Worst Movie Idea Ever

I always have a hard time falling asleep at night—a direct correlation to the fact that I keep working in my head on whatever writing project I have lined up while trying fall asleep. After another five hour night, I decided to try another tactic. If I have to work out my thoughts before I fall asleep, why not work on something less stressful? This is how I came about trying to come up with the Worst Movie Idea Ever. What is less stressful than trying to come up with a pitch for what you know (or hope to be) the worst movie ever? Writers are always trying in vain to reach perfection (all the while painfully self-aware that perfection can never be attained), so why not ease the burden?

I do have several criteria for coming up with this hypothetical Worst Movie Idea Ever:

  1. It cannot be a recycled bad movie set in another place or with interchangeable characters. For (a bad) example: two tribes of warring Teddy Bears from a far off galaxy choose earth as their final battleground. So no transforming teddy bears allowed.
  2. It has to be high concept, easily explainable in a paragraph.
  3. It has to suck, but in such a sucky way that you could pause and think, “Hey, why hasn’t that been made into a movie yet?”

Okay, so with that prelude, here is my first attempt at the Worst Movie Idea Ever:

Cirque du Death

Circus performers all over America are turning up murdered. A clown in Topeka is found mutilated in the cotton candy mixer; a trapeze artist in Des Moines is found half-eaten in the lion’s cage; a bearded lady in El Paso is blown up in a clown car... The FBI knows that a circus serial killer is on the loose, but have no clue how to capture the culprit until a young agent convinces the FBI to stage their own circus, with crack performers from all over the world. The serial killer would have no choice but to take the bait… but the killer is more cunning than they could ever imagine. As circus performer after circus performer meets their doom, the young FBI agent—undercover as a lion tamer—must solve the crimes before the Big Top Killer preys on him.

Problem is, I think this is a little too good to be the Worst Movie Idea Ever (JLZ—formally JLG—even went as far as to say she couldn’t wait to see it in 3-D, and another friend said he would put money on it as the next big summer comedy…)… maybe I have to come up with something better (worse). Ideas (good and bad) are always appreciated.


Montreal Gives Cole Encouraging Review

Arts and Opinion, a fine Montreal magazine, recently gave Cole a grand review. A glimpse at Robert J. Lewis' article:

Memorably caught in the cross hairs of Bessai’s relentlessly roving eye are the film’s many subplots that are neatly warped and woofed into a cohesive narrative. In a writing class, Cole meets Serafina (Kandyse McClure), who is Black and beautiful and wears gold. But contrary to expectation, their budding relationship will be forced to run not the race but the class gauntlet. Cole’s small-minded friends, who fear the written word, resent him for writing about what he knows best, but they don’t want to let him go. With a way out, Cole has to decide what kind of relationship he’s to have with Lytton and Serafina, and his sister who refuses to get tough on spousal abuse.

Cole is a film whose many parts are more than equal to the sum of life in the boondocks, whose agenda keeps on rolling long after the films credits have rolled by. One can only hope that the film’s marketers will do as good a job as the film’s makers and actors. Kudos to Carl Bessai and his talented team with a big time nod to the note-perfect, home-grown soundtrack.

Read the rest of the review here.

Makes me want to move to Montreal. Also, Lewis mentions the fine soundtrack, which I highly encourage you to check out here, and support these great indie artists through the website, itunes, and simply word of mouth.


What else? Rewriting!

I haven't had a chance to mention this yet, but Cole is playing tomorrow as part of Canada Screens Vancouver. Check out the information for screening and dinner at the First Weekend Club website here. Richard and Carl will be there to answer questions and give high fives.

So besides spending my past month getting married (woot!), I've been busy re-writing Northbridge and acclimating myself to the rain in Seattle. More good news on the way soon... (I hope).


Bessai Talks Cole avec Nouveau Cinema Montreal

Here's a nice little video of Carl Bessai talking about Cole on Skype to preview our film for the nouveau cinema fest in Montreal. The "young man from Michigan" he mentions is me (I hope).



What a week!

Just got back to Seattle from Vancouver last night... Cole screened on Thursday to a sold out theater and then on Friday to a healthy matinee crowd at the huge Visa Screening Room. Even though this is a biased POV, it seemed that the audience received the film well.

The best part of the early weekend for me was the continuing generosity from the cast, crew and producers who welcomed me as part of the Cole family, allowing me to participate in the Q&As and making me feel like I belonged. I especially wanted express my gratitude to Rampart Films and Rampart Capital, whose unwavering generosity has made this whole unforgettable experience possible.

Not only has Cole won best Canadian Feature at the Atlantic Film Festival, but we received a five star review from the Edmonton Vue Weekly (read the review here).

These small achievements boost the self-esteem up a notch as I face an exciting Northbridge rewrite and the daunting task of writing wedding vows (Two weeks from today I get hitched to the beautiful JLG-- two weeks!).



Well, a couple of reviews are in for Cole. The two biggest so far come from the CBC and Variety. First, Eli Glasner's CBC review:

COLE ****

Cole is a big movie about a small town. Our eyes and ears are Cole, an aspiring writer struggling with multiple problems including a catatonic mother and his sister's useless drunk of a husband.

Then, life gets more complicated when Cole meets another aspiring writer played by Kandyse McClure (seen recently in Battlestar Galactica.)

The pedantic plot doesn't do justice to this extremely moving film.

Imagine a tone poem filled with summer skies, long drives and an absent mother's eyes. To quote Cole himself it's "definitely beautiful.

Not bad, right? We got a half a star more than the much anticipated movie The Road.

Now, a piece of John Anderson's Variety review:

Drama needs conflict, but what Bessai offers mostly is tension. One waits all through the movie for Cole to do something about Bobby (Willett is a convincingly nasty example of the Angry White Guy), whose behavior is beyond reprehensible, and it's significant that what pushes Cole over the edge isn't Bobby's treatment of his sister, but of her son. What Adam Zang's script is really about, although no one involved seems to know it, is domestic abuse: Just as the movie gives the issue secondary status, so do the people in the film.

Ehh... not so good. But! A brilliant movie fan posts this in the comments section of the review:

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I've never read a review by you until today. It's unfortunate you didn't see the true gem that "Cole" really is. It may not have "A" list actors. The story may be a simple one about a little family in a little town, but what makes "Cole" stand out from other films of this genre, is that you really care about EVERY CHARACTER in this film...good and bad. I haven't felt this compassionate about a simple little movie, since "The Good Girl", some seven years ago. In your opinion, the ending may not have ended like you so desired, but then, when does real life do that?
"Cole" deserves every accolade it will hopefully receive.

Thanks for coming to our defense, good sir.


TIFF Update

Back in Seattle from beautiful Toronto. We all survived the premiere, a Q&A, and an afterparty. Exhausting, cathartic, and sweaty... pretty much the only words I have to describe it right now.

The audience and those we heard talking in Toronto seemed to enjoy, if not love, the film. The new review in Variety isn't as kind. I'll make sure to get a post up this weekend with more details and a running journal of sorts about what transpired over the last four days in Ontario...


To Celebrate Ernie Harwell

There are thousands of reasons to love baseball, so many reasons that I find myself writing at least one baseball reference into pretty much anything I try to write (which always get edited out—because editors, in general, do not know baseball). And so it makes me extremely sad that Ernie Harwell is dying and not enough people know how great an impact he has had.

I’m not good with details, but I know Harwell was announcing baseball before I was born. I know that his was the first voice I heard describing the beauty of a Sweet Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammel double play. His was the voice I heard when I cried after Guillermo Hernandez blew the ’89 pennant for the Tigers. When my parents were fighting late into the night, his pipes filled my Walkman Sport headphones, assuring me that the Tigers were playing in Oakland and everything would be okay. I know I’m writing in the passive voice, but that’s how Harwell would like it… describing things slowly, announcing the score every couple of minutes just in case someone new tuned in.

Every time I see “a house by the side of the road” (google this phrase if you don’t know it, I implore you) I think of Harwell. Babe Ruth reminds me of Harwell (my father gave me Harwell’s book The Babe Signed My Shoe for Christmas in 1994). The Detroit Tigers remind me of Harwell, and I follow them every day…

Upon learning of his impending death, Harwell remarked that he was doing okay because he could eat ice cream again, like when he was a kid, and not gain weight. He still goes for walks with his wife, and holds her hand everywhere. There is something profoundly sad and uplifting about this. Ernie seems okay with where he is going, but I’m not. I wish he could still announce those games, that I could put them on my ipod and fall asleep to them—I don’t care if the Tigers lose every game like they used to—I just want Ernie to call them.

Ernie reminds me what it’s like to think hope springs eternal (listen to his first game of spring training broadcast and don’t tell me you won’t promise to be a better person), to love green grass and curveballs, and to never forget what kind of joy a ballgame can bring. I always thought that these things, like baseball, like Ernie Harwell, were immortal.

To be contrite and screenwriter-centric, Ernie has been my voiceover for these past 26 years. All I want to do is to not think about this, but I know that he would say differently: for you Mr. Harwell: I will not stand by the side of the road and watch this one go by.



Cole's website has a brand new look-- including a behind the scenes making of documentary and a link to a Reel West Richard de Klerk behind the scenes diary. All worth checking out. I suggest you follow this link here for a chance to see what I look like as background wallpaper.

Thank you, JLG, for the photo.


TIFF Write Up

The Toronto International Film Festival has published write-ups of all of this year's films on their website. Check out the nice little synopsis and critique they give Cole here.

A brief snippet:

Cole is an intense and insightful drama from director Carl Bessai and writer Adam Zang. Bessai turns his lens from his typical urban setting to more rural surroundings, and finds both beauty and pathos. Using the town of Lytton as a character itself, Bessai paints an authentic and honest portrait of small-town Canadian life. He also coaxes stirring performances from his cast: de Klerk and McClure anchor the film with their casual intimacy, while Forrester makes a strong debut as the young Rocket. But most searing is the go-for-broke performance by Willett, whose riveting and at times terrifying Bobby embodies the film's tension between hope and despair.


TIFF Update

Vancouver Film School has done a brief profile about Cole and my plans for the Toronto International Film Festival here.

Here is a full synopsis
of all the Canadian films at TIFF from their official website. Just let me say that I am proud, as an American, to be included in the Canadian lineup. No schedule released as of yet.

Also, here is a link to the Province, which has a nice blurb about Cole and a great picture of Verne Troyer (also a fellow Michigander!) with Terry Gilliam.

Things are busier than ever in Rewrite Land. Getting a Northbridge draft ready to send out to the Titlecard guys tomorrow, and shoring up the first draft of my heist spec with fellow (I've used "fellow" twice already in this post-- I need a break from writing) VFS grad Sean Minogue (who also happened to write the brilliant VFS profile).

Time to get back to it...


Cole to Premiere at Toronto

Here we go... Cole has been officially selected to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Woot!

From writing a first draft in the rain in Vancouver, to working on dialogue on a train to Michigan, to finishing up a final polish on the drive home to Seattle... I officially have a written by credit premiering at TIFF. Crazy.

You can read a brief synopsis of the official selections in Variety (Variety!) here, where Cole and Carl Bessai get a nice little mention. You can also read a full selection of the films here.

I will post more as a schedule is published and more news released, but in the meantime you can still watch the Cole trailer here.


The Not Knowing

I am learning from screenwriting is that no matter how many projects you have, there will always be great amounts of waiting, big black holes of time that might drive a person crazy.

I currently have three screenplays in various stages of development.

1. Northbridge. This script I’ve been working since the summer of 2006 is undergoing a final polish before sending it out to actors. I have notes up until page 34 on the polish, which I have integrated into the script. I am waiting for the rest.

2. The End of the World (as she knows it). I completed a draft where I took out all of the wheelchairs and sent it out to the company from Hollywood who is showing interest. I’m waiting for it to be read again.

3. Cold War Portrait. A heist film set in the early 1960s I’m writing with Sean Minogue. We finished a draft we are finally happy with and sent it out to be story edited. I am waiting for notes to come back.

Should I start another screenplay while I wait? Maybe I’ll just throw some TNT Pop-Its! on the sidewalk and enjoy a cocktail on this 4th of July and try not to go crazy…

While you wait you can always watch the Cole trailer here. It’s a movie I wrote and we’re waiting to see what festivals it will play at this fall…


Things Changes

Just finishing up another draft of The End of the World. I used the word "wheelchair" 13 times in my last draft; I now have 0 mentions of wheelchair in my new draft.

That's rewriting, my friends.


Carl Bessai's Projects

Read about what Carl Bessai has been up to since directing Cole. The article mentions the movie I wrote while Carl splices film (can you splice digital footage?):

"Then I'm going to stop this nonsense," laughs Bessai, tearing himself away from 15 hard drives full of Fathers and Sons footage that need attention.

His choice of words seems strange, until he elaborates on why he needs to get back to doing more conventional films such as Cole, his upcoming drama, shot in Lytton last summer, about a young man seeking to escape his small-town roots.


10 Worst Netflix Movies

As I finish writing about the end of the world (and hope that none of my movies will ever end up on a list like this) here is the follow up to my last post: the 10 worst movies I watched from Netflix this year. My criteria for this list was that 1. I had to have expectations for the movie (so Transformers and Good Luck Chuck are disqualified) and 2. this had to be my first viewing of the film.

On the titles, I have linked to their Netflix page, and have also updated my 10 best list likewise here.

10. First Snow

Guy Pearce knows he's going to die when it snows. Sounds cool, right? A movie with an incredible preview that never lived up to its potential.

9. Gia

This is the movie that made Angelina’s career, so I was interested in seeing her before the time she became the arch-nemesis of every woman in America. And you know what? I discovered that ‘90’s AIDS movies are awfully dated. Watch Philadelphia again and you’ll understand what I mean.

8. Body of Lies

Um, so Russell Crowe + Leonardo Dicaprio = awesomeness… right? Um… nuh-uh. How could this movie be so flat? It just proves actors do not write the scripts, I suppose.

7. Eagle Vs. Shark

Does the fact that this movie is so unfunny mean that Napoleon Dynamite is unfunny too? I know Jon Heder is unfunny. Normally I like it when people dress up like animals (I’m not ashamed to admit I actually enjoyed The Animal, a powerhouse Rob Schneider joint), but I had trouble watching this one all the way through.

6. Frozen River

This is the movie that inspired me to write this list. It won (or was nominated) for some independent spirit awards, Melissa Leo was nominated for best actress… and I don’t see it, I really don’t. The protagonist was not sympathetic (she shot her husband in the foot! She tossed a Pakistani baby out of her car!), which isn’t Melissa Leo’s fault, but the writer/director’s. The dialogue was stilted and there is perhaps the worst gunfight scene in the history of gunfights. If you have a low budget movie, you really need to make sure your characters and story are pitch perfect, and Frozen River missed on a lot of these things.
As an addendum, there are some scenes where Leo was in her underwear, and I think I remember hearing something about how brave it was of a middle-aged woman to showcase her vulnerability like that. Some other critics commented that it was “brave” of Kate Winslet to not shave her armpits in The Reader. Others thought Kathy Bates was brave for going hot tub naked in About Schmidt. Halle Barry was brave for doin’ it with Billy Bob in Monster’s Ball. Enough! You know who was brave? Lori Laughlin’s stunt double in RAD. You know who’s doublebrave? The dude who got chewed out by Christian Bale. I would’ve pooped myself if I had Batman/John Connor/MomBeater yelling at me like that.

5. The Tracey Fragments

I think Ellen Page is awesome, so I was excited about a Canadian indie film with her in it… after five minutes I had a splitting headache—normally solid director Bruce McDonald uses seemingly infinite split and intercut screens—and had to turn it off when McDonald cross cut Ellen Page running through her yard with a stallion running through a field.

4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Arguably the best title ever for a movie (or book), I was really looking forward to this film. Daniel Day Lewis, however, made me feel very very unclean. He was awesome in There Will Be Blood, but as a European womanizing doctor, he made me want to throw up a little.

3. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

This. Movie. Stinks.

2. Serpico

There should be a Serpico drinking game where you have to do a shot every time he switches hats. I bet he wears at least 11 different hats in this movie, maybe 12.

1. The Invisible/Awake

Was this the same movie? I remember seeing the trailer for The Invisible and thinking it looked like a cool idea, so I had some expectations going into it. Arg. I will not get those 180 minutes of my life back that I spent watching Hayden Christenson and Justin Chatwick yell at people who couldn’t hear them. “Step making movies this horrible!! Why can’t you hear me??!! Stop! Just… stop…”


Top Ten Netflix Movies

I’ve reached my one year anniversary with my Netflix subscription and thought it would interesting to do a retrospective of the ten (plus one) best and worst movies I’ve had mailed to my apartment. The criteria I set for this list is that it had to be a movie/show I hadn’t seen before and it had to have arrived in the mail in a little red envelope.

I’ll post the ten (plus one) best here and then get the ten worst up sometime soon.

10. Manderlay

What a great ending. If you felt like you could do anything and not be judged or held accountable for it, would you do it? Say you did, and then found out you had to be held accountable? Devastating.

9. Hot Rod

Are you allowed to be nostalgic for the days when you could ride a dirt bike (before they had motors) and wear a cyber glove while playing Duck Hunt? Watch this movie and allow yourself. Make sure to watch RAD, in which Lori Laughlin from Full House plays a champ BMX rider and has a stand-in who is a man, has creepy long hair and chest hair. Then stir and enjoy.

8. The Killing

The end of this film is like a bad dream. One of those dreams where your legs don’t work. Kubrick has impeccable pacing and is in full control the whole time.

7. Storytelling

If a movie can make you feel uncomfortable, this one is it. This movie is best because of Paul Giamatti, but you also get to see Selma Blair get her comeuppance at the hands of an Autistic ex-boyfriend, which is just… kind of uncomfortable. In a good way.

6. sex, lies and videotape

I am a huge fan of Steven Soderberg and even though this was his first movie, it was the last movie of his that I had seen. Just… how do you make this story up? And how you you tell it like that?

5. Breaking the Waves

I can understand why Emily Watson is awesome after watching this film. When I watch movies, I usually ask myself if I could have thought of it, and the answer with this one is most definitely no. Lars von Trier thinks like no one else and that’s what makes this film great.

4. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly/The Sea Inside

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. No film school teacher will ever say again that you cannot write a movie about a quadriplegic (which happened quite a bit to me). Buy both of these movies and enjoy them. It will make you thankful.

3. Let the Right One In

After watching this, I believed vampires could be real. Take that, Twilight.

2. Fitzcarraldo

I was just rereading some Bukowski and he mentions running into Werner Herzog at a screening in the ‘80’s and admits an admiration for a film director who can get in a pistol fight with his girlfriend. Fitzcarraldo is an amazing fit of insanity. Watch the Molly getting tugged up the mountain and don’t tell me you feel a rush. What a crazy and inspiring film.

1. Summer Heights High

Any time a writer can play the most popular girl in high school, a sexually ambiguous theater teacher, and a Polynesian kid who tags “(a picture of a penis)tation” (dicktation!) all over school deserves many many kudos.

0. This is England

The best coming of age movie I have ever seen, and this includes Stand by Me.


A new layout

I've gone Western and I think it is a good move.

Some updates:

1. I'm mid-rewrite for THE END OF THE WORLD AS SHE KNOWS IT. Making changes that will make it awesome.... I hope.
2. "The Black Hole in the Kitchen" wrapped in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago. Director Elliot Eustis promises awesomeness.
3. Enjoying free cable for the moment.


Good news

So you know that story I just posted, this one? It won the short story contest. Pretty nice, eh. I get free copyrights for a year, so if anyone needs something copyrighted, I'm your guy. I'm more than happy to help out.

You can see the results for the nycmidnight.com short story challenge here.


Here is a posting of my final round story for the nycmidnight.com short story challenge, written in 24 hours.

Subject: Neighbors
Genre: Science Fiction

A short story

Synopsis: The moving island he lives on is barely big enough to hold twelve houses, but when a young man investigates the inner-workings of his neighbors, he realizes that there is a darker mechanism at work behind their methodical lives.

The Island
It is nine hundred and six yards by six hundred and fifty-seven yards. The soil goes as deep as Pedro’s forearm before it hits impenetrable rock. The tallest tree is almost five feet, which grows almost in the exact center of the island. As a sign of respect, the local government lets the oldest man on the island, Dr. Abdul, enjoy its limited shade. Dr. Abdul sits facing east in the morning and west in the afternoon. At midday, he goes for a swim—one oval lap, counterclockwise—the white line on his spine from the tree trunk flanked by his bronzed and weathered shoulder blades.

The People and Its History
Pedro is in love with Maybell, but he will be forever two houses away from her. There are thirteen people total and it has been stated, through the history books that are kept under Mr. Underhill’s seaweed mattress, that the island can only support this many. When Dr. Abdul dies, Tomas and Maybell will get married and have one child, and Madame Devereaux will get to enjoy the shade under the tree. After Madame Devereaux dies, Pedro will marry Ula, a short unpleasant girl whose parents are professors in charge of research and development in Houses Eight and Nine.
When Pedro asks Mr. Underhill to see the history books, Mr. Underhill tells him that when eight more people die, it will be his turn to see them, and then he will understand why it has to go in that order.

Their Houses
Twelve in all, they are built out of driftwood and layered kelp. When it rains, the island’s residents take down their roofs and suck at the fresh water fibers until they are dry again and ready to be re-hung like paper maché shingles. Pedro lives in House Three, moving in four months ago after Madame Burress died, her head slumped, her back raw from tree bark and bitten by ants.
There is a piece of paper on Pedro’s wall, framed by glass. In so many words, it tells him that he is now the provider for the island, that they now depend on him for kelp, the water in the spinal cords of sharks, the protein from red snapper filets. He has a thinning rope, coiled expertly next to the doorway, and fish bone hooks, mounted next to the glass frame in descending order.
For five years, he served as Tomas’ apprentice in House Two, the glass plaque on its wall promising respect and admiration when he mastered his understudy. He learned how to weave sturdy nets and how to bait a shark to chase him, leading the unsuspecting animal toward Tomas’ unyielding spear. It was a thrill as a twelve-year-old, to race against death, to be stung by jellyfish and laugh when he tried to urinate on himself to ease the pain, but now Ula is in his old house, and Tomas is Captain Expeditionist, one death away from marrying Maybell, getting to spend nine months in her house, in hibernation.
He is free to visit Ula in his old house, which he is not interested in, and the new infant in House One, a girl, who he feeds caviar from the wombs of Beluga Sturgeon while Madame Devereaux holds her, smiling and toothless.
Pedro is not allowed to visit anyone else, but they visit him, asking him about rations, debating when the next storm will come, the next cold spell. He asks about Tomas and Maybell, but the local government is mum on their activities. In the quiet of the night air he has heard whispers that Tomas is preparing to attack a whale, which Maybell has been tracking. The constant tick from the grandfather clock in House Five keeps time moving, helping Maybell chart their path.
Right before he falls asleep, his hands chafed, Pedro wishes Tomas will die in his hunt so that he can be Maybell’s neighbor and slay the killer whale, and then he can be a hero in the history books.

At Night, When the Moon Gives No Shadow
Pedro often sits under the tree, while Dr. Adbul sleeps next to him, in a ditch worn in the sand like a question mark. It is here that he realizes the reason why he loves Maybell: because she is disconnected from the rest of them and their consoling touches that do not mean a thing. She shrinks away from them and they laugh at her skittishness.

The Speed of Travel
Pedro has been increasing his lung capacity, diving down and picking mussels from the crevices in the hard black rock. He can feel the saltwater surge past his face as the island picks up speed or slows down. As he dives deeper, he can feel the rock narrow, like a cone, as the water gets colder, but he cannot see where it ends, not yet.
Some days, the island moves so fast that Dr. Abdul is left behind and Pedro has to fling out his rope, which the old man manages to always catch in his sinewy hands. Sometimes, Dr. Abdul likes to be dragged along, the water breaking around his thin body, smiling like a sea turtle.

A Miracle
Maybell sits under the tree, her shoulder blades touching his around the tree trunk. The only sounds on the island are Dr. Abdul’s rasping breaths and the sharks snorting next to the beach. She feels larger than Pedro imagined, a woman, perhaps thirty. He holds his breath for forty-five, fifty seconds, and then she sighs.
“The depths of the ocean are changing. The current is unpredictable,” she says. “Can you remember that?”
Pedro imagines what he could say, how his hands hurt, about how he dived down to a passing reef and saw an anemone and it reminded him of her, a dream he had, floating with her in the buoyant sea, on their way to another island…
He feels Maybell stand up and scratch a calf against the bark and then she pads off. He turns to see her entering her house, the freckles on her back descending like a tree branch, falling leaves on her rolling hips…

The Family Tree
Pedro is an orphan. How he came to be, he does not know, but he thinks it is noted in the history books. Deputy Mayor and Mayor de la Cruz begat the new baby and the Professors Vizquel and Mr. and Mrs. Underhill are Ula and Tomas’ proud parents, respectfully.
Maybell is also a mystery. While they were de-veining shrimp, Tomas told him that she was found in an innertube with a tin of sardines and a faded postcard that Dr. Abdul, then in charge of history, pasted in volume four of the history books. The story has some merit as a deflated innertube patches one of the Mayor’s walls, and a red Cresta Blanca tin adorns the entryway to Mrs. Underhill’s home, pounded flat so that it glints when the sun rises.

A Strange Encounter
Inside his house, Pedro meticulously manufactures a barbed hook out of a shark rib. It is a tedious process, but one that he enjoys, letting his mind wander toward Maybell, imagining that she would appreciate his diligence and skill, praising him with a secret touch on the wrist at a chance encounter on his way out to dive for food. A shadow interrupts his rhythm, and he looks up and sees Mrs. Underhill in the doorway, her chest badly sunburned, the underside of her breasts comically white.
“I seem to have fallen asleep on the beach,” she says, wringing her gray hair. “The breeze was so soothing, but now look at me.”
Pedro gives her a cask of fish oil, which she rubs into her skin. “Mr. Underhill is so preoccupied these days,” she says. “With his books.” She hands him the cask, which he corks. “There are ways to pass the time, Pedro, much more rewarding than making fishhooks. It’s not frowned upon.”
Pedro looks down at his feet, the hairs on his arches standing on end.
“It’s in the guidelines, it’s my right to do as I please.”
When he looks back up though, she’s gone.

The History Books
There are four volumes in all, of varying sizes. At town hall meetings Mr. Underhill sometimes references them, careful to lean over the pages, so no one can steal a glance. Out of respect, he offers them to Madame Devereaux, but she shakes her head sadly each time, her eyes rheumy and clouded, unable to see anything but the sun and doorways to the houses.

A Revelation
It has been raining for some time. His kelp roof is saturated, so Pedro crawls into the tunnel he has reinforced with fish paste and compost. The island rock next to his body is warm and soothing, like it’s heated from a distant molten core. He finds himself drifting off to sleep when Maybell crawls inside next to him. The first thing that happens is that he gets an erection, immediately. The second thing that happens is that he smells her breath, and it is like salty air moving over hot sand.
“I’m pregnant,” she says. “And there is no more room on this island.”

The Guidelines
Mr. Underhill has made sure to outline the rules clearly. If a person does his job well, he gets to move into a new house, and be rewarded for his hard work. There is always something to look forward to: fornication, increased responsibility, power, rest. These promises made Pedro hone his skills as Tomas’ apprentice, and Tomas will take the risk in a whale hunt in order to someday be Deputy Mayor and then Mayor of the island. Mr. Underhill will make sure these guidelines are followed so that he may someday relax under the tree and swim laps at midday.

A Suggestion
He watches Maybell stretch her toes out, the bottoms of her feet like leather moccasins.
“Who’s the father?” Pedro asks, his tongue thick in his mouth.
“I don’t know.”
She slides out of the trench and stands in Pedro’s house, hunched over, water dripping over her moist curly hair and down her eyebrows and over her full lips. “There’s something on the horizon, but I don’t know if there’s time. If you can, Pedro, remember your lessons.”
She leaves and Pedro lies still, paralyzed, wondering what she means. He can hear Tomas sharpening his tools next door.

When It Stops Raining
Pedro emerges from his house and takes down his roof. He sees the others on the island: Professor Vizquel cracking his back inside Maybell’s house, revealed when Mayor de la Cruz helps her remove the thatches; Mrs. Underhill wringing the water from her roof into a cistern, sunburn peeling; Dr. Abdul examining his pruned fingertips; Tomas laying out his tools, stealing a secret glance at Ula, her arms bruised and cut; the baby cries in Madame Devereaux’s arms, her gummy smile no cure for the bite marks on the infant’s cheeks.
Pedro feels uneasy when the island lurches forward, catching a current, and he spends the day being sick, holding his head inches above the rushing water.

Weak and shaky, Pedro stands outside of Maybell’s house. “I’ll save you,” he whispers, the constant ticking coming from inside her walls.
With the island sleeping, he digs a shallow tunnel under Mr. Underhill’s house, finding the cubby under his mattress that contains the books. Pedro hooks the books, one by one and drags them out into the open. The first volume is a manual on how to tell time, with pictures of clock faces and the difference between a minute hand and an hour hand. The manual soon diverges into different forms of timekeeping, and Pedro quickly gets lost in the jargon, as if the author was dreaming while writing it. The second and third volumes are full of handwritten rules, the first one being, “You are entitled to add one additional rule when these volumes are in your possession.” Pedro scans the lines, some taking entire pages, others a single word.
“This is an expedition.”
“This is work and we will be diligent and true to our goals.
“This is a way to pass the time.”
“This is a game and there is no longer a need to keep records of our actions.”
“You are entitled to visit each house you have inhabited and do as you please to each inhabitant.”
“Haley’s comet can be seen every seventy- five to seventy-six years and its orbit is highly elliptical.”
“This is life.”
“Pedro shall never know how we found him.”
“Until he reads this book.”
“And he will write another guideline, as we have all done.”
“If the guidelines are broken, the consequences are fatal.”
In the fourth volume, there is only a photograph of a small boy, carrying a tin of sardines, floating in an innertube. The caption reads: “He came from somewhere, and so there is hope that someday, we will return there.”

The Guidelines Are Broken
Pedro quietly lets himself into Maybell’s house, where she sleeps on cattails.
“I remember learning about this now,” he says, not waking her.
He examines the grandfather clock’s face. It appears to be approaching midnight, but then Pedro looks closer and sees that the minute hand isn’t a minute hand and that the hour hand isn’t an hour hand.
The glass plaque on Maybell’s wall instructs her that she is the timekeeper and cartographer, that it is her responsibility to make sure the clock continues to run, and that the importance of this matter is grave, and that she will appreciate the significance of the endeavor in due time.
“They didn’t know how long the orbit took so they did this.”
Maybell sits up, rubbing her eyes.
“Before I was shipwrecked, I remember learning in school. An expedition was formed. Volunteers. Do you know how to read the clock?”
Maybell nods. “Somewhat.”
“How long?”
“Close to nine hundred years.”
“And how long have the men come to your house—?”
“Since I can remember.”
She nods.
“Is leaving them here punishment enough?
“Take away their rules and make them start over without justification.”

The Current
Maybell and Pedro sit at the water’s edge. He takes the picture out of volume four and sets the book adrift in the current and it travels off, volume three, two and one follow the same path.
“We’re out of time,” she says. “When the sun comes up.”
“There’s a chance we’re close.”
“Or we could be one hundred years away.”
“Or more.”
“How do you know that there is anything out there?”
“I could have made it up in a dream.”
“You could have.”
“Is that worse than this?”
Just as the sky turns morning gray, they slide into the water, their bellies bobbing in the air, hands held tight, fingers interlocking, their shoulder blades like rudders guiding them along the current.

Chad Van Gaalen is a Rocker...

Jessica and I had a chance to see Chad Van Gaalen at Chop Suey Friday night... Here's proof:

Chad has some songs on the Cole soundtrack, I movie that I wrote. It was pretty cool to see him live finally. All in all, a good night. Check out his music if you get a chance... itunes even has some samples, I believe.


Crazy Town...

Again, things are snowballing and gaining momentum...

  1. I'm halfway through a first half rewrite for Northbridge. Director Lynne came down from Vancouver and we met up in Seattle a couple of weeks ago to plot out the first half of the story. She's coming down in a another two weeks for notes on the second half. It'll be good, whatever it turns out to be. Lynne has a killer story editor brain and we'll for sure make it into something special.
  2. The heist movie I'm writing with Sean is at page 77... a couple of more weeks and then we'll be ready to start rewriting. ("Writing is rewriting," Lynne reminded me.)
  3. I've had a few phone conversations with a Hollywood exec about The End of the World (as she knows it) and I'm working with him on coming up with a new outline and then I get to tackle a rewrite. (!!!)
  4. I came in first place for the first round heat in the nycmidnight.com short story contest. Proof is here. And in case you missed it, the story is posted here. The final round is Saturday... wish me luck.
  5. Elliot found actors and a camera lens, so it looks like "The Black Hole in the Kitchen" will go into production sometime in the near future.
  6. I spent three hours of my life watching Forrest Gump, err, Benjamin Button age backward.


The Docket

So, this guy has been very busy lately. Here's a couple of things that are happening:

  1. I reached another rewrite agreement with the guys at Titlecard Pictures, so director Lynne is driving down to Seattle on Thursday and we're spending two days at the Silver Cup Coffee offices working on a strategy for the next Northbridge draft.
  2. My best pal Elliot is developing my short script "The Black Hole in the Kitchen" in Minneapolis. "Black Hole" is about what happens when a middle-age couple discovers a black hole in their kitchen (duh) and must come to terms with life, love and the unknown...
  3. Spending much time on a very elaborate (zombie) Valentine for fiancee Jessica and loving every minute of it.
  4. Working on a feature heist script with Sean Minogue, Canadian screenwriter extraordinaire and VFS classmate (the first time I've written with someone else), which is coming along swimmingly.
And then some.


14 easy steps to finding representation

In late June or so, right after Cole wrapped I decided to make my first concerted effort to find a literary agent to represent me, firmly believing that I was ready to send my new scripts off the world at large.

I bought a Hollywood Creative Directory, circled 62 potential agents I could send queries to (crossing out agencies that only represent child actors and animators, underlining small boutique agencies), polished my writing resume and had a friend design a poster to go along with my one-sheet for my latest spec script.

I packaged the a query letter bragging about myself, a resume (resumes are brag sheets, always), and the one-sheet (which bragged about how great my new script was) with the poster on the other side (the poster is posted at the top of this page--thanks Laura Walker!). So here is what happened after I sent out my 62 query letters with SASEs.

  1. Early July... I get my first return letter... it is from Creative Artists! I rip open the thick envelope... It contains a letter: "Sorry, our lawyers forbid us from opening unsolicited materials. We DID NOT READ your query." The envelope contains my envelope unopened. I save my unused SASE. Maybe for later.
  2. Later early July. I receive my first hand-written response: "Sorry, we are not taking on new clients."
  3. Later, later early July: "Sorry, your logline did not grab me."
  4. Later, later later early July: More unread queries: "We PROMISE WE DID NOT READ YOUR QUERY LETTER." More SASEs and stamps to salvage.
  5. A brief hand-written note, a glass of water in the middle of the desert: "Great idea. Give me a call when you have it registered." I call the agent's number. She informs me that she does not often get down to LA, but if I find a buyer for the script, she would be happy to make sure the contract is legit. Awesome.
  6. Finally, a response that seems legitimate: "Dear Adam, Change of Fate seems interesting, please send a copy my way." This one is from an agent at a boutique, so I print out a copy, use my saved up stamps from the returned SASEs and send out the script. Three weeks later, the agent calls me. Here is a rough outline of what was said:
"Hi, Adam."
"I read Change of Fate."
"Thank you for taking the time to do that."
"I wasn't really grabbed by it."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm looking for something more like Wedding Crashers."
"Okay, but Change of Fate is a coming of age drama. Is there anything I could do to make it better, maybe more marketable?"
"I'm really looking for something like Wedding Crashers."
"Do you have any other scripts?"
I pitch him the script I'd been working on, a post-apocalyptic romantic comedy.
"Okay, send it to me when you're done. Sounds promising"

Second Act:
  1. A month later, the agent I have sent my new script to, a post-apocalyptic romantic comedy, calls me. We have the same awkward intro conversation, and then he cuts to the chase: "Your script didn't really grab me. I'm really looking for something like Wedding Crashers, but original, and with depth." Awesome.
  2. A couple of weeks later, I meet with Northbridge producers Dylan and Kimani and director Lynne. We have lasagne and then go hang out in a Chinatown nightclub and chat with Terry Chen, who played Ben Fong-Torres, the editor of Rolling Stone in Almost Famous. He expresses interest in seeing Cole. It was a goofy night.
  3. The next morning Lynne and I go over notes for Northbridge. She mentions that her agent in Toronto has read my scripts and might want to talk to me about representation.
  4. I turn in the re-write for Northbridge, Lynne says her agent is interested in talking with me. I make sure he isn't interested in only reading scripts like Wedding Crashers, but different.
  5. I send Lynne's agent, Carl Liberman from Characters in Toronto, my post-apocalyptic romantic comedy.
  6. He loves it. The characters grab him.
  7. Carl calls and says he wants to represent me.
  8. It's just that easy.


George, Louise ... Elsa

It's another year and another nycmidnight.com short story contest... Here is my first round entry:

Genre: Historical Fiction
Subject: A Street Vendor

George, Louise ... Elsa

George sat in the aisle seat, his back stiff, afraid to move because he hated the sound the medals made on his lapel. The stewardess had continued to offer him cocktails and food throughout the flight from New York, because, she had reasoned, heroes deserved everything the airline could offer. He held up his hand in protest, the brief movement jangling the stars, like a church tower in his ears, painful as a migraine.
The boy sitting next to George kicked his legs into the seat in front of him as his mother smoked a cigarette and gazed out the window. The boy stared at George for a moment, the medals hanging in the air. “Have you been on an airplane before?” the boy asked.
“Yes,” said George.
“How come?”
“Because I had to.”
“Were you ever in an airplane that crashed?”
“No, but I have friends who were.”
“How come?”
“I suppose they didn’t have a choice.”
“No, I mean how come your plane didn’t crash?”
“I guess because I made sure that they were fixed.”
“If I was in the army, I would want to be the one who shot people from the back of the airplane.”
“Yeah. Did you ever get a turn to do that?”
“They asked me to fix things. That was it.”
“What’re those medals for then?”
“Nothing.” George unpinned the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He handed the scrap metal to the boy and the boy’s mouth formed a little “o,” as he fingered the grooves and ridges in the bronze and silver. The boy’s hands trembled with excitement.
“I can have them?”
“You can have them.”
“Thank you, mister!”
“You bet.”

Louise and Elsa waited for George. Louise’s forearms were used to Elsa’s weight—she could hold her all day if she needed to. She almost forgot to breathe when she first saw him step off the plane, the pocket lapel on his shirt dark and naked, like a shadow. He kissed the daughter he had never seen, and then Louise, full, on the lips like he was supposed to, and she searched his mouth for those two brief seconds. Something about him tasted unfamiliar, and she touched his chest, trying to find what had not come back from the war.

George lay in bed and couldn’t remember if he had given Louise a kiss first or the baby girl he had never met except in pictures. He put his hand over Louise’s, which was flat and heavy on his abdomen, and tried to say something, but found that his words evaporated as soon as they formed in his lungs. He closed his eyes and when he woke up in the morning he couldn’t remember if they had made love or if they had just drifted off to sleep, their cheeks pressed against each other like flypaper.

In the morning, they discovered how to make breakfast together again—which of them filled the percolator and which of them grabbed the frying pan from the top shelf. They ate first and then fed Elsa, alternating spoons, quietly remembering the steps they took to get to where they were.

These were some of the steps:
  1. George bought a sandwich and coffee from Louise’s cart outside the Ford plant for five straight days before he asked for a name on a Friday. She gave it to him on a Monday.
  2. Louise knew he was something different when he paid full price for his egg salad sandwiches even after he had seen her undressed, the three freckles like Orion’s belt on her abdomen.
  3. George started going to church because Louise made him believe there was a God. He sat next to her mother, holding her swollen hands, and his heart filled with something like helium.
  4. Louise quit work as a sandwich girl when George finished night school and got a modest raise. She found a rust-colored brick house and a mailbox she loved, so they bought them.
  5. George noticed that a kitten in a box was Louise’s spitting image from a picture taken of her in 1931—not the face so much, but the floppy white fur hat, the gray wool scarf and the patched plaid coat. He took the kitten home, rooted through an old shoebox, and then placed both kitten and picture in the fruit bowl on the table. When Louise saw what he had done, a little noise came from the place in the back of her throat that he knew only he could hear.
  6. Louise’s mother died. George held her hand as men and women smelling of cabbage and beef in their dark suits touched her other hand, and she felt the warmth from his palm, the good intentions vibrating from his fingers to the pit of her stomach.
  7. Bombs went off. Many boys went and most died, and then George’s name was called and he had to go.
  8. ...
  9. Louise went back to work selling sandwiches, stashing Elsa in a small compartment under the cart, feeding her ice cubes in the summertime and packing her in with warm hot dog buns in the wintertime. Louise wrote letters in her head to George that she would never send—secret thoughts, darker than the compartment Elsa napped in—as she took nickels from the men who came back day after day from where George was stationed, fingers, arms, and ears missing.

The cat—the cat who had looked like Louise when she was a kitten—ran away the day after he came back. George frowned when Louise told him this, and couldn’t recall what the cat had looked like, even when Louise showed him the photograph of her from 1931. “That’s you,” George said, “but what does that have to do with our cat?”

After his first day back at work, George came home, took off his shoes, put Elsa on his lap, and read the Detroit Free Press. He opened the obituary section and patiently scanned the lines even when Elsa batted the paper with newsprint stained fists. When Louise called them for dinner, George took Elsa to wash their hands in the bathroom sink, leaving charcoal fingerprints on the bar of soap.

It was the great Hank Greenberg’s first ballgame back from the war and Louise had never been to Tiger Stadium before—she was startled by the sheer greenness of the park, and the humidity that stuck her thighs to her garter and her garter to her dress. She held Elsa in her arms and studied George awkwardly interacting with other servicemen, all in uniform. His eyes, maybe it was something in his eyes that was missing, or was it his speech—he never seemed to finish a sentence, not since he had come home.
The crowd fell silent as Greenberg came to the plate, forearms bulging, his jaw twitching as he waited for the pitcher to contort and hurl the ball. The crack of his bat seemed to vacuum the air out of the ballpark and they all watched the ball sail out and out… Louise watched George watch the ball and she could see that he was not seeing what they all could see, that he was watching something else play out, something that she knew he could not talk about. The crowd roared as Greenberg trotted around the diamond and Louise cried hot tears.

The oscillating fan that no longer oscillated blew beads of sweat across George and Louise’s collarbones while Elsa slept quietly in her room. “Can’t you fix it?” Louise asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“You’re an engineer.”
“Junior engineer.”
“Even so…”
“Why can’t you fix it?”
“It’s too much to think about, Louise.”
George’s fingernails dug crescents into his palms, slipping slightly in the humidity. He thought he might cry, but his tear-ducts felt fire-blasted.
Again, he woke up in the morning, and couldn’t remember if he had fallen asleep silently or told Louise he was scared because he couldn’t remember if he killed seven men or zero, or if he had friends who died in the war, or if the great Hank Greenberg had hit any home runs that summer. He wanted to ask her if she thought if he was still alive, if they had made love at least once since he got back, if Elsa looked like him—but when he went into the kitchen, he just grabbed the frying pan from the top shelf and she filled the percolator and they fed their daughter together, alternating spoons.

She saw him reading the obituary section every day. “Are you looking for your friends?” she wanted to ask.
“No,” she wanted him to say. “I’m looking for myself.”
“Because I think I died over there. Because, God, Louise, I killed seven men—boys—and with those odds, I bet one of them got me before I got them.”
She wanted him to start crying so she could hold him so tight that she dug into his shoulder and could feel its ball and socket, like one of the Fords he helped design that held onto the road on a sharp turn, the front wheels connected to the axle, his shoulder connected to his collarbone, his collarbone connected to the missing piece she could fix, that she could solder—a fix that would let her talk to him again, that would mend his torn soul, that would suck up the pieces he left airborne in Germany— like a magnet—and let her put them back together on an assembly line in Detroit.

He took Elsa door-to-door, asking about the cat, mixing up the cat’s name door-after-door until he had to sit down on the curb, his T-shirt soaked in sweat and covering his thin ribcage, like lines in the desert. He sat his daughter on his knees and looked into her eyes, trying to remember how she had came about.

This was how the idea of Elsa was conceived:
  1. George was not religious in any sense of the word, Louise knew, but when he held her mother’s hand, she knew he was looking for God, even if God was between Orion’s belt and her garters.
  2. George had been with one woman—a girl—his second cousin. She was three years older and told him, sort of, what he was supposed to be doing, but he didn’t do it so well, or so she told him afterward.
  3. Louise had been with three men, and she was surprised to learn that none of that mattered when she met George. He was painfully self-conscious at the start, always holding doors and stealing little glances at her chest. They played many games of Parcheesi while drinking root beers and he always smiled when she beat him. He managed to flatter her in unexpected ways, and so six months and three days after she told him her name, she tugged down his pants and made him promise not to be so shy ever again. She giggled at his feet—the hair on his arches—and his concentrated effort to compliment her at least once before he fell asleep, fly-papered to her abdomen, her thigh, her cheek…
  4. …And so Elsa became tangible in her mother’s womb, right before they bought the brick house and the damned mailbox that would soon deliver George’s summons to war.

Louise woke up from a nightmare she could not place, a fleeting sinking feeling in her stomach. She sat up in bed, her chin on her knees, the non-oscillating fan whirring in the corner. “Where did you go to, George?” she asked aloud, speaking into her kneecaps. “Come back come back come back come back…” she chanted under her breath. She turned to look at him, and his eyes were open. She stopped for a moment and then breathed again: “Come back come back come back…”
She whispered for what may have been hours, her words sometimes merging with the fan blades, coasting through their hair, the sheets, the gaps in their toes… and he looked at her, eyes dilated, as she prayed verses that only they could hear.

George found Elsa under the kitchen table, playing with two crayons, one in each smudged fist. He scooted under next to her and sat cross-legged, his head brushing the underside of the table. Elsa handed George one of the crayons, and he smiled at her expectant gaze. George sniffed the crayon and this made Elsa giggle. He took a deep breath, letting the small notes from her laugh sink into his eardrums. In small block letters, he printed a note on the wall, in the shadow behind the far table leg.

This was what the note said:


Elsa had oatmeal on her chin, but she didn’t fuss because what was happening in the kitchen kept her attention. Her mother talked, words Elsa had never heard, her red lips moving in directions that Elsa did not know were possible. And then there was an unfamiliar sound, from her father, words that had beginnings and ends. He spoke for what seemed like forever, his voice clear and cloudless. Elsa looked away only when she heard a scratching on the kitchen window—and there was the cat, batting at the glass— waiting to be let back inside.




Q. Where have you been the past three weeks?
A. Shuttling between my new job in Redmond, dog sitting Watson the pee machine, and working on a page 1 re-write for Northbridge.

Q. Are you about to pass out from exhaustion?
A. Yes.

Q. How come colleges, universities, and high schools don't stress the importance of rewriting?
A. I don't know. Since I have been writing meaningful things I've learned that your first word will never last and the last word is never close to finished. Since writing Cole and now just finishing my first rewrite of Northbridge it is abundantly clear: from the very first draft of a script you complete to the last FADE OUT, you will not maintain but a couple of lines of dialogue or a few paragraphs of scene description when you finally reach the last draft before camera.

No one has ever taught me the art of re-writing--I have learned it on my own. The trick, I suppose, is to let go of every word you have written, which is difficult, because there are always those lines of dialogue that you want to keep--but if it doesn't serve the story, you have to be liberal and kick it the eff out.

Which brings me to my point: why doesn't anyone tell you that your first effort in writing (term papers, scripts, stories) will never be good enough? Is it because you need to meet deadlines and have tests, and midterms and finals? I think, after reflecting, that my senior thesis at Carleton was a piece of S, but it could have been better if we were given a trimester on just re-writing.

Q. Is Northbridge awesome now?
A. Yes. But I'm sure after a few more re-writes, not a single word will remain the same.


So I did a little project with Keith Rivers, co-founder of Seattle Cold Readers. Here is the resulting video:

If you visit Keith's page on youtube, he has a plethora of interesting videos to watch. jasonkillshimself.com has a couple of interesting comments, one of which I wanted to point out from fantasdick69er: "your a fag i hope u did kill yourself."