Women Who Write in Film chose me!

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My screenplay Pro M.O.H. (Professional Maid of Honor) came in 2nd Place in the Women Who Write in Film International Screenwriting Competition!!

I’m so honored! And I’m excited to see where this might possibly lead me next!

30 Things in My 30s

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I love birthdays. Mine. Yours. Anyone’s really.

In my opinion birthdays are yet another reason to celebrate and I especially love doing that.

I’ve never been one to dread getting older either. I know some folks truly despise their birthdays like each one is another step closer to death. I never thought about it like that. Rather, I’ve always thought of my birthday as exciting and fun and honestly not at all scary or intimidating.

Maybe it’s because I don’t really feel older or because age is just a number, blah blah blah, or maybe it’s the childlike enthusiasm that comes with looking forward to an upcoming birthday that makes each year feel more magical and important than the one before. Or maybe it’s the cards and gifts and all the special “happy birthday” messages and songs. I love all that stuff!

I’m not sure what it is entirely but like every other year I’m looking forward to my birthday and as I approach this one—the big 4-0—I’ve been thinking a lot about my life, about the person I’ve become and about all the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had along the way, and specifically the things that happened in my 30s, as well as my goals and accomplishments, too.

In addition to birthdays, I also love making lists so, to mark the occasion and as a sort of decade sendoff, I made a list of thirty things I accomplished in my 30s. I made a similar list about my 20s (with just twenty things) when I turned 30 but I didn’t blog back then, or I’d have probably posted it too. To keep with the theme, in another ten years, I guess I’ll probably have to come up with forty things for my next big milestone birthday. Looks like I’ll be pretty busy in my 40s!

I also made a list of goals for the year ahead when I turned 39 (my insanity isn’t strictly limited to whole decades) and as I reviewed it recently I came to realize just how much I snuck in during the previous ten (and still counting) months.

Truly, a whole lot has happened this year! A whole fucking lot in fact! But it makes sense since it has sort of been an overall theme to the entire decade. 39 (which isn’t quite yet over but will be soon enough) has indeed been—and continues to be—a proper climax to my 30s.

It’s been a dramatic year filled with many twists and turns and more highs and lows than you can shake a stick at (I’m not sure what that means but I like how it sounds). I might even consider revising my Things to Accomplish in my 40s list (yes, of course, I’ve already drafted that, too).

Anyway. Here’s my list.

30 Things I accomplished in my 30s

  1. Lived in three states: Texas, New York and Iowa (prior to my 30s I lived in PA and NJ, too)
  2. Directed numerous large scale international events and ran a department at a media company
  3. Traveled nationally and internationally to many places and met lots of interesting people
  4. Directed two celebrity golf tournaments (in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic)
  5. Married my soul mate, Jason. Awww!
  6. Took a huge risk in giving up my career as an event planner to write a novel!
  7. Lived at the beach!
  8. Started my own company and eventually realized it wasn’t for me (this is a 2 for 1 deal)
  9. Designed two websites all by myself
  10. Started blogging
  11. Gave birth to a beautiful girl named Lyla. Being her mom has been awesome!
  12. Got diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease – not exactly a traditional accomplishment but still
  13. Learned to live with PKD and battled and survived postpartum depression!
  14. Connected with my inner hippy through meditation and astrology (I even met Susan Miller!)
  15. Taught myself how to read Tarot (this comes in super handy at parties!)
  16. Saw Prince in concert (checked that one off my concert bucket list!)
  17. Made the decision to move to Iowa!
  18. Bought a house!
  19. Made lots of amazing new friends and became a part of an awesome little community
  20. Bought new carpet for the house (so far, this is the moment I felt the most grown up)
  21. Wrote a bunch of poems and two novels (and revised and rewrote both several times)
  22. Went back to school to acquire my MFA in Creative Writing
  23. Wrote an award winning screenplay!! Yay!
  24. Got to stay downtown in Philly and play tourist in my hometown with my family
  25. Lost 50 pounds (gained half back but who’s counting?)
  26. Finally completed my novel Private Mommies Society!
  27. Graduated with honors!! I officially have my MFA in Creative Writing!
  28. Queried literary agents and kept pushing forward and revising despite rejections
  29. Received an offer of representation and signed with my agent!
  30. Hmm… Looks like I have room for one more… I have a feeling it’ll be a good one.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

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The Setting of Casablanca

The film begins with a voice over and geographical maps establishing Casablanca, an area in French-ruled Moracco located in Northwest Africa, as a destination during WWII for refugees exiled from war-ravaged countries in Europe. According to the VO, the rich and the lucky used Casablanca as a sort of stopover en route to Lisbon where they could then fly to freedom in America, while the poor and unlucky people simply got stranded there.

Casablanca is painted as a busy, overpopulated and unsafe place where the streets are full of schemers, criminals, crooks and pickpockets, as well as people buying, selling and bartering all sorts of things (including diamonds). Most of the story takes place at Rick’s Café Américain, an upscale nightclub, bar and casino, which is also referred to in the movie as “Rick’s Place.”

Ex-freedom fighter Rick Blain, the story’s protagonist, runs the illicit establishment where in addition to booze and blackjack, Rick also, for a profit, helps refugees obtain letters of transit out of Casablanca toward freedom. Rick has a good gig going despite his cynical, selfish and somewhat jaded sensibilities until the day his former lover Ilsa, the one true love of his life, a woman who left him in Paris, suddenly shows up on her way to America. The love between Rick and Ilsa is rekindled and he asks her to marry him. But there’s one problem: she’s already married to Victor Laszlo.

Laszlo, who was actually in fact married to Ilsa during her love affair with Rick in Paris, had been imprisoned and escaped a Nazi concentration camp and was thought dead by Ilsa when she had the affair that led to her falling in love with Rick. It wasn’t until Ilsa and Rick were about to leave Paris together that she found out Laszlo had survived. Ilsa fled with Laszlo to save his life. This love triangle between Rick, Ilsa and Laszlo keeps us in suspense until the end of the movie when Rick urges Ilsa to get on the plane with Laszlo and continue their journey toward freedom. Rick stays behind to help others get their freedom, too.

In so many ways, Rick’s Café is the perfect setting for Casablanca. For one, the fact that it’s a stopover explains away anyone who shows up there. Also, the illicitness of what goes on there naturally presents endless material for conflict, tension and drama. Rick’s Café is an oasis of sin and sinister fun like gambling, drinking and sex that in many ways is an escape from reality for people who find themselves in Casablanca. But it’s also a sort of purgatory because these people, the individuals who find themselves there, are either temporarily or permanently stuck there for one reason or another and desperate to escape to America.

Since Rick runs the show there, it serves as the perfect setting for his character arc and his story. At the start of the film, protagonist Rick “I stick my neck out for nobody” Blain clearly has a lot of growth ahead of him if he’s destined to become the true hero of the story. In the end, he sticks his neck out for Ilsa and Laszlo. Rick gives up the one thing he really desires, his true love Ilsa, for the greater good. In a funny way, the setting acts like a character, too, with an arc of its own because like its owner Rick, Rick’s Café starts out as a symbol of desperation and illegal activity but through the story it transforms into a beacon of hope and freedom, too.

The First 10 Minutes of Shaun of the Dead

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Shaun of the Dead

For my screenwriting class, I needed to analyze the first 10 minutes of a movie. I was going to go with something traditional, like say When Harry Met Sally, which has a well-known solid beginning, but after a friend suggested it, perhaps jokingly, my brain kept returning to Shaun of the Dead—a perhaps lesser known movie but one that I love. As a zombie flick, it technically falls in the genres of Horror (though, while violent, it’s honestly not a bit scary) and Comedy. At its core, it’s a love story and quite a hilarious one at that. Not your traditional RomCom, it’s more of a Zom-Rom-Com.

Shaun of the Dead is a great movie from start to finish and all of the promises which the movie sets out to fulfill are set up perfectly in its first 10 minutes. What makes the beginning of Shaun of the Dead work so well is that in just 10 or so minutes we meet and thoroughly get to know all of our main characters, in particular our protagonist Shaun (played by Simon Pegg) while the conflicts are introduced, layered and begin to really build on and play off of one another.

The movie opens at the Winchester, a bar that Shaun frequents and which later becomes an important spot in the film. Shaun and his girlfriend Liz are seated across from each other. Liz is basically in the process of breaking up with Shaun because she feels neglected and because they never get time alone. Shaun’s friend Ed is there, as usual, playing a video game and swearing up a storm in the background and Liz’s two friends are there, too, backing her up and reinforcing everything Liz claims is wrong with Shaun—in particular that he seems to have no ambition, he’s lazy, forgetful, hasn’t yet introduced Liz to his mom and, of course, there’s Ed who is crude and always there and who no one, but Shaun, seems to like. Shaun convinces Liz that he will try harder. He promises to take her out for a special anniversary dinner (but later forgets to make the reservation). Liz agrees to give Shaun and their relationship one more chance.

Despite the fact that Shaun is painted as a loser, he’s also a likeable, loveable, nice guy (he buys flowers for his mom and even gives his spare change to a homeless guy). But life isn’t going so well for him. In addition to his romantic issues and his codependent best friend issues, his roommate is a jerk, he works a dead-end job and he hates his step-dad Philip.

Meanwhile, there is a zombie apocalypse brewing but no one, including Shaun, notices because they are all simply sleepwalking through their own mundane lives. The movie is basically telling us to wake up and appreciate our lives instead of walking around like zombies.

We can’t help but like Shaun and root for him. It’s easy to predict his character arc, too. We want him to man up, win back Liz, kill the zombies and save his family, his friends and the world. While this isn’t all covered in the first 10 minutes, Liz eventually dumps Shaun and he vows to get his life back on track—but he will have to battle the zombies to make that happen. With Ed by his side, Shaun sets out to rescue Liz and his mom (and everyone else, too).

If I could change one thing about the first 10 minutes of the film it would be to get the first big zombie moment in there somehow. While I think the movie does an exceptional job of building toward it and dripping in hints along the way (like the guy eating the pigeon and people starting to get sick and more and more zombified), I don’t see why there couldn’t be a bit more. That said; just the fact that we know it’s a zombie movie makes it so we know they’re coming so the fact that they don’t necessarily show up sooner still works. If anything it allows for more fake-out, made-you-jump, edge-of-our-seats type moments, too, which I love. And all of that build-up increases our adrenaline and adds to the moment when the zombies ultimately appear. On that note, I love the details and all the foreshadowing the writer uses to set the tone along the way. There’s never a doubt in our minds that something is going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.

Also, I might increase the emotion between Shaun and Liz—maybe even add in a memory or a brief flashback to a time when things were better between them. Though I’m not sure it’s necessary to the story or to either or their individual character arcs, I would have liked to get a tad more romance and emotion in there. While it becomes clear later in the movie just how much Liz means to him, I wanted a bit more.

But even without addressing my minor nitpicks, I still love this movie. And with its exceptional characters and conflicts (of the undead, real life and relationship varieties), Shaun of the Dead sets up everything we need to know about the story right from the start. By all accounts the movie has a great beginning. In just 10-12 minutes, we are entertained, engaged and pulled deep into the story as well as inspired to really care about what happens next.

If you want to watch the first 13 minutes of the movie, it’s free here:
http://www.watch32.com/movies-online/shaun-of-the-dead-2068/full.html

1980s Flash…Back to the Future

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Back to the Future: Comparing the 1981 Script to the 1985 Movie

Let me start by saying that, like any other typical 80s kid, I have always loved this movie. I was 10 when it came out in theatres and I remember thinking it was awesome (or maybe I thought it was “rad” back then with my crimped hair and legwarmers). It was so much fun to watch back then and again now at 37 with my daughter. That said; I’d never read the screenplay—any version of it—until now. So this time, as my 4-year-old watched on and fell in love with the movie, too, I sat beside her with the 1981 version of the script and a red pen so I could catch the “important differences.” This was no easy task either because there were a lot of differences!

There were a ton of little differences and seemingly minor inconsistencies like character names (in particular these: Doc Brown/Professor Brown, Lorraine/Eileen, Jennifer/Susie), setting descriptions (like the town and even the high school) and details like the years of departure/arrival but there were also some pretty major differences, too, like the time machine itself which in 1981’s script wasn’t even a car. It was a refrigerator. That would have been far less exciting and much harder to work with than the movie version’s DeLorean!

Another major difference between the two versions is how the protagonist was painted. In both versions, Marty McFly was a teen and aspiring musician but in the 1981 version he also illegally pirated movies and liked to gamble. While Michael J Fox’s character of Marty came across at times as cocky, bold and even smart-allicky, he was always likable and he had a strong character arc (so did his dad) while the 1981 script version of Marty was written as far more of a self-involved jerk. The 1985 movie painted Marty as a smart, sometimes sarcastic but still likeable honest teen with good intentions while 1981’s version painted him as greedy, sly and with negative intentions. In the 1981 version, Marty was not a very likable character but in the 1985 movie, Marty was a believable hero, a teen heartthrob worthy of the cover of any teen magazine.

Marty was also an only child in the 1981 script while he had a brother and sister in the 1985 version. Without them, Marty would have been left, as originally written, as an egocentric teen who only cared about himself and therefore who would have even cared what became of him? By adding the siblings, there was an instant increased motivation for Marty who didn’t want to lose his brother and sister who he clearly cared about very much. The fact that he cared about his family added a new layer to his character and made him instantly more endearing to the viewers, too, because we see him as someone who cares. Also, as the photo with Marty and his siblings began to fade in the movie, it added an element of fighting against the clock that wasn’t previously there. It also gave Marty more to lose and that naturally increased the drama.

Regarding Marty’s parents, one of the biggest differences between the two versions is how they fall in love. In the 1981 version Marty’s mom fell in love with George after he spilled his corn while trying to ask her out in the school cafeteria. Really? How boring! And not a bit believable. We’re supposed to believe that moment made her fall so hard for him that she married him? I don’t buy it. Who would? But in the movie version, they fell in love after Lorraine’s dad hit George with his car, causing Eileen to instantly fall in love with him (this was even explained later by Doc as an actual medical syndrome making it even more believable). This is also a huge part of the plot because when Michael J Fox’s Marty goes back in time his arrival stops that from happening and he essentially takes his father’s place as the person his mom falls for. This is a big deal for poor Marty because his mom is falling in love with him (how awful!) and in doing so he’s unintentionally pushing his own father further and further out of the picture, which in turn is totally changing his situation, his life and his family. What a great conflict!

Aside from the fact that both finales took place after the big dance scene and with the hopes of saving Marty’s mentor Doc/Professor Brown, otherwise the finales in the two versions are totally different. Of course, the 1985 version wins again with its exciting race against time as Doc and Marty need to set up the clock/lightning scene in the town square, while in the 1981 version Marty raced against time too but on a multi-state cross country trip. In the future, the final image in the 1985 version is far more satisfying and less confusing than the 1981 version. I still don’t get why or how George ended up a professional boxer in the 1981 version. How odd.

In terms of structure, the 1985 movie version flowed better than the 1981 script. The 1981 script, at times, seemed to drag on and on and there were many elements stuffed into it that didn’t seem to serve any purpose, either to the characters or to push the story forward. There was a lot about it that felt stale to me, especially in comparison to the fresh, fun and funny 1985 movie version. Many of these changes made between 1981 and 1985 were strategically made for the benefit of the film, its characters and its viewers. What often felt convenient or forced in the 1981 version came together better in the 1985 version and led to a smoother, more believable experience.

Hip-hip-hooray for the revision process because all of these subtle and not-so-subtle changes made Back to the Future a far better script and a pretty awesome (sorry, I mean rad) movie.

Autumn Alarm Clock (revised)

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Autumn Alarm Clock (Revised as an aubade quatrain):
Mother tapped on my window this morning
Seizing my skin with her breeze
And pleasing my ears with the click-clack-
Click of leaves falling from trees

Though I realized you were gone
I still squeezed your pillow in denial
Then pleading to be released
I pressed hard on my mind’s snooze

Nature found another way
She sent the rain to trickle,
Tickle and tease me with its dripdropdrip
Dripdropdrowning out my dreams

Still I refused to believe
In reality without
You beside me I’d rather
Stay here sleeping the day away alone

Finally, Autumn retreats
Her sensations are replaced
By temptations of caffeine, cream and you
I rise to delicious coffee for two.

AB(Norma)L the Antagonist of Sunset Blvd

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Norma Desmond, the washed-up, disillusioned, conceited, mentally unstable, borderline agoraphobic, aging actress and ex-starlet, is the antagonist of Sunset Boulevard.

She tries and typically manages to get what she wants throughout the film in many ways, mostly through manipulation and childish behavior. One way she exhibits her controlling, dominating, antagonistic tendencies is early in the film by basically kidnapping Gillis, the younger though not exactly young by Hollywood standards writer/protagonist. She convinces him to spend the night and then practically forces him to move in by having her butler (who we later learn is also her first director and her first husband) go to Gillis’s place and retrieve, or really steal, his clothes and typewriter. Gillis is later seduced (though more by Desmond’s money than by her prowess), manipulated mentally and emotionally, and (when he finally decides to leave) eventually murdered by Desmond (a moment that brings us full circle back to the start of the film).

Another example of Desmond’s antagonistic antics is when she calls Betty Shafer, the young female writer who Gillis clearly appears to be interested in (even though she’s engaged to Gillis’s friend) and who he’s been sneaking out to work/write with every night. A third, and probably the most glaring attempt to get her way and control Gillis is when Desmond slits her wrists on New Year’s Eve in what seems like more of an intense cry for help than an actual attempt at suicide. She seals the deal by threatening to do it again if Gillis leaves.

There were definitely moments throughout the film when I felt sympathy and even pity for Norma Desmond. The fact that Gillis was obviously using her initially inspired my sympathy but it grew throughout the film as we learn more and more about Desmond and we start to see her as a broken lost soul—a woman who devoted her life to her art and her dream to be a star but was simply tossed aside once the wrinkles started to set in. Even though she’s had success and plenty of riches, her life story is a sad one and it demands sympathy and empathy from us as we watch the downward spiral of her fall from grace as she practically begs the universe and everyone in it for another chance at fame and in doing so she loses what’s left of her mind.

Though I’d heard about it, this was the first time I’d actually seen Sunset Blvd. I watched it with my husband and we both enjoyed it. He especially loved the crispness of the picture, the fact that it was in black and white and how it managed to be so intense. We both loved the crazy faces of Norma Desmond. I think she was the highlight of the film. Not only was she an excellent antagonist and one from whom we never truly knew what to expect next but she also perfectly overacted the part of the ever-dramatic and always ready-for-her-close-up actress. It was so easy to see her as the villain (largely in part to the fact that we know right out of the gate that Gillis was murdered) and a complete and utter nut ball, too. But it was also easy to sympathize with her. This was largely due to her character flaws and insecurities as well as her fragile mental and emotional state. But Gillis, the protagonist who was made out to be a crook and a user, and even a jerk at times, also made me feel sympathetic toward Desmond. The way he lied to her and fed into her ego to get money, a free ride (literally) and whatever else he wanted and needed from her made me wonder how many other people had done nothing but use her along the way only to throw her away in the end.