Bill Hunter

I was very sad to learn yesterday that actor Bill Hunter has died. I want to share my favorite Bill Hunter story. (I say this as though I know more than one. Let’s pretend.)

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert it one of my favorite movies of all time. One of my most-read books is Making Priscilla, by producer Al Clark. This passage is in the chapter “The Preparation.” Terence Stamp has just been cast as Bernadette, and consulted about the role of Bob, with whom Bernadette falls in love.

Aware that the other actors have to be Australian, Stamp suggests Bill Hunter, with whom he appeared in Stephen Frears’ The Hit nine years earlier. They have barely seen each other since then, but Stamp remembers him with fondness and feels that an existing rapport between himself and the person playing Bob will bring a vital conviction to their scenes together. I call Bill Hunter’s agent and inform her that Terence Stamp has specifically requested him as his ‘love interest’ in the film. When she speaks to him, Hunter laughs in disbelief and says he will accept the part without even reading the script.

The book is perhaps the best one I’ve read about getting a movie made. (Well, maybe tied with Rebel without a Crew.) It’s gone out of print, but I see that used copies are only a few dollars on Amazon (link above). I mean, if you want to read it.

Working Vacation

Will and I have been writing together for slightly over two years. (Successfully–there were several prior attempts that ended in tears and with unfinished projects.) We’ve completed a sci-fi/action script that garnered us two and a half offers of representation; a horror/comedy pitch that didn’t sell; a horror rewrite that didn’t quite work; a horror rewrite that is really excellent and might even get made; and a gritty western that is so good it makes me cry.

The whole time, we have been talking about one project that is kind of our Rushmore (which I mean in the way that the characters in Rushmore say that, not that it is like the movie Rushmore itself). It’s evolved a lot from Will’s original idea and has become something wonderful and almost unattainable. I’ve been afraid we would never write it. About six months ago, finally happy with our outline, Will started the rough draft. About halfway in, maybe two-thirds of the way, the project stalled. Yesterday it got moving again.

We’re house- and cat-sitting this weekend, and Sam has a playground in walking distance, the beach five minutes’ walk away, a library of videos at his disposal, and friendly neighborhood dogs to play catch with. Friday morning we all played hard, and in the afternoon Will and I put our heads together and got caught up on writing stuff. Last night I gave Sam his bath and put him to bed while Will tapped at the keys, producing another ten pages and putting us suddenly at about three-fourths of the way. This is, of course, a rough draft; I will have a lot of work to do once it is written. (I described our writing process here if you are curious.)

People frequently marveled at the fact that I continued blogging regularly after Sam’s birth. The fact is that he nursed all the time and what else was I going to do? I sat there with him between me and the laptop for the first months of his life, reading and writing while he ate and slept and looked around him in wonder. It was great, but had one small side-effect: he does not allow me to use the computer by myself when he can possibly help it. I have not been able to get much writing done lately because he pulls me away or climbs into my lap, and he is too big to type around now. My novel is languishing (which may be where it belongs but I’d like to get a little further in before that call is made, thank you very much) and I have not even gotten around to the quick copy edit one of our scripts needs or the small polish another requires.

Honestly, I am a little burned out on motherhood lately. (Sam is sleeping a bit better, though, which is good because I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Now I am back to normal levels of tired.) I am feeling cheated out of my Writer identity, unable to get any writing done or even any thinking about writing. So many of my writer friends are having Good Things happen and every single one of them deserves those things and more but I must confess that I have been feeling very sorry for myself. When is my turn, damn it?

It is pretty pathetic that all I want is an hour alone with my keyboard, but there you have it. (Well. My keyboard, my writing partner, some strong coffee, and probably my knitting since most of our writing looks an awful lot like talking.)

Do you think it is overly optimistic of me to hope that we can finish this draft, barrel through a second, and maybe churn out a couple of novels before Tuesday?

Brilliant Writing Device

One of my favorite things that can be done in a screenplay is to acknowledge a mistake. Take, for instance, The Sound of Music, which Sammy and I watched today (his choice). Each character gets a little moment, and several of them grow in some way over the course of the movie–except for Louisa. All we know about her is that she’s a trickster, and we only know from her introduction (she claims to be Brigitta–a moment that really belongs to the real Brigitta) and the scene leading into “My Favorite Things” when Liesl tells Maria that Louisa can get up to the governess’s window with a jar of spiders. Her greatest character reveal, and she isn’t even in the scene.

The writers–and I’ve no idea whether it was Lindsay and Crouse, who wrote the stage play, or Ernest Lehman, who adapted for the screen–must have realized that Louisa was rather left out, because early on they address the issue through Maria. When she is taking the Captain to task for not knowing his children, she admits that she is not sure who Louisa is, but insists that someone ought to find out.

It is such a neat and tidy solution, and I can’t believe it isn’t used more frequently. It would make a lot of characters far more believable if we (the audience) knew that the protagonist didn’t really know them either. And think of all the other problems that could be solved similarly! The character who conveniently has the necessary information to move the story forward? Another character might remark, “How the heck did he know that?” Now, it is ALWAYS better to give a good reason for the information getting to your hero. Likewise, no shortcut will ever take the place of good character development. But if you find yourself in a bind, all it takes is a single line of dialog to acknowledge it and the audience will probably forgive you.

And thus concludes today’s screenwriting lesson from your friendly neighborhood unemployed screenwriter.

Reasons I should break up with Hollywood

When we had a manager, he sent our spec to half a dozen production companies and got us ONE meeting. He also took three months to give us notes on our second script, and they weren’t even his notes. (We fired him.) He also told us that he hadn’t heard back from the other “two dozen” companies, and that not calling means a pass. Will was an executive at a production company for six years (well, he was an executive for a little more than half that time), and that is a LIE. Not calling means you haven’t read it yet. (Did I mention we fired him?) Oh, and he also failed to follow up on any of the (actual) two dozen positive reactions we had to a pitch–most assuredly not set up by him–that went nowhere. (Fired.)

That pitch. Oh, that pitch. We were approached by a former co-worker of Will’s, now a development exec at a small company that owns several comic book properties. She sent us a stack of low-priority books to see if we had a “take” on any of them. One of them had a terrific hook, and we went in and pitched the hell out of our idea to make it into a movie. They loved it and we spent about four months developing an outline with them. Then we took it out to studios and production companies. That kind of blew for me, because I stayed home with Sam while Will pitched. It was a month before Andrea moved here and there was no one else I would leave Sam with. Sigh. So they went out and pitched the idea, and the executives all loved it, loved Will, loved us (based on our spec, which we used as a sample), but the marketing departments all said no. Every single place passed because of some vague idea of the movie being a genre they didn’t know how to sell. (Horror/comedy is the easiest sell of all time. I don’t have any idea what their problem was.) The whole thing depresses me so much, because if we’d just written the script I think it could have sold. And maybe someday we will write it, but we put in six months gratis and it was passed on by so many places that it just feels not worth it.

We had another manager offer us representation, and he was pretty cool except that he never remembered what we’d talked about previously and didn’t seem interested in our career so much as he seemed to want to hang out with us. Seriously, he wanted us to meet his girlfriend. And while we liked him, we have enough friends. Besides, he thought I had bad taste in movies. How would THAT make for a good relationship, professional or otherwise? (He objected to my appreciation of action movies starring The Rock. COME ON.) Also, he had the same first name as the first guy.

We’ve done two (unpaid) rewrites for friends. One of them we had to withdraw from for a number of reasons, and I am still depressed about it because we loved that project. There were just too many strikes against it for us to be able to make it a priority. I hope someday we can go back to it (if our friend will have us). The other is actually going quite well, and I am optimistic about it, but working on something for a year with no guarantees can be discouraging. The other day the producer asked me if we wanted an advance on the $0 he’s paying us. He was making fun of himself for pushing for us to finish the latest draft, and I think he’s awesome for it, but we are so broke that I can’t really laugh.

An agent liked our script and wanted to meet us. I was apprehensive. We met him, we liked him, I remained cautious but thought it seemed OK. He didn’t make any offer, instead asking to see our next script (this is good). He had his own first name. We sent him our second spec script as soon as we finished the first draft. Six weeks later I sent him a follow-up note, asking if he’d had a chance yet to read it. He immediately responded that it was a “great read” but he “didn’t 100% love it.” I don’t know what the heck that means, and I don’t really care because it isn’t at all helpful. If he’d said, “I can’t sell a western,” that would be useful information. If he said, “I think Character X should live,” that’s a fixable problem. We are very good at taking notes, and if he’d suggested changes we would have made them. But no, just “didn’t love it.” OK, fine. At least now I know that the first guy meant that no call means a pass if you are an agent or manager.

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We’ve never queried an agent, because we first tried contacts of Will’s from his executive days (I suppose technically we queried them, but in the real Hollywood way: informally, as a favor) and then we had several referrals. And now it is time to query. We have the option of going back to those now two-year-old contacts of Will’s, most of whom did say they’d be happy to read anything else we have, and we probably will contact them, but we feel the need to query widely.

I’ve written a query letter and it’s reasonably good. I think. (Will thinks so too.) Now we have to finish polishing the script, but that has to wait till we get some notes because we think it is absolutely perfect exactly as is. Or at least, it is our best writing to date so we don’t really know how to improve it. (We asked three friends to read it. One has given us some good notes and the other two are presumably busy having lives and should in no way take this as me being pushy.)

I don’t mind hard work. In fact, if I am going to work at all I prefer it that way. And being a writer isn’t something I take lightly–it’s all I’ve wanted to be my entire life. (Well, maybe I also wanted to be a detective, a lounge singer, an actress, and a foot model. But mostly I’ve always wanted to be a writer.) But this business is one where a writer whose last produced project is action/adventure is still told she can’t write in said genre because years ago she wrote for a tween girls’ series. This is a business where the people who go farthest are the people who get out there and sell themselves, and at least half of those people have zero writing talent. I prefer to spend my work time actually writing, so I’m getting nowhere.

I know we’ve barely tried yet. But the results thusfar are discouraging.

I guess I am questioning whether I’m really willing to spend the time selling myself when there is such a slim chance of success. This is also known as minor depression. It’ll pass. In the meantime, practical advice welcome. Encouragement too.

Nine Things I Have In Common With Diablo Cody

There is a guy named Rodney who some have been known to call a stalker. He has at least nine things in common with Diablo Cody but he won’t say what all of them are as they are the subject of a personal email he sent to Diablo and he is still waiting to hear back from her.

I have not emailed Diablo about the nine things she and I have in common, mostly because I am thinking them up right now. In fact, Diablo will never know about them unless she googles herself. But I do have to say that way back in the day, before all the hoopla, I sent her a note after we met and she replied to my emails. So that is something that Rodney and I do not have in common.

Anyway.

1. Diablo used to be a stripper. I used to live with a stripper.

2. Diablo writes the back page for Entertainment Weekly. I have read Entertainment Weekly.

3. Diablo is from Illinois. I lived in Chicago for a year.

4. Diablo has tattoos. I have tattoos.

5. Diablo’s real name is Brooke. My real name is Annika.

6. Diablo is known for frequently changing her hair color and style. As a teenager, I used nearly every color of Manic Panic (not all at once).

7. My friend Nina has been mistaken for Diablo. I am hoping to someday be mistaken for Nina.

8. Diablo’s blog got her discovered. My blog has 86 subscribers on Feedburner.

9. Diablo wrote an Oscar-nominated screenplay about a teenage girl who becomes pregnant. I wrote an unrepresented sci-fi/action version of The Magnificent Seven.

As you can see, we are practically twins.

Stay with me, this train makes stops at every station.

Last night at Stitch ‘n Bitch we were all fawning over Mary-Jo and some of us started to discuss what we might do to get on Good Morning America. Laurie Ann suggested that she could go on the episode about the world’s best secretaries. I sadly pointed out that GMA has already run a piece on moms who drink, and it wasn’t very favorable. So I really don’t know what I could do to get on the show now.

I mention this because it is Friday afternoon and Sam and I are having a cocktail. His is a cup of ice with a few drops of sours mix in it. He is in heaven.

For the last two days I have not tried to get any writing done, except for about ten minutes today while Sam pretended to take a nap. Instead I have played with my son, washed dishes, knitted… I’ve done the things that fall by the wayside as I try desperately to get work done. I’ve done the things that I am too tired or frustrated to do most days, whether I am actually getting any writing done or not. I have even eaten real food once or twice, and I read part of a comic book.

I have about 25 pages left to edit before HIDE PARK is basically finished. I’ll do that this weekend while Will and Sam hang out. And then we will send it off to an agent who will love it, sign us, sell it, and get us on Good Morning America.

Ridiculous but good

6:45 wake up.
7:45 rush out the door.
Drive 7 miles to drop Will off at work.
9:15 arrive back home.
9:30-12:45 attempt to: eat something, get clean and dressed, feed Sam, entertain Sam, catch up on email, work on script, get Sam to nap, play phone tag with insurance company about latest incorrect bill, and not go crazy.
1:00 rush out the door. Drive 9 miles to drop Sam off at Andrea’s house.
2:00 drive 8 miles to pick up Will.
2:50 drive 7 miles to meeting.
3:30 chat for half an hour with agent, whom we both like.
4:07 drive 21 miles back to Andrea’s house. In rush hour traffic.
6:30 (yes, two and a half hours later) Sam was happy to see us and our wonderful friends fed us while Eamon enumerated his many super powers.

So there you go. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, Los Angeles travel times or… no, that’s more ridiculous than anything. I really look forward to the day that I can afford to find some nice young person to come over a few days a week and watch Sam while I work. I figure yesterday cost us about $20 in gasoline, and while I’m sure a babysitter would cost more I’d gladly pay it to not have to spend the entire damn day driving.

Fears

We are meeting with an agent tomorrow afternoon. He liked our sci-fi/action script, but…

Everyone liked our sci-fi/action script and that hasn’t gotten us anywhere yet.

He seems to be primarily interested in Will, because he wrote a novel and they love to represent “double threats.”

I am not a double threat. (At least, I don’t believe that any agency could represent screenwriters, novelists, directors, AND craft book authors. But I guess it is possible.)

None of our other scripts are sci-fi/action, nor are any of our ideas. What if he’s not interested in our other stuff?

A great deal of Hollywood has this crazy idea that you can only write in one genre. We… don’t.

I wanted to have this western ready to show him (proof that we can do more than one thing!) but Sam did not let me do anything all fucking day and now I am so tired I might fall over.

I’m afraid that we can’t afford to keep trying. And honestly, being so discouraged about money has made me discouraged about everything.

The last two people who wanted to represent us were duds. One wanted to use us to advance his own career and the other wanted to be our friend. (He was a nice guy, but dude. We have enough friends.)

The agency… doesn’t have a website. How can I trust them to make us good New Media deals if they don’t have a fucking website? I had a website in 1996 and I am a total Luddite!

No website means no client list (though IMDbPro says they can give me the full list in exchange for lots of money). No client list on the internet probably means they don’t have any clients I’ve heard of.

So… what if this guy is basically a nobody? Despite everything I still think we are better than that.

I call bullshit.

I am already seeing backlash all over the internet, people calling foul on anyone who is mourning Heath Ledger’s death without also publicly mourning every other father who died today.

BULL. SHIT.

Celebrities represent us all. I don’t like that, but it’s a fact. Heath Ledger’s death today and my grief over it (a grief that I admit I do not understand) represents the deaths of countless men whose faces I will never know. I am not mourning those men except in the abstract; I do not know their names, but I am just as sad for their children as I am for Matilda Ledger.

There is nothing wrong with mourning a public figure. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know him personally. That I didn’t know him personally. No, I am not more sad over his death than I am over the deaths of friends. But you know what? I feel as though a friend has died, and I do not say that lightly.

One more thing: until it is declared a suicide, FUCK YOU. Do not talk shit about the cowardice of suicide and do not say we cannot mourn him because he killed himself. Not only is that absurd but there is no reason to think it was more than a complication of pneumonia. I would like to hunt down the editors who are misreporting the known facts (of which there are so very few to begin with) and throttle them. For the record, he was found IN BED and moved to the floor for attempted CPR. Mary-Kate Olsen does NOT own the apartment he was found in.

It really makes me angry that people are such assholes about grief that I feel the need to defend a celebrity.

Back to business

Christmas was lovely. So lovely. Really it started on Friday, the Solstice, when we began opening gifts. We are not as impatient as all that, it’s just that the sheer volume had us a little worried about overwhelming a certain short someone, and we wanted to ensure that he could enjoy as many of his gifts as possible. (Also, we wanted to open some of our loot.) Spacing the presents out worked very well, and Christmas morning he opened the bulk of his gifts excited as could be, and was able to look at and play with each thing.

Top gifts include Sam’s new chair, his tug boat, a selection of wonderful books, and several wooden food sets. Two of the sets are the same, but we are keeping them both because there is nothing sweeter than Sam doling out an apple for each of us. And really, his favorite game is sorting and transferring. Perfecto! (If you are thinking that I really just don’t want to go to the store and make the exchange, you might be partly right. But you’d be just as right if you were thinking how greedy we are.)

In the afternoon some friends came over and we made pizza. The only bad part of the day came when we finished the last bottle of wine. (OK, it was also not thrilling that Sam couldn’t get to sleep. But we can hardly blame him after such an exciting day.)

I knitted my reward hat and it is perfect. Exactly what I wanted. I used this pattern and about half the ball of Manos del Uruguay. I’m not sure there’s enough left for a second hat but I think I’m going to try.

reward hat
(My eyes are very green today. My eyebrows have taken over my face.)

And now I will write. I didn’t say as much the other day, because I wanted everyone’s honest opinions, but I’d already decided to finish the western as soon as the holiday bustling was over. It is funny — that is really the only project I felt hung up about. I finished a rewrite for hire (NOT for a signatory company) and only hung onto it until I’d received assurance the producers wouldn’t put us in a bad position by trying to sell it during the strike. We’ve talked over some other ideas. But for some reason I couldn’t convince myself to work on this particular script. I think it must be the timing — it was ready for me literally the day the strike started, and that created a mental hurdle for me. Whatever it was, I’m (mostly) over it.

Now if I could just get my brain to switch over from Holidaze to Work.