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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.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Intentional Obfuscation?

I'm pissed. I feel like I've had the wool briefly pulled over my eyes, seemingly purposefully. Now, it is slightly possible that the effects I'm about to describe were purely coincidental, or accidental, but I can't help but feel that that is a bit of a naive way of thinking. Here's the deal...

So, I'm sitting at work, and the radio is on, and a commercial comes on. It starts with an awesome Bob Marley groove ("Could You be Loved," though it sounded like a cover version), and my head naturally starts bobbing. It should be no surprise to those who paid attention to my last post (in which I mentioned my affinity for a certain band) that I am also a big fan of Bob. Then again, it is pretty rare to find anyone who doesn't like him!

Then the voiceover begins. It describes a movie in rather vague terms, but talks about the hero being a family man, accused of a crime he didn't commit, and then turning into the hero of a nation. It is described as a true life story. And the kicker? The movie is entitled Catch a Fire (which, of course, is also the name of a famous Bob album).

So hear I am, thinking, "Awesome! They've finally made a Bob Marley biopic!" I did find it odd that Tim Robbins got top billing, but I figured he played the record company dude who "discovered" Bob. And in fact, I got a little uppity about the fact that he got the top billing over whoever was playing Bob Marley, in "typical American fashion."

But oh boy, did I get it wrong. The friggin' movie has nothing to do with Bob Marley! It's about some guy in apartheid-era South Africa! Now you tell me... was I making a foolish mistake, or were they purposely trying to fool me with their advertising? Seems really fishy to me. Bottom line though, if they were not intentionally fooling me, then they just did a really poor job of advertising the film. Regardless, I'm angry, and I won't go see the film for that reason alone!

And will someone please make a Bob Marley movie already? And, a good one at that!

Thanks. :-)

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Expo Post #3

Okay, so a bit more wrap-up is due.

Firstly, I had the great pleasure of having a number of people identify themselves to me, over the course of the Expo, as readers of my blog. It is always a pleasure, and quite gratifying, to meet you. I'd love it if you'd chime in occasionally (or even, at least, just now), just to say "Hey," or let me know any thoughts or questions you might have, or opinions you want to express.

My two seminars on Friday went well, though I was quite disappointed with the size of the rooms I had. This was a running theme that you'll here from many of the speakers and attendees. But it reached the point that my second seminar ("Verbalizing the Visual") was packed to the gills, with people sitting on the floor, and barely any room for anyone to move. We had to turn people away, due to a lack of remaining space, which upset me, and isn't really fair to anyone.

Beyond the space issue, however, the seminars went as well as I could have hoped. I was quite pleased, both with the turnout, and the response I received. I had at least two repeat students, who joined my second session after attending my first one, so I can only assume they liked the first one! If you are either of those two people, please say hey to me, either on here, or via email. And I'll actually tell you all a funny story about what happened with one of them in a moment. I also had the pleasure to finally meet Emily for the first time. She came to "Verbalizing the Visual" and was very sweet. We missed you, Em, at the meet-up, though I know you were exhausted.

But a funny thing also happened during my first seminar, "Writing to be Read." In that seminar, I go through specific scripts that I have read over the years, and list the specific reasons I rejected them. Not the ones that were total crap, because there is little that is informative about that, but rather the ones in the middle area, that might have had potential, but which still got rejected for other reasons. The idea is to help writers think like a script reader as they write, in the hopes that they won't make the same mistakes, and will also be able to make the reader their friend.

Anyway, since I refer to actual scripts I've read, and describe them, I change the titles for confidentiality reasons. After this year's seminar, one of the participants came up to me and said that a script I described sounded like it might have been his. I looked at his name tag, and immediately realized that it was, and I told him so! I always start off my lecture by saying that if any of the scripts I describe were written by anyone in the class, that I hope they won't be offended, and that they will take it is constructive criticism. In fact, it gives something of a valuable window into the mind of a reader for them, an opportunity which most writers don't get, since they rarely get to read actual unvarnished studio coverage on their work.

So I told this guy that I hoped he wasn't offended by my comments, and I asked him if he agreed with my assessment (since I had read the script many years ago, as I'll explain in a minute). He said that he did, and that the script ended up being somewhat "half-baked." Which I think is relatively normal for a first script (which this may have been).

Now here's the weird part, which may have confused the writer, and which I didn't have the chance to explain to him then either (so I hope you're reading this). His script was the only one I use in my seminar that I did not receive as part of my job, or get paid to cover. When I started out working in film, I did some free PA work on a number of indie features in NY and NJ. His film was one of the first that I ever worked on, but only for like one day in pre-production, when I helped him with casting. For whatever reason, I never ended up working on the actual shoot. Still, I had a copy of the script lying around my house. So, when I was writing up a sample coverage to use when I was trying to get my first jobs as a script reader, I covered his screenplay. And I use it in my seminar, because I still think it is a good example of the flaw I use it to describe.

Anyway, the bottom line is that it was mildly embarrassing, but generally just kind of funny. And I was pleased to see the writer return for my second seminar, so I can only assume that he wasn't too offended, and that he hopefully enjoyed what I had to say.

What else? Oh! Some of you may recall my interest in learning about Sheila Hanahan-Taylor, since people kept landing on my blog while searching for info on her. Well, I had seen that she was scheduled to speak on a producers panel on Sunday, so I was excited to finally meet her, and mention the interest people had in learning about her. Maybe I would have even been able to get her to speak a little for my blog so I could supply some information! So I showed up on Sunday, only to find that, alas, she didn't make it to the panel! Oh well. One of these days, dear readers, I will give you the information you need.

Still, I did enjoy that panel, and got excited (being a Deadhead) about a film that Tracey Becker (Finding Neverland) is producing. Called Losing Jerry (I think), it is scheduled to go into preproduction in March, in New Hampshire. The film is about three Deadhead best friends, and their relationship over 15 years, culminating in Jerry's death in 1995. Perhaps most exciting to us Deadheads is that she actually secured the rights to 25 Dead songs for use in the film. I have no idea if she'll get it to me (though I hope so), but I asked Tracey after the panel if she'd send me a copy of the script to read, just for my own pleasure. We'll see what happens there. Regardless, I'm excited to hear about the film, and look forward to it.

Anyway, I think that about wraps my wrap-up. Back to regular life now. For those of you who attended the Expo, I hope it energized you to write more and better, For those who didn't attend, I hope you were too busy writing away! :-)

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Expo post #2

I will write more about the Expo soon, but I wanted to talk a bit now in wrap-up. I'll actually move backwards somewhat, by starting with the post-Expo meet-up.

I'll be honest. I was a little disappointed in the numbers of people who showed up this year (though not disappointed in the quality). I'll attribute it to fewer Scribospherians in attendance at the Expo, avoiding traffic on the 405, and a lame location in the hotel bar rather than the cool Figueroa location from last year.

Regardless, there was a nice little crowd that joined up, both bloggers and blog readers alike. In attendance (and in approximate order of appearance) were my friend from last year's expo, Brenda (couldn't find your semi-existant blog, Bren); Bill Martell; Billy Mernit; our new friends from the Great White North, Jeff and Adele; Pascha (forgive me if I misspelled it); and Shawn. I think that was it, and if I actually forgot anyone with such a small group, I'll feel like an idiot, so I hope not.

Small, but intimate, and some fun and pleasant conversation, banter, story-telling, etc. I wish more of you could have joined, and know that I missed all of you, who weren't there!

I also love the Expo for the opportunities I get to meet other writers and consultant types. Among others that I met were Karl Iglesias, H. Raven Rose, Robin Russin, and others. I also had the honest pleasure of meeting many of my readers, as well as hopefully gaining new readers via my two seminars, and/or hanging out around the Expo. If I met you at the Expo, and you are checking the blog out (I can think of a number of you that I met and have never met before), please either leave a comment here, or drop me an email. I love to stay in touch with people. And to my new friend from whom I requested 10 pages in 30 days, get to it! I really want to read it.

I'll post more soon, including a funny story from my seminar on Friday morning. But overall, I certainly had fun, and hope that all those who attended did as well!

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Post-Expo Scribosphere Gathering

I'll post more about the Expo tomorrow night, or something, but I wanted to throw up a quick post to announce the details of the Expo gathering.

I was hoping to do it at the Avalon Hotel, the location of the first-ever Scribosphere meet-up, before last year's Expo gathering. A bit nicer, and also more centrally located for those who aren't at the Expo. But alas, I was too late on the ball, and they have a few other parties there that night.

So I decided to just go for the obvious and easier, if slightly more boring option. We'll be meeting at the hotel bar at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, the main hotel where the expo is taking place. The name of the bar is Champions (it's a sports bar) and it is on the right side of the lobby when you walk in. The closing ceremony ends officially at 6 PM, so I'd say we'll definitely be there after then, but I'll likely be there earlier. I hope you all can make it! And again, even if you're not at the Expo, you are totally welcome to come and drink. Nay, you are encouraged to do so!

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Expo Post #1

Just a very quick missive from the Expo (largely because it is cool to blog about an event while you are there and it is happening).

So today is the special "extra" day of panels that they added to the Expo this year. I've been largely hanging at the Pitching panels, but may switch for the rest of the day to the other "Taking Back Your Career" sessions, because they seem to be some interesting topics. Nothing groundbreaking in the pitch panels, though entertaining as always. Hoping to be the first to report the requested blog about a funny story regarding a nightmare pitch by Dave Johnson (Jake 2.0). The short of it, he was in his car, needed to take a whizz quickly before the pitch, tried to fill an Evian bottle, and messed his jeans a bit. Then he laid down in a sun beam on the floor of the parking garage to try to dry himself. Ended with him fessing up at the pitch and joking about not washing his hands!

Nice to hear him, Derek Hoffman (From Richard Donner's company), Simon Kinberg (who I met at the Scriptwriter's Showcase) and others. Also great to see some old friends/acquaintances, meet a few cool new people, meet some of my readers whom I had not met before, etc. Looking forwared to more goodness (and partying) over the rest of the weekend.

I will be hitting a few of the networking parties. Also going to the Learning Annex horror panel tonight, and organizing Sunday's gathering. Details should be up by tomorrow. Check back (and chime in if you haven't already).


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chime In

As many of you know, I organized a big "Scribosphere Get-Together" after last year's Screenwriting Expo. I'd love to do it again this year, if there is enough interest. So chime in, either in the comments or via email to me.

  1. Would you be interested in getting together with a big group of Scribospherians for drinks?
  2. Does Sunday after the end of the Expo work for you?
  3. Unlike previous years when it was downtown at the convention center, this year the Expo will be held in two hotels near LAX. Would you prefer to meet up at the bar in one of the hotels where the convention is being held, or somewhere a bit more central in the city?
BTW, this is obviously open to those who don't attend the Expo as well as attendees. So let me know what's up.

Also, please do me a favor and spread the word about my two seminars on Friday -- I'm not particularly happy with the lack of promotion I received in the Expo program, so I can use all the help I can get! Thanks, gang!

Lastly, I'll again mention that if anyone wants to meet up during the Expo, let me know. I'll be around for most of it, except Saturday.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Of Panels, Seminars and Meetings

Okay, folks! Lots of good stuff coming up.

Firstly, I have long neglected this, but I of course must remind you all that I am again scheduled to speak at the Screenwriting Expo next Friday. I am honored to have been named a "Star Speaker" after Expo 4 last year, meaning that of the numerous people that came to hear me speak, most of them rated me highly. So I thank them publicly now.

I will be presenting the same two seminars this year, both on Friday, and if you didn't join me last year, I encourage you to attend this year. I'd love to meet you, if I haven't already. I don't know whether it is too late or not, but I have a discount code you can try to use: "Expo5Haber."

The seminars I will be presenting are "Writing to be Read" from 10-11:30 AM and "Verbalizing the Visual" from 2-3:30. The former is about my experiences as a script reader, in which I discuss specific screenplays that I read and rejected, explaining the specific reasons I rejected them. Essentially, it teaches you how to think like a script reader when you write, thereby increasing your chances at getting to the next development stage. The second seminar is about how to write visual sequences in which little to no dialogue is uttered. Scenes such as physical comedy, sex, action, and sports.

I hope some of you will join, and please spread the word as well.

Also, if you are interested in meeting up at some point during or around the Expo, let me know as well. I'm going to try to organize another Scribosphere meet-up, if possible.

* * *

Now speaking of me speaking about reading, I will also be participating in a panel discussion about what script readers do, want, and are looking for. The panel is scheduled for Wednesday night, November 1st, and is being sponsired by my friends over at MediaBistro. Entitled "What Screenplay Readers Want," you can find the details about it, and register, right HERE. And as a special gift to my readers, I have arranged for a $5 discount. If you are interested in the details on how to get the discount, email me.

* * *

Lastly, I want to promote another cool panel discussion that will be taking place at night, during the Expo (but unaffiliated with it). The Learning Annex is having a panel of horror screenwriters, including the very kind and articulate Stephen Susco, whom I met and got to know at the Scriptwriters Showcase. I will be attending. The panel is entitled "The Ultimate Horror-Writing Seminar!!!" and here is some info. Please note that I've arranged a special discount for you, my beloved readers!

Do you have a flair for scare? You'll get insider tips, tricks of the trade, inspiration, and A-list advice from the best in the biz.

The following panelists are confirmed to date:

Darren Bousman (Writer / Director) wrote and directed Saw II.

Scott Kosar (Screenwriter) writing credits include: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Machinist, and The Amityville Horror (2005).

Jonathan Liebesman (Writer /Director) directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and Friday the 13th: The Sequel.

Pamela Pettler (Screenwriter) wrote Monster House and co-wrote Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.

Hans Rodionoff (Writer/Director) Screenwriting credits include: The Hollow, Clive Barker's Saint Sinner and Man-Thing.

Stephen Susco (Screenwriter) His first produced film, The Grudge, grossed over $300 million worldwide.

Was $49.99, now only $29.99! Go HERE to register with the discount, or call 310-478-6677 and mention code: JOELHR to redeem $20 off this class.

So again, please let me know if you need any information on any of these great events. Also let me know if you want to meet up during or around the Expo. I hope to see a number of you over the next few weeks!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland

Went to a screening recently of The Last King of Scotland. For those who don't know, this is a British film, based on a book, and is a loose adaptation of true facts. In brief, it is about a Scottish guy who becomes personal physician to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. Forest Whitaker stars as the infamous tyrannical Ugandan dictator.

The short of it? The movie was solid, though not great, but Forest Whitaker was awesome. He brought to life the complexity and humanity that writers Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock (screenplay), and Giles Foden (book) invested Amin with.

The slightly longer? The movie tells an amazing tale that sticks closely with the heart of the history, while taking some liberties to tell its tale. I think it is actually a good example of how close one needs to stick to one's source material when adapting (whether from a book, or from history, both of which apply here).

The script also featured an interesting blend of tones, which I think is a difficult, but important aspect of the film. There is a healthy dose of humor scattered throughout the film, but only in specific spots. I think it helps to humanize the Amin character (which is key to winning enough audience sympathy to get the message across). It also adds realism when there is some humor in a drama, or vice versa.

At the same time, I think the film suffered at times from a bit too much stretching of the truth. While the story itself is so unbelievable, that we must accept some other moments that will be difficult to believe, there are a few key scenes that go a bit too far. Perhaps they feel artificial due to a lack of sufficient set-up, and thus feel abrupt. But without giving plot points away, I'll just say that the story seems a bit too convenient at times.

Overall, I'd say the film is certainly worth watching. A very solid effort. And Whitaker's performance alone would make it worth it, but there is more here than just that. But I suggest you see it!

(Special thanks to Creative Screenwriting magazine for the screening!)

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