What a moron...

I was enjoying a lovely Santa Monica Saturday by biking to the library then grabbing some lunch at The Real Food Daily. While I was sitting outside waiting for a table, I was reading James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, mostly because I've been meaning to read it forever, and because I am on a kick to read novels that have been translated into films. I was minding my own business, when these two older men glanced at me and chuckled, then one of them asked, "Why is a nice girl like you reading such a dark book?" I was somewhat confounded by the question, because it struck me as one of those "Why is the sky blue?" kind of questions. Or, this guy was just being sexist because he felt that I should be reading a romance novel or something. Anyway, I said, "Because James Elloy is an incredible writer." The guy was even more shocked, because I think he was expecting me to sound much younger than I am, which happens often, because I do look younger than I am. Anyway, he laughed again, and said, "Wow, most of the women I know only read books with pictures in them." I have no idea what kind of women this dude hangs out with, but apparently not ones who read. What a moron.


Screenwriting Lessons

I've been writing screenplays and making short films for several years now, and I will say that screenwriting, to me, is one of the toughest forms of writing. Having worked as a print journalist prior to writing screenplays, I always felt like making the switch shouldn't be too bad, but it was tough for me. I finally feel like I've gotten over a hump with some things, and have some very important lessons about the writing process that I think would have been helpful for me years ago. Here they are:

1. Externalize it. Sounds basic, but every form of conflict and emotion in a screenplay has to be shown visually and through externally created circumstances. In a novel or even journalistic piece, you can tell the reader what is happening inside a character's head through a quote or description, but in a script, there must be an external situation that moves the story forward. I find that sometimes in my scripts, when people read them and don't understand why a character feels a certain way, it's because I haven't shown it through an external situation.

2. Use research selectively. Maybe it's my detail oriented mind, but when I'm working on an idea, I like to get into the world and really research every little piece of it. For example, I'm writing something with a computer worm in it now, and I researched the topic to death and knew exactly how a computer worm worked. At first, my inclination was to put every bit from my research into the script, but readers told me they were confused, and bogged down by the details. When I went back in and did a rewrite, I took out much of the info and used it selectively, and I think it's working much better.

3. Use plot as a way to bring about emotion. I think each writer has his/her strength and some are good with plot and some with characters. For me, it was always been characters. Plotting always stressed me out to the millionth degree, and I was definitely getting bogged down with creating plots that were simply one situation after another. I was facing this issue with my tech oriented script, and I finally realized that I was so caught up in the technology and what happened with each step, that I was forgetting that plot is really a device to bring about emotion, a way for characters to interact. It was actually to the point where I wasn't even enjoying writing anymore, and when I stepped away, I realized because I wasn't doing what I love--getting into the emotions.

4. Plans, plots and actions should be simple yet symbolic. This sort of goes along with the previous point, but I used to get caught up in circular thinking with the plot, because I would make it so confusing that even I couldn't understand what was going on. I would find myself overthinking the "plans" or things the characters are going to do to the point where I was confused with my own idea. For example, with the revenge plot in my new script, I had the characters doing all kinds of complicated things to get back at their horrible boss. But those plans weren't really representative of a deeper theme or need. Now, I realize that it's important for the plan to be simple, yet symbolic of the deeper thematic ideas in the movie, rather than complicated simply for the sake of it. In other words, if revenge is about justice, then that plan should be to serve justice.

5. Take time to set up the character's world prior to the inciting incident. I'm not saying that you should spend 50 pages setting up the character's world, but for some reason, I was getting into the habit of just getting right into the conflict by page 5, and people who read my script weren't getting it. I realized with my new script that people didn't know my character well enough to really get into her conflict. In other words, if your story is about a straight laced girl becoming a rebel, then we need to see her being straight laced for enough time to understand just how important her transformation is. As much as all the writing gurus say that it's critical to set up the conflict fast, I've found that most Hollywood films do a thorough job of setting up the world, first.

6. Brainstorm themes early on. You may not know exactly what your theme is when you start a story, but for me, it helps to come up with a list of ideas. Theme, to me, is the point, or what you are trying to say about the world with your film. I guess not all films have to have a deeper meaning, but for me, this is the reason why I like to write--I have a perspective on the world and I want to share it with you. So, if I'm aware of exactly what that perspective is, my writing is likely to be stronger.


He Called Me a Wetback

So, today I was on that misery of a road, Lincoln Blvd., trying to take a left turn into a gas station. After a minute or two, I realized that this left turn wasn't going to happen one, because traffic was terrible and two, people behind me starting honking. I got it. Abort mission. Then, as I'm sitting there about to figure out an alternate strategy, this old guy in a pickup truck, oncoming from straight ahead, flies past me with his window wide open and sticks his head out and shouts, "You can't do that, you fucking wetback." For a moment, I was utterly shocked, then truthfully, a little frightened. It's been awhile since someone yelled a racial slur at me, and yes, I'm no stranger to this having grown up in North Carolina. I've been called a sand niger, a niger, a terrorist, a cow worshipper and the likes, but wetback was a new one. I wished I could have told that fat, old white dude what an ignorant fuck he was, but of course, that kind of satisfaction will only play over and over again in my dreams. Or better yet, in a screenplay. At least he could have used the right slur if he was going to go at it, right? Sometimes I forget that people like this guy exist, especially living amongst my very liberal enclave of friends who come from many corners of the world. I even remember, when I was making my short film, This Moment, about an interracial marriage, one of my friends asked me, do people even care about race any more? Is this even a relevant topic? Yes Kameron, wherever you are, it apparently is.


LA Reflections

I've officially been living in LA for a year, which is hard to believe. I have to say, for the first year, I felt intimidated by everything here, like the films I had made didn't mean anything, like nothing was going anywhere. Maybe it was because my mother had a horrible accident right when I got here, and maybe because moving is just hard. But I think the root of my problem was figuring out what was next for me--did I spend time making yet another short, or did I move on to a feature? It's hard being here because there is so much happening, that you really have to be clear on your objectives. And, on some level, everyone is dealing with the uncertainties of this business. Last year, making a feature truly seemed overwhelming. Now, I'm in a different spot entirely. It was all a mental thing--this summer, I decided to just stop spinning my wheels and go for the feature. I worked really hard re-writing Raspberry Magic, and it's much tighter and cleaner. In fact, I now have producer on board who really believes in the script, and we're going to make it as a low budget indie. It's going to be a challenge to make it happen, but the wheels are turning, and I know it will happen, with a lot of patience and hard work! As for LA, it can be a tough place, but I love the energy here. You meet so many motivated people, people with dreams who are just going for it. It's pretty exciting.