticed that Scott reviewed the movie of The Da Vinci Code, and began with the fact that he hadn't read the book. I just finished reading the book, but have not seen the movie. And I was planning to post anyway, to say why the performance this movie had doesn't surprise me in the least, just based on reading it. So I thought it would be cool to post this without reading Scott's piece (you'll just have to trust me on that), and then see how close our perspectives were, when approaching the material from opposite perspectives! If you haven't already, read his review as well. Order of the two shouldn't matter much. And I'll try to post a follow-up comparison of our opinions in the comments section.

Now, firstly a review of the film's performance. It had a big opening weekend, grossing $77 million domestically. From then on, however, the film dropped off dramatically, making only (the still sizable) $34 million the following weekend. It has also performed quite well overseas. Let me explain that the film is clearly a huge success commercially, but what I'd like to address are three points:

1. The film's drop-off
2. The discrepancy domestic to foreign
3. The poor reviews for the film compared to solid book reviews

I think that everyone knew this film would have a huge opening. They would have had to have truly botched the film to an epic degree to have destroyed that opening weekend. The book was a huge seller and had great word of mouth and fan base, along with a relatively short span of time between the book's release and the film's (unlike the less successful bestseller-to-film adaptation of The Celestine Prophecy). And I think the sustained positive performance overseas has to do with the fact that Europeans, in particular, face deeper connections (both positive and negative) to the Catholic Church, and also relate more to the locations involved.

But the main thrust of what I noticed when reading the book addresses the first and third issues -- the film's drop-off and the digressive reviews. After the booming opening, negative word of mouth caught up with the film, leading to the drop-off. And why would the book be much stronger than the film version of the same story? Here's what I came away with when I read the book (looking at it through similar eyes to the ones I cover books with all the time).

What people really loved about this book were the ideas underscoring the whole thing. The critique of the church, based supposedly in history. The underground societies. The symbology, and the art it was buried in. Most of which cannot be translated well to the screen. If it were, it would entail a lot of talking heads with little action.

On the other hand, the action within the book is entirely standard, with very little to enliven it. It is there simply as a plot device to move the story along in even dosages while more and more of the thematic material is revealed. So when it is translated to the screen, we get a second rate action thriller, with above average underpinnings. And those underpinnings will necessarily have to be trimmed and toned down to avoid a too-talky film. Further weakening the visual aspects of the plot is the fact that many of the better surprises in the book came from a simple artificial withholding of information, which is harder to accomplish effectively on screen.

Ultimately, it goes back to the standard concept that what makes a good book is centrally different from what makes a good film. And though I have not seen the film, my guess is that this is what happened. The film was less than effectively made, and this caught up with it soon enough. At the same time, Sony was perfectly intelligent (from a business perspective) for making the film, as there was little chance that this film would lose money overall.

Now, any of this match what Scott had to say? I'll see soon enough! And of course, I haven't seen the film or read any reviews, so my comments might be completely off base! But it was a fun exercise anyway.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Movie Review: The Proposition

Been a busy week, but I did want to post this review while the film was still moderately fresh in my mind.

Saw The Proposition last Thursday. Australian western, written by Nick Cave and starring Guy Pearce. Some random thoughts.

Minor Spoiler Warning

First of all, I'm impressed at how easily the western genre translates to the "foreign" setting of Australia. But I must say that it certainly did. Played well with many of the conventions of the genre, and even took certain aspects a bit further. The film is extremely violent and bloody, so if you're not into that sort of thing, don't watch it. Definitely in the Sam Peckinpah tradition, but more graphic, as if it were fused with some Tarantino or something.

The film was a pretty serious one to digest, and I let it sit in my head for a while while I mulled it over. I've been thinking a lot about theme of late, so I was trying to get to the theme of this film. The best I could come up with on a single viewing is that the film was an exploration of what it means to be "civilized." It is set against the backdrop of those who are trying to tame and civilize the rough and tumble wild expanses of Australia. I believe the term civilize is even used a few times.

There are scenes in which the supposedly civilizing whites massacre aborigines. We see the proper English home of Captain Stanley, and his wife, complete with formal rose garden, surrounded by a white picket fence bordering the surrounding badlands. Of course, there is also the peculiar juxtaposition of Arthur Burns as cold blooded killer with his loyalty to family (to a fatal flaw), his literate culture, and his appreciation of God's nature. And of course the climactic scene offered a great combination of the uncivil forcing itself upon the quasi-artificial civility of the Stanley home.

Still, while I see this theme as explored relatively effectively, there are also bits about "justice" and "family." Perhaps both of these may be seen as subsidiary to civilization. More importantly, however, I'm not quite sure how the climax relates to this theme. I don't really know what it says, one way or the other, about civility.

Beyond theme, I think the script did a great job with certain elements, but fell short on a few others. One of the most impressive tricks the script pulls (and I need to file it away as a great technique to pull out sometime) is to start the film with us despising Captain Stanley, but then turning things around so that by the end we feel sympathy for him. This happens primarily by constrasting him with the even worse Eden Fletcher, a purely despicable creature that you love to hate. Also, by allowing his character to grow and change a bit, we see him change for the better. It is a difficult technique to pull off, but it works wonderfully when it works. It helps create more rounded characters, rather than purely black and white.

Charlie Burns, the Guy Pearce character, however, is less well written. In the tradition of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, Charlie Burns speaks little. But where Eastwood was a truly central character in those films, appearing in nearly every scene and taking serious action, Charlie is a more passive character. He begins the film with the toughest of choices, based on the proposition of the film's title. But then he does little through the film until the climax. He almost plays as a secondary character.

Dialogue is a similar mixed bag. I typically like the technique of having different characters repeat the same line in different contexts. It can make for some interesting thematic exploration. But I felt that the technique was a bit overused here, and felt forced. At other times, however, we get some witty, clever, funny, and/or moving lines. Overall I'd say the film isn't too much about the dialogue, but it still could have some better work on this front.

Oh, and not surprisingly, the music was awesome, if a bit "in your face" at times.

In totality, I really enjoyed this film, but feel it was somewhat flawed. I'd love to rewatch it at some point, and examine it further. And if you are a fan of this style and genre, I'd definitely recommend it!

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