Monday, April 30, 2007


I got sick Monday night. I was on the set, it was about midnight, and it hit; the sore throat, body aches... And we still had a few hours to go. Last time I got sick was on set for BL. It's just the worst.

So, I've spent the last week on Nyquil: the sniffling, sneezing, aching, wake-up-on-the-kitchen-floor-where-you-took-it medicine. Tomorrow I start the methodone to get off the Nyquil.

I spent the whole week on my back in front of the tv. My wife didn't even know I was sick until Thursday, because that's what I normally do.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Home Again

Got back from Montreal Saturday. The flight was three hours late. The high point was when the Captain got on the PA system to inform us we were running out of fuel. Not a good moment. But we stopped in Phoenix to fill up and then landed safely in Los Angeles.

Before leaving Montreal I saw the film for the first time with all the sound elements in place. It wasn't the revelation everyone said it would be, but it was helpful. It certainly helped it feel more like a movie than it did before. Sound does a lot. The guys who mixed the movie liked it. So, that's two.

I have to admit that for all my eagerness to move on, now that it's pretty much done I will miss working on it. Faced with the actual reality of being done is harder than I expected it to be. It's not that I don't want to let go of the film -- I do! I do! -- it's just that even when it was tough going I was constantly engaged and challenged, and that stimulation will be difficult to wean myself from. It also helps that the movie isn't an embarrassment. Had it been a disaster I doubt I'd be feeling so wistful. It's hard to feel wistful when you're under suicide watch.

So now I turn my attention towards the next project. I just got word from my wonderfully hard to please manager that except for a few tweaks he considers my romantic comedy finally ready to go. I have a lot of energy towards this story and after a year of writing it and a dozen drafts, the timing couldn't be better.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Letters From Montreal Day 6

Sound mix is done. All went as well as could be expected. It's amazing how when you dig into such detail in a film what you find. Each line, each sound, each this and that makes a huge difference. It's been a fascinating experience to say the least.

So it's one step closer to being done. What remains is color corection and putting it on 35 millimeter. But for the most part the creative work is done and that's a big relief. The creative decisions are where the stress and tension come from. It's nice knowing that's behind us and everyone is happy.

Tomorrow my day is completely free.. I'm in a foreign country for the first time -- I'm in a beautiful city for the first time -- I can't wait to sleep in, watch some television, jump in a cab, and head for the airport.

Letters From Montreal Day 5

We're ahead of schedule. Things are going so well Scott, Steven, and I sat on the stage all day cracking jokes like the bad kids in the back of the class. The mixer had to quiet us more than once.

The picture sounds great. We watch it today, do any last tweaks, and then we're done.

This week's been a lot of fun. The company doing the mix is called Premium Sound and our sound guys are talented and relaxed -- the perfect combination.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Letters From Montreal Day 4

Well, we're ahead of schedule, and I deserve all the credit for that. The reason we're ahead of schedule is that I have no idea what I want and rather than look wishy-washy I agree with everything the sound mixers do. The movie sounds bad but we're ahead of schedule.

Actually things are going very well. The two sound mixers -- Peter and Phillip -- are great guys, easy to work with, and very good at what they do. Usually after a first pass they've got 90% of it and the remaining 10% is just a few adjustments. We should finish tomorrow and have friday as a luxury day to obssess over it.

Saturday I don't fly out until late in the afternoon, so I'll use that day to either explore the city or watch pay-per-view, depending on my mood.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Letters From Montreal Day 3

What do you want from me? I was in a studio all day. I'm not seeing the city -- I'm seeing a cab and a dark studio that could be in Burbank for all I know.

If you want to know about Montreal... Google. Duh.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Letters From Montreal Day 2

Okay, I know what a sound mix is.

You go in a studio where a guy who can't possibly know what all those buttons are for sits in front of a huge console and mixes all your sound together. He mixes score, dialogue, sound effects, and other noises. He mixes them so you don't notice them. He mixes them so they all come together in a way that makes you feel them rather than get taken out of the movie because something sounds off or strange. You go through the scene again and again and again changing the levels of various things until the scene sounds perfect. We got through the first twenty minutes today. Hopefully tomorrow, we'll move a little faster.

Didn't see much of Montreal today. Just what I caught in the cab from the hotel to the studio. There are posters of Madonna all over the place. She advertises all kinds of stuff. Guess the Canadians haven't heard she's a hundred.

I don't like the soap in the hotel. It smells like my old boss, and I didn't like him. Now I smell like my old boss. Canada sucks.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Letters From Montreal Part 1

Well, I'm up here in Montreal. Just arrived a few hours ago. Not at all what I expected. It looks like an old European city. An old communist European city. I keep waiting for the secret police to demand my papers. Which would be very cool.

I had to exchange money here. I got $1.07 for a $1.00. I can't figure out if that's a good thing or not. It's like daylight savings time: If we set the clocks back do we get more sleep or less?

There's nudie bars all over, and this is a nice part of town. At least I think it is. I'm at the Ritz Carlton -- which is also old and Eastern European looking. I keep waiting for the secret police to break into my room demanding my papers. Which would be very cool.

And I have papers. Actually I have two sets of papers in the form of two passports, because I spent Friday in the Federal Passport Office getting one and then came home to find the one I ordered 9 weeks ago in my mail box. And yes, it's already on the black market.

There are homeless people in Montreal. Who knew? My sociology professor said that was strictly an American problem. Anyway -- and this is no joke -- one homeless guy was holding a sign that said, "I Need To Smoke A Joint Right Now!!" Give him points for honesty. In L.A. they tell two lies in half the words: Will Work For Food.

Sorry, no pictures to post here. I'm on dial-up and they would take a month to download. We're leaving to have dinner in a few minutes and tomorrow the Sound Mix begins. I have no idea what a Sound Mix is but I'm doing one tomorrow and will hopefully know by the end of the day. Truth be told, if someone would simply demand my papers I'd consider the trip a success regardless of how this sound mix-thing turns out.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Meet Laura Breckenridge

Because Beautiful Loser was my first script I did a lot of things you're not supposed to. These were unintentional things -- rookie mistakes -- and caused terrible difficulties in the editing process. But there is one thing I did you're not supposed to that was intentional. And the only reason we got away with it was because we were lucky enough to have Laura Breckenridge play Tracy.

In a standard film, especially a romantic comedy, you introduce your main characters in the first act -- the first 22 minutes of the film. This is important because by the time the story kicks in you want the audience with your characters. You want the audience to like your characters and to care about them.

With Tracy I didn't want to do that. I worried that if I did, the movie wouldn't work. The central conceit of BL is that a normal good-looking guy is unable to get over a girl after twenty years. The audience has to believe that without even thinking about it. If they don't there's no movie. And I knew that if the audience was to believe, it would depend on the girl. If the audience loved the girl, they would never question Reggie's devotion. If the audience felt his loss, they would buy his still carrying a torch after two decades.

So, how do you do that? How do you get the audience to fall in love with the girl? Looks aren't enough. Pretty girls are a dime a dozen. It has to be more than physical. Besides, the women in the audience have to get it. A pretty girl may be enough for the guys, but it's not going to impress the women. There had to be more to Tracy, and I felt very strongly that the more had to be revealed differently than in the standard 22 minute crash course.

When you fall in love with someone -- I mean really fall in love with someone -- it starts with the physical attraction and grows from there. It's about discovering that person. It's about loving every new thing you learn about them, and wanting to learn more. It's about feeling priviledged this person chose you to share themselves with. That combination is like a drug. And that's love. At least that's how it's been between me and the script supervisor for twenty-plus years.

This discovery process was how I felt the audience might just fall in love with Tracy. She would slowly reveal herself throughout the film, each time displaying a different facet of her personality that would hopefully make her more accessible, special, and enchanting with each scene. The risk, however, is that this would take a while, and that by minute 22 the audience still wouldn't know a whole lot about her. And it's hard to like someone you don't know. But you can be fascinated by them. You can be intrigued and infatuated. But if you withold too much information the audience might not be interested in her at all. So, what's the alternative to information...? Intelligence.

I felt that if upon their first look at Tracy that if the audience saw a strong intellect in her eyes they'd bite. Because who isn't interested in intelligent people? Who doesn't want to know more about how smart people tick and think?

So, what I wasn't looking for was the standard high school girl-crush material. I didn't want the prom queen. Or, the nerd. Or, the best friend. Or, the brain. What I wanted was that quiet pretty girl we all went to school with. Not the shy pretty girl. Shy isn't interesting. Quiet is interesting. Quiet is a display of confidence and ease with one's self. That's someone worth knowing. And you know the girl I'm talking about. She's the one you went to school with for years and then one day... Wow, she's kinda cute. But by then it was too late for you because she'd filled out over the Summer and all the other guys were noticing her too. See, that's God's way of punishing you for being shallow and looks-oriented.

So, I knew what I wanted in a Tracy and the casting process began. I saw a hundred of 'em. Every pretty young woman between 18 and 25. And even a few closer to 40 who refused to smell the coffee and update their headshots. Some of the girls were teriffic. Some may have worked. But it hadn't happened yet; that bolt of lightening that tells you the search is over. Then one day a tape came in. It was an episode of Related -- which I'd never heard of. From the WB Network -- which I'd never watched. And it starred Laura Breckenridge -- who I'd never heard of. (Is it "whom" or "who?")

Anyway, I watched the tape and didn't see Tracy. Not even close. I certainly saw a talented actress, but not Tracy. Steven Wolfe thought I was insane, but I just didn't have enough experience to see beyond. Steven urged me to meet with Laura, so we did, and then I saw Tracy. I saw her immediately. Because Laura has a strong intellect. She's a very smart young woman and you can see it in her eyes. You don't even have to talk to her. It's just there. And I knew that if she already had that quality, it would come across on screen. It's called presence, and it's rarer than gold.

Now, I can't remember if it was Laura I told that story to or someone else, but I told someone and they asked me why my only reaction to the Related episode was indifference, At the time I couldn't articulate it. But I've since figured it out. In that particular episode Laura's character has a role in a school play where she has to get naked. The entire show revolves around her conflict over whether to do it and her concern over doing it with her Dad in the audience. In the end she does it and finds it quite liberating. But this is something Tracy would never do.

It's not a moral issue, Tracy's just a completely different person. She might go to a play. But she would never be in one. She certainly wouldn't ever get naked in one. And she sure as hell wouldn't get naked in one in front of her Dad. Had that Related epsisode been about Laura's character killing someone and eating their raw spleen, I wouldn't have had as hard of time as the naked play.

Laura's wonderful as Tracy. Perfect. After all the thinking and planning and writing and re-writing and worrying about whether or not the audience will believe a man could never fall out of love with her, Laura solves that in her first shot. You look at her and you get it. You completely understand how there would be no force on earth capable of extinguishing a torch carried by the man who came thisclose to winning her. You don't have to meet Ava Gardner to understand how she could ruin Sinatra. You just gotta look at her. And thanks to Laura's performance, it's the same with Tracy.

Laura's obviously a lovely woman, but there's more to it than that. It's creating a presence and something in the eyes. It's acting and performance. It's talent and hard work. What Laura brought to the role was astounding. Some of my favorite lines in the movie are throwaways she brought to life in ways that surprise me every time I hear them. My single indulgence was refusing to take out a Tracy joke no one finds in the least funny but me. Every time we came across it, I get the eye from our producer Scott. But I repeat my confidence that someday someone besides me will laugh.

Laura's a total pro and was a pleasure to work with. She's also an amazing looper. Not only was she faster than everyone else at dubbing her lines, she embarrassed second place. She's like the Rain Man of looping.

Music. Is. Done. Canada? Maybe.

Score? Done. Songs? Done. Done. Done. Done. That sound you hear is me being unchained from the oar. What a job.

But well worth it. It was a long year of searching and debating and experimenting and frustration, but last night we all left the music editor's office uniformly pleased with the choices.

Sunday I leave for Canada. That is, if I get the passport I applied for 9 weeks ago in time. If it doesn't arrive today, I have to go in tomorrow for a personal appointment and spend another $200 for a second application. Which means that by the time I get back the original passport I applied for nine weeks ago will most likely be in the mail. So, I'll now have two passports and be out $400.

And I will get my money back. Oh, yes, I will. I don't care if the buyer has explosives strapped to his chest. I will get my money back.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Future Is Now

Sunday at church the kid in front of me for Communion did something with his tennis shoes that turned them into roller skates. Just like that. One second he's walking, the next gliding. Today they announced the driverless car.

It's finally happening. Just like it was supposed to. The future has really arrived. I was sure it was all a lie. After all, we should've had flying cars years ago. I've been chapped about that since 1999. But now it's really happening. We'll be travelling to different cities in clear plastic tubes any day now.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


At the tender age of twelve I was finally allowed to ride the city bus on my own. So, of course it was off to the movies. My allowance was two dollars a week -- slave wages, even for forgetting to take out the garbage -- and after packing three peanut butter sandwiches; every Saturday I would tell my parents I was going to the museum, and hop on the thirty-one bus for the 6 mile trip to second street in downtown Milwaukee. It was there that sat The Grand Theatre. It even had a balcony. And it was there I saw some of the greatest crap to ever hit the screen. Movies so bad they're not even out on DVD.

Bus fare was thirty-five cents there, and thirty-five cents back. Twenty cents for a Coke. Ten cents for a Three Musketeers bar. And a buck for admission. That left me destitute but well-fed and with a full afternoon of cheap horror, terrible sci-fi, Mexploitation, sexploitation, blacksploitation, and chop-socky ahead of me. Look up bliss in the dictionary and it's a picture of me as a boy munching a peanut butter sandwich in the balcony of the Grand Theatre.

That was grindhouse. Grindhouse was all about sticky floors and using plot-points to achieve one of two goals: Violence or bare breasts -- but when truly inspired, both. The movies were awful. Even then we knew they were awful. But it wasn't about that. It was about the crowd who yelled at the screen. It was about being out on my own. It was about the rare gems that quieted the crowd: the reissues of Pam Grier or Bruce Lee; the Shaft trilogy, and movies I still worship like The Outfit, The Stone Killers, or Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. It was also about the coming attractions and getting excited about what we'd see the next week. I would dream about those trailers and count down the days to when they would become reality. What a time that was.

Unfortunately, it didn't last very long. After a year we moved to the suburbs where the buses won't come. Seven years later my very first apartment was intentionally four blocks from the Grand. But by then the weekend double features were gone, it cost two bucks to get in, and they had closed the balcony. Things also ran much smoother. The prints were cleaner, no more missing reels, and if you yelled at the screen they tossed you out. Me and my peanut butter sandwiches still went every weekend though. And every once in a while we'd get lucky. Every once in a while they'd show a real shitty movie.

Tarantino's Grindhouse works very hard to recapture the feel of those afternoons. He and Robert Rodriguez both contributed a film, but it's the stuff in-between that really took me back: The coming attractions, advertising, and lame cards announcing The Feature Presentation. Rodriguez's Planet Terror was pretty fun. Tarantino's Death Proof was pretty disappointing, and absolutely nothing like a grindhouse film. It's forty minutes of girls talking with an okay car chase. Grindhouse films were many things, with many flaws, but they were never talky. I suggest you wait for DVD.


Just finished my taxes. Kept the cheating to a bare minimum. Feds owe $224. State owes me $47.

Sometime's being poor is a beautiful thing. Maybe I won't join that militia.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Another Quick Movie Review

Blades Of Glory: You know, except for his fall-on-the-floor-laugh-out-loud-brilliant impersonation of George Bush, I've yet to find Will Ferrell an appealing screen presence. But he's really good in BOG, and the film's funny and sweet. Good cast. Good script. A very pleasant surprise.
Tomorrow: Grindhouse.

Meet Keith David

Back when I wrote the script I didn't know I was supposed to gear my characters towards a specific actor or actor-type. Screenwriters are advised that by doing this they have a better chance of selling their script because someone will say, "Oh, this is perfect for Bruce Willis." or some such thing. Well, I didn't know that. And even though I know that now I still don't do it. Which may explain my savings account.

Even trying to dream cast the film in my head, I was never able to figure out who would work. Except for Keith David. I always felt Keith would make a good Morgan Adult. I was well aware of Keith's work because he's one of those actors who pops up on screen in a lot of films and always elevates whatever he's in. And as a fan of Ken Burns' remarkable PBS documentaries I was also very familiar with Keith's rich voice and turn of a phrase.

What's great about Keith is that he's not a "type." When you see him on screen you never know what you're going to get. Is he the bad guy? Is he the best friend? Is he the moral center of the film? When Keith answers the door and finds a desperate Jennifer Connelly willing to do anything for drugs in "Requiem For A Dream," you have no idea if she's saved or doomed. When you see Keith in that sleep chamber at the beginning of "Pitch Black" you have no idea what kind of man he is. And this keeps you watching. It keeps you on edge.

In my opinion the most condescending thing you can say about an actor is that they are "a natural." It takes a lot of work and training and preparation to look natural. And so when Keith gives off that vibe to keep you guessing, it's intentional. And it's rare. Very few can do it. And it was perfect for Morgan because when Keith arrives suddenly the audience isn't as sure about this character as they were watching him as a teenager. Which is exactly what I was going for.

The first day we shot with Keith was in my home. And I was intimidated. Until Keith arrived. He works his butt off, sings with that remarkable voice between takes, and has an amazing library of jokes at his disposal. He does challenge you as a director -- but in that respectful way that improves each scene and offers choices in the editing room.

Casting Keith was complete serendipity. Imagine my surprise learning Steven's partner, Josh Silver, was Keith's manager. And now Josh is my manager -- and a better manager one could never ask for.

There are so many actors in this film whose work I've admired for years. To have the honor of working with them and getting to know them a bit was something I never expected to happen. And Keith did for BL what he does in everything: He elevated my script and made the movie better.

NOTE: The young man in the photo with Keith is C.J. Sanders who played young Ray Charles in the film Ray. A remarkable actor with a big future.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Reader Question


Gina worms her way into my heart by asking yet another question about me:
Say you were making this movie in the '30s, the '40s, or the '50s -- pick your favorite decade for classic films -- and you could cast absolutely anyone you wanted. Which actors would be appearing in "Beautiful Loser"? (If you want, you can stick to the adults; it might be easier than casting the teens.)
I would choose the forties. Let's say 1948. Then I would offer any role he wanted to John Wayne - The Greatest Movie Star In The History Of The World. Should he decline, this would be the line-up.

Reggie Adult: Dana Andrews. There was always a melancholy feel about him. If you've seen The Best Years Of Our Lives or Laura, you know what I mean. I think he's a terribly underrated actor with a unique quality that was never properly exploited.
Bonnie Adult: Barbara Stanwyck for two reasons: First: She was an intelligent brilliant actress. Second: So, I could hit on her.
Morgan Adult: Sterling Hayden. He could play a man with a secret. You never knew what you were getting when he appeared on screen. He could be the good guy or the bad guy. I like that quality. Keith David has that quality. It's hard to find.
Diego Adult: No brainer: Errol Flynn. I'd probably hit on him too, but am comfortable enough with my sexuality to admit tha-- er, make that joke. LOL! No, really: LOL!

Score is Done!

We do have a few time tweaks to finish, but all have listened and the love is mutual. James Covell did a magnificent job. And not just with the score. Also with me.

James was infinitely patient suffering through my learning curve. It is one thing to know what you want, it is entirely another to speaka-da-language. My fumbling around for the first couple drafts caused him much more work than he normally would've had to do. But he remained gracious throughout and his lovely wife Karen even brought cookies.

Couple songs to go and then all the music is finished. I still don't feel like it will ever end. I just feel like were closer to it never ending. ... I know that didn't make any sense. But it is a good example of what I put the composer through for six months.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Meet Cynthia Gibb

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Cynthia walked in for the reading and nailed it. It was love at first sight. She was marvelous. Unfortunately until the wonderful, splendid, lovely, perfect Caker came along we were not able to cast Cynthia because we couldn't find someone who looked like her. So, as all things happen in filmmaking, it came down to the last minute. We had to ask Cynthia if she would take the role with only a few days to prepare. You can imagine my anxiety waiting for that answer.

Cynthia plays Bonnie Adult, and I never made any secret of the fact that Bonnie was my favorite character in the picture. I can't explain why without giving away plot points and risking being crushed by a tree, but Bonnie's got a lot going on. I found her to be the most complicated character in the film, the most interesting, and the hardest to define. Which is why it was with this character I was less than helpful as a director.

There is no actor I let down more than Cynthia. Even though I instinctively understood Bonnie, the art of articulation failed when it came to translating that instinct. Because of that she was forced to go through take after frutrating take as I grappled to find it. And many times Steven would have to step in and help. But she was a total pro. She never complained or stopped trying. And she got it -- mostly in spite of me. I loved Bonnie on the page. I love her even more now.

Cynthia also created one of the more fetching moments of the film. There's this shot of her in a particular sequence where she looks right into the camera and smiles. It's killer. I've had a crush on her ever since. **Just don't tell the script supervisor.**