John’s 2017 Productivity Report

 

Splat

This cartoon by Jules Feiffer first came to my attention via Stewart Stern, a wise and lovely man who knew a thing or two about writing AND writer’s block.

2017 Goal #1: Finish my feature screenplay spec BARTENDER OF THE YEAR and submit it to the Nicholl Fellowship in April.

Goal achieved? NO

Not only did I blow past the Nicholl Fellowship and every other contest deadline this past year, I am nicely on-track to miss a bunch of 2018 deadlines too. I’m currently 100+ pages into a terrible, no good, very bad first draft. Writers sometimes call the first draft the “vomit draft,” the goal being getting it done, not making it good. But rather than a full-throated purge, progress on BARTENDER OF THE YEAR has advanced in a series of minuscule puke-belches.

BARTENDER is a comedy-drama about a popular local mixologist who runs for office in his small town. It’s also my challenge to myself to write a movie outside my comfort zone: one with no science fiction elements or high-concept gimmicks to propel the story. And it’s propulsion, sure enough, that has been lacking. In my darkest moments of plotting this thing I’m convinced I know nothing about writing, human nature, normal human speech, or how the everyday affairs of human beings are conducted. I feel as if I’m bluffing my way through everything.

And then other days… it’s better. A lot better. Experience has taught me the only way out is through. Push, work, WRITE until the work becomes the thing that occupies your mind instead of the fear.

 

Goal #2: Search for material

Goal achieved? YES

Itching to get a project into prep, this year I decided to put on my producer hat and start looking for screenplays. I didn’t find anything I wanted to option, but I made the effort and read a pile of scripts. (I’m still itchy. If you’re interested in sending me something, please read this to learn more.)

 

Goal #3: AFX training

Goal achieved? NO

This year I bought myself a nifty (and pricey) new MacBook with the intention of updating my knowledge of Adobe After Effects. The ability to create pro-level motion graphics and visual effects “in-house” would hugely expand the range of projects I can execute DIY-style. And, it’s never a bad thing to have more marketable skills. But I had an ambitious list of goals for 2017 and something had to give, so this one resides on the back-burner. I needed a new computer anyway, honey. Really.

 

Goal #4. Take a beginning improv class

Goal achieved? YES

Every Monday for 10 weeks this past year I stood up with a group of strangers, playing silly improv games with them and making up scenes on the spot. I said and did the first stupid-ass thing that came into my mind. Something different, to maybe blow some cobwebs out of the brain. Not as embarrassing as anticipated. Signing up for the intermediate class in January.

 

Goal #5. Other writing

Goal achieved? YES

OK, admittedly “other writing” is a pretty nebulous goal, so it’s easy to call this one a win. I did work on things besides BARTENDER OF THE YEAR in 2017… and even finished some of them.  For instance, an 8-page short called FROG, which I’m pretty happy with. It’s a two-hander about a disabled intern who befriends the super-intelligent frog she meets one night in a university computer lab. It was written expressly for the Jameson First Shot contest and if it had won, the script would have been produced with actor Dominic West providing the voice of the frog. Alas, that didn’t happen, but FROG did quarter-final in the ScreenCraft Short Screenplay contest in September.

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 1.38.29 PM

context is everything

One of the best writing experiences I had this past year happened at the day job, imagine that: Armstrong Creates, the agency I’ve worked at for mumble-mumble years now. I’m a generalist there, which means I might be retouching photos one day and cooking up an ad campaign the next. When a client (a manufacturer of corks for the wine industry) decided they wanted a concepts for a promotional video, I whipped up a script for a comedy sketch that takes place entirely inside a wine bottle. The wine and the cork are personified (think the Fruit of the Loom guys), best buddies who’ve grown very close over the years as the wine ages. They even sing a duet together. Like so many concepts, this pitch never made it out of the conference room. Too bad: I think it would have turned out well. Would have been an absolute blast to shoot, too. Given that, what exactly made this a good writing experience? Well, I got paid, for one thing. But more to the point: starting from zero I cranked out a completed script – one I was really happy with – in the matter of a couple of hours. It was exhilarating, and a welcome reminder that I don’t really need inspiration. I just need a deadline. So sure, my concept got rejected, but I went home happy that day. And the experience helped me shake off the torpor I’d been fighting much of the year.

Back at home and re-energized, I finally wrote up a first draft of ANAESTHESIA, another short film idea that I’d been kicking around for too many years. I’m also compiling notes for a new feature script, the one I’ll write once BARTENDER is in the bag. I don’t know the title yet. But it’s a sci-fi comedy about an alien invasion. Yeah, back to the comfort zone. I gotta be me, I guess.

 

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Dotty

Dotty lives in a rest home and needs some help using her phone. Take ten minutes and watch this touching film from New Zealanders Mick Andrews and Brett O’Gorman. It’s one of the best shorts I’ve seen lately: one perfect scene, that is also a complete story.

DOTTY from Brett and Mick on Vimeo.

Seven things I liked about THE BEGUILED

The Beguiled

  1. The cast. Kidman, Fanning, Dunst, Farrell & the young ‘uns too. Everyone’s good. No weak links.
  2. It’s dark. The rural south, losing the war & suspended in a timeless, perpetual dusk.
  3. It’s quiet. Shhhhh. (A salve for the headache BABY DRIVER gave me)
  4. It’s squarish. 1.66 aspect ratio. Perfect for this film.
  5. Virtually no musical score. The girls sing a bit. One plays a violin. In other moments: distant cannons, like drums.
  6. The restraint. This film is 9/10ths delicious anticipation. Often funny; flirting with horror.
  7. It’s short. 94 minutes TRT! The End.

Originally a series of tweets. I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

6 tweets about COLOSSAL

COLOSSAL poster

  1. Given COLOSSAL’s fun premise, the film that unfolds is not quite the romp you might expect.‬
  2. COLOSSAL puts Kaiju monsters & indie-film slackers into a genre blender. Like many smoothies the result is a bit lumpy & faintly sour
  3. The lumps: Characters poorly defined. Plot threads meander. Some end abruptly and add little. Even the monster origin story is half-baked.
  4. The sour: characters aren’t typical indiefilm losers. Not clever/charismatic enough. The range is more like “pathetic” to “pathological”
  5. Premise pulls you through the rough patches, even as COLOSSAL turns darker. One scene evokes mass carnage without showing a drop of blood.
  6. And as stakes rise, COLOSSAL rallies. The film deploys its cleverest notion near the end, delivering a satisfying resolution.

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

6 tweets about LIFE (the movie, not the existential dilemma)

Ryan Reynolds in LIFE

  1. LIFE is not a bad movie, but it’s a B-movie. ‪#LIFEmovie‬ ‪#rental‬
  2. So yeah, if you liked the trailer that’s what the movie is. No more, no less.
  3. There IS a long, lovely single-take intro that’s maybe the best zero-g scene ever in a space movie
  4. There’s also a major action scene toward the end that just doesn’t work very well, IMO
  5. But there’s tension/suspense, gross-outs & scares. Things zip along in a 10-little-Indians way that can’t help but remind you of ALIEN.
  6. The ending (SPOILER!) reminded me of the ’70s when big studio pictures more often than not went “tails” at the end instead of “heads”

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

Consumption: 2016

Hell Or High Water posterI’ve kept an annual list of films, TV and books every year since 2014. This year I’m going to add a ranked list of my favorite films of 2016 as well. My list is better than all the other “top 10” lists, because… mine goes to eleven.

1. Hell Or High Water
2. Manchester By The Sea
3. Moonlight
4. Arrival
5. American Honey
6. Certain Women
7. Deadpool
8. Toni Erdmann
9. Don’t Think Twice
10. Zootopia
11. Moana

The above ranking obviously doesn’t include pictures I haven’t seen yet, and that’s a list of its own that includes THE HANDMAIDEN, SILENCE, SING STREET, PATERSON, HIDDEN FIGURES, FENCES, and JACKIE. I’m working on it.

Below is a complete list of everything I saw in 2016. As always, the list only reflects things seen for the very first time. If I came across JAWS or GROUNDHOG DAY or YOU’VE GOT MAIL already in progress on TV and sat there like a zombie through ’til the end, well, that’s not considered worthy of note. What is worthy of note: ZOOLANDER 2 is so very, very bad it makes you feel stupid for having liked the first one. THE LOBSTER is the other movie I regret having made the effort to go see in the theater. I’ll give it points for originality, I guess. Then I’ll take those points back for being a miserable, cruel, misbegotten thing.

Linked titles will take you to either my review or more information on a particular film.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Room
Hail, Caesar!
Anomalisa
Creed
Zoolander 2
Deadpool
My Name Is Doris
Don’t Think Twice
The Lobster
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Star Trek Beyond
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Hell Or High Water
Toni Erdmann
American Honey
Arrival
Certain Women
Moana
Moonlight
Rogue One
20th Century Women

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
What We Do In The Shadows
Spotlight
Amira & Sam
Today’s Special
Prisoners
Captain America: The First Avenger
Shaun The Sheep Movie
The Libeled Lady
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Amy
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Zootopia
Jack Reacher
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels
The Visitor
Finding Dory
Sicario
Lassie Come Home
Chappie
The Shop Around The Corner
Swiss Army Man

TELEVISION
Orphan Black
Togetherness (RIP)
Archer
Modern Family
New Girl
Jessica Jones
The Expanse
Supergirl
The Mindy Project
Odd Mom Out
Moone Boy
Stranger Things
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Better Things
The Good Place
Game of Thrones
Girls
Westworld

BOOKS and OTHER READING
Devotion – Dani Shapiro
60 or so screenplays for the Austin Film Festival competition

12 tweets about ZOOTOPIA

Judy Hopps in peril in ZOOTOPIA

  1. Obviously ZOOTOPIA is allegory for race/crime issues that are very top-of-mind in America right now.
  2. Gutsy to take on this theme in a “kids’ movie.” If this film is even that.
  3. I squirmed during the confrontation after Judy’s speech; Nick (the fox) leaning in: “are you afraid of me?”
  4. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the scene. It’s kind of amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbbdW4wVo6o
  5. So yeah, prejudice… But, using animals to tell the story puts a whole ‘nother layer on ZOOTOPIA, doesn’t it?
  6. Just kind of astonishing seeing a Disney movie using talking animals to take on nature red in tooth and claw.
  7. Here’s a global media empire built largely on drawing cute animals that act like people. Imagery so commonplace in our culture we hardly think about it.
  8. And now they make a movie that says, “think about it.”
  9. “Think how we sentimentalize animals, and how that insulates us from the natural world.”
  10. “Also: think about what they eat. And what you eat.”
  11. Apparently everyone in ZOOTOPIA lives on berries, ice cream, and donuts. There must be a lot of hungry, malnourished lions and bears there.
  12. ZOOTOPIA doesn’t address the topic of vegetarianism overtly. in fact, they carefully avoid the issue. But it’s there.

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!