Monday, October 30, 2006

Forget Everything

I'm still sick. I wish I could say it was for something dramatic, like being poisoned by badass gunslinger and writer Brett, but the sad truth is that several days of moderate dissipation and heavy vegetable avoidance in Austin tends to set my system back a bit. I suppose following that up with camping along the Delaware River with my buddy Eric in Worthington State Forest last weekend didn't help. It wasn't quite Brokeback cold, fortunately, but cold enough. And wet.

But you don't want to hear my whiny self enumerate my physical woes. You want to hear about Austin. Always with you, it's Austin. Last week's hallucinatory tone poem about wayfarers wasn't enough. Fine.

So, Saturday night we're all hangin' in the Driskell lounge, and Shane Black is sitting there surrounded by screenwriter groupies (yes, Virginia), and so I decide to trouble Mr. Black with something that's been troubling me. I ask him how he deals with others' negativity towards one's projects that are deemed impossible, risky, or simply foolish. (Just for example: on paper, writing an expensive Norse epic on spec is not the kind of thing one is advised to do by those who tend to do the advising.) And this coming from friends.

And Shane said:

Forget all that stuff. Just write. Just focus on your craft, on creating a compelling narrative filled with characters that embody exactly what you want to say.

Those weren't exactly his words, but they're close enough, and hearing them was everything. And, incidentally, that is what Austin is all about. But wait, there's more.

The next morning, at his Up Close & Personal panel, Shane related how he was talking to this guy the previous night . . . and I thought, "Oh, boy, here we go," and then he said, "I hope he doesn't take this the wrong way," and I thought, "Oh, dear." And then Shane relayed pretty much the same counsel he'd offered me the night before. Only, apparently my carefully considered concerns had come out more like, "Who says I can't writing a Viking movie?"

What a way to cap off the conference. Sometimes the most important thing is to hear the things you know and fear to be true. Sometimes you risk more by not taking the risk. If you say “no” now, up front, then everyone down the line can’t say “yes.” If you can say “yes” to yourself, to your process, to your project, then everyone else has a chance at coming along too.

Yes, that was better than whining. Sick, cold, rain, good advice, affirmation, sun shining, feeling good, happy ending.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Return

You go away for a few days and the whole world falls apart. You struggle to stay awake in your appointed post in the normal world, to remember what others in the flourescent lighting know you for. You wake up at 1 pm, body struggling to regain equilibrium after diligent weeks of writing and four sleepless days at the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters’ Conference.

And you return again and again to those moments of magic transmission between those who have trodden the path and those who courageously seek the way. To the wayfarers at both stages of the journey, thank you for your abiding generosity and support. You know who you are.

Thanks to Jim of Maine for the picture.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Flotsam and Jetsam

Ho there, just a quick note as I prepare for the Austin Film Festival. There's more to this than stuffing T-shirts in a suitcase. I'm attempting to wedge my oversized heckler's routine in there, as well. I have to be ready when Tom goes off at the pitch competition. He promised not to perform only half of our winning pitch for American Jedi from last year's event. It took a few helpings of flan, but in the end he caved.

The big news on the home front is that (1) I recently started the actual drafting of my historical epic, after months of research and planning, and (b) yesterday I passed the Act I turning point and crossed into Act II. Or, rather, my protagonist did. He's holding up pretty well, all things considered, but he's in for it, poor guy.

Also, don't eat trans fats. You may have heard that New York state is considering getting rid of these nasties, which lurk in processed baked goods. The good people at the Weston A. Price Foundation were the first to alert us to their terrible powers, and now the good people in Denmark have banned them. I like good people.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

He'll Be Back: Jouko Gets the "And"

One of the things Jenifer and I like to do when watching movies or TV is to look for the "and." I don't know when or how this started, but we always check to see which actor is listed following the initial group of core actors, and introduced by "and." We're usually not crazy fans about any actors in particular -- excepting Jenifer's, um, "respect" for Keanu and my healthy appreciation for, say, Jennifer Garner. But we like to follow various quirky or rising performers; the solid, stealth performers; the David Morses of the acting world.

I noticed that Mark Wahlberg recently got the "and" in Martin Scorsese's latest offering, The Departed. He's probably not at the "level" of folks like Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, or Leonardo DiCaprio, so an "and" in a film of this magnitude is probably quite a good thing for his career. I haven't seen the film, but I'm betting that his character plays a clutch function, even if the role is shorter than those of the main characters. On The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, you have an elaborate credit listing that concludes with "Featuring Sean Bean and Ian Holm with Andy Serkis." Their characters all play smaller, key roles that inhabit significant turning points in the story.

So we were happy to see that our buddy Jouko Ahola got the "and" (or "och" in Swedish) for his latest film, the comedy 7 miljonärer, which premiered in Stockholm last week. Our favorite singing Finn plays Jerry, a fellow with a Terminator complex (no, they're not all like that). At a summer wedding held at a manor house, guests both invited and uninvited scheme to rob the wedding couple of their millions. By the looks of the photo above, I'd guess that Jouko's Jerry takes things a bit too far. You can see the trailer here.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Indian Yell: An Evening With Michael Blake

Friday night Jenifer and I drove in to Lancaster for a special event held by the Lancaster Literary Guild, where I had taken several screenwriting classes over the past couple years. Novelist and screenwriter Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves, was in the area to promote his new book and agreed to be a last-minute addition to the Guild’s lecture series.

Michael read selections from Indian Yell: The Heart of an American Insurgency, his first non-fiction work and the result of years of passionate research and advocacy. This is a guy who “lived like a running dog” for 12 years in Los Angeles before finding tremendous commercial and critical success with Dances With Wolves, winning the Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and WGA award for his adapted screenplay. As he described the highs and lows of living in a rented garage in “Lower Guatemala,” trying to break into the biz, I saw how his story, and its mysterious blend of chance, opportunity, and hard work, was no different than the story of anyone committed to walking a path. It’s always inspiring to see someone on the other side of success – and who’s still walking his path – and as gracious and generous a human being as Michael.

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