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Screenwriting

Movies and TV

Eyewitness This

Amanda Brugel as Sita Petronelli in EYEWITNESS episode 101 (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)

EYEWITNESS Episode 101 “Buffalo ’07” Pictured: Amanda Brugel as Sita Petronelli (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network)

I’ve spent the last year of my life writing and producing this television series, which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. on USA Network. Because I know you care (and because I know you’ll downright love it), here is a sneak peek at the first 12 minutes of the show. So much sweat, blood, and tears have gone into these 12 minutes, and the story, cast, and crew you’ll get a taste of here are so damn fabulous that they even inspired me to relocate to Canada for five months. I apologize in advance for the way they’re going to get you hooked. If you want a little reading to tide you over before the episode airs tonight, I highly recommend sinking your teeth into The Advocate’s review of EYEWITNESS, which not only reminds me of everything we were aspiring to do with the show but has made me fall in love with what I thought was the lost art form of critical review essays. Enjoy…

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Inspiring Tidbits

Trouble for Women

Stack of Nora Ephron books photographed by Shelly Gross

It still boggles my mind that one of the most inspiring and influential female voices of our time, Nora Ephron, died last week. Not so long ago I would have quickly deleted that word “female,” thinking it was an insult to any artist to qualify her/his greatness by a gender, but now that I’ve spent a good deal of time pondering what Ephron’s work has meant to me, I realize celebrating the femaleness of all she leaves behind is actually a great compliment. After all, Ephron spent her career fighting her way to the top of some very male industries just so she could tell stories about women, for women, and by women. The femaleness of her blockbuster movies, such as “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “Julie & Julia” has in fact drawn women and their dates to theaters for decades, and these stories hold a very prominent place in the romantic ideals of me and almost every other gal I know. As an adolescent, teenager, and young woman, Nora Ephron’s flicks taught me to demand more for myself out of life and love, and I would dare to say her rom coms stirred something far greater in me than any art-house film ever has.

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Inspiring Tidbits

Be So Good

“Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” print

Do you ever find yourself searching for shortcuts along a journey you actually love, or looking for really simple answers to the most complex, important questions of your life? I know I’m guilty of this manic scouring/doubting/short-cutting far more often than I would like…As a writer, I am constantly trying to figure out how to “make it” and wondering, “Am I giving myself the best shot at success by doing this project, or should I work on that other one, or that other-other one that just might exponentially up my odds?” These daunting questions are all based on the idea that there is some secret to success – that if we get all our ducks in a row in exactly the right way, we will find an audience and a steady income for our lives’ works. And, this assumption is in some ways true – making solid connections in our fields and putting our work out there definitely positions us for success – but unless there’s substance, talent, and a whole lot of hard work to back up all our networking and scheming, it’s unlikely we’ll go very far. In fact, I think the following piece of advice expresses this better than I ever could…

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Inspiring Tidbits

First Drafts

Remington typewriter and a powder-pink carnation by Karin A Photography

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

-Ernest Hemingway

There is so much beauty and poetry in the creative process, but most of what makes a piece of artwork truly shine is quite ugly. There are the dark eye circles from sleepless nights, the paint-stained floors, the shower-deprived bodies, the uncontrollable twitches of over caffeination, and – of course – the cold sweats we all break into when we realize a project we’ve just spent months on is nothing short of abysmal. What’s worse is, when we all get to this point – and, yes, we all get here – we think we are alone. We think we are the only ones incapable of taking a brilliant idea and transforming it into a stunning work of art on the very first try (or at least we think we’re the only ones incapable of making it into a passable first draft that has some flaws but still sparkles with undeniable potential). The truth is, however, very few first drafts of anything capture the passion that went into creating them; or, as Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in the knowledge that I’m not alone in this and that even Ernie is right here with me.

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Movies and TV

New Girls On The Block

Zooey Deschanel and the cast of “New Girl” (2011), courtesy of Fox

Roughly half of all pilots for this fall’s new TV lineup have aired by now, and although I have neither a DVR nor any other fancy cable device, I’ve been doing my darndest to catch these episodes the old-fashioned way – when they air. I became all that much more adamant about braving this archaic means of TV viewing when I realized these new shows have quite the girl-power factor. That’s right, what seems like an unusual number of shows are being spearheaded by female leads this fall, and an aspiring-TV-writer of a gal like me has simply got to show her support, right? Here’s my rundown of some of the new girls on the block:

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Movies and TV

Story Compass

Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards in “The Golden Compass” (2007), courtesy of New Line Cinema

Several years ago I read an article in The New Yorker about Philip Pullman, a fella who was apparently both a famous children’s book author and a notorious atheist. This unusual combo piqued my interest right off the bat, and, when I learned that Pullman’s goal in writing the bestselling “His Dark Materials” trilogy was to show that you can teach morals without organized religion, I moved Pullman to the top of my reading list. Over the course of the interview, Pullman basically explained that in his view you don’t need religion to teach children morals; what you need are good stories. And, as I delved into the trilogy’s first book, “The Golden Compass,” I quickly found out stories are precisely what Pullman delivers. I read the entire trilogy in less than two weeks, utterly gripped by the page-turning plot developments and the way the main character learned lessons that were so uncannily similar to the ones I remember shaping me throughout my childhood. Heck, I could even relate to these lessons as an adult, and the books instantly became some of my favorite works (not just of young-adult fiction, but of fiction in general).

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Movies and TV

Before The Hunger Games

Amber Valletta and Gerard Butler in “Gamer” (2009), courtesy of Lions Gate

I recently finished reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and I can’t get over how ripe the story is for movie adaptation. Seeing as the first cinematic installment hits theaters next year, I’m apparently not the only one who wised up to the potential of these dystopian novels. Although the task of adapting the first book into a screenplay already went to an Oscar winner instead of me, I still find myself pondering how I would write the script and what reference movies/books I would use in addition to the original source material. The more time I dreamily devote to this idea, I realize there are a surprising number of relevant predecessors that may influence the way “The Hunger Games” movie is made. In case you’ve got an insatiable craving like me and simply can’t wait for The 74th Hunger Games to begin, here are some films that might hold you over…

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Inspiring Tidbits

Laurels

My laurels for the 2011 Burbank International Film Festival

Although they are not meant to be rested on, laurels are pretty nice things to come across every once in a while. For me, this nicety happened just the other night when I learned my feature-length screenplay “Finishing School” is an official selection of the Burbank International Film Festival. This cinophilia convention takes place September 15-18 and I’m not quite sure what opportunities it will hold in terms of my career, but I am certain of this: a bitty dash of recognition feels so damn good. This lovely news comes with smashing timing, too, because lately I’ve been feeling like my screenwriting is in a bit of a slump. But, magically at the sight of my very own laurels my desktop slumpeth no more…Isn’t it grand how just when you think career disappointments are here to stay and you’ll be sloshing along in anonymity for another year, a little birdie of hope lands on the shoulder that is your email inbox? Does this birdie always come along in a timely manner? Usually not, but sometimes we’ve got to imagine these little birdies of hope on our shoulders anyway. After all, if I weren’t equal parts delusional and hard-working I would never get anything done. What birds on your shoulder (real or imagined) are inspiring you today?

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Inspiring Tidbits

Bouncing Back

Bouncy balls dancing down the streets of San Francisco, photographed by Peter Funch

Oh my goodness, I just realized I fell asleep last night without sharing a new inspiring tidbit with you. I’m so sorry for the egregious oversight, but I guess if something slipped my mind that happens to be as lovely as my moments with you, dear readers, I must have been exhausted. This isn’t too bold of an assumption, considering the way the past few days have worn me down – part of this wear and tear has been wedding related, but the majority has been from career stress. You see, just a few nights ago I received a form letter via e-mail from the most prestigious screenwriting contest in the world informing me that I was no longer in their running. The letter was nice enough, and there was even a note at the bottom informing me that my script had made it into the top 10% of scripts and garnered three reads, but this initially felt like little consolation when a tiny voice in the back of my head whispered, “If that third reader just scored your script a little higher, you’d be talking to agents right now.” Oh, the destructive things the little voices in the backs of our minds tend to whisper…

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Movies and TV

Sci-Fi Pop

Bradley Cooper exercising his boundless brain power in “Limitless” (2011), courtesy of Relativity Media

On the eve of one of the most anticipated movie releases of the summer (“Cowboys & Aliens”), I find myself thinking about cinema’s long history of sci-fi-flavored action flicks from summers past and how they differ from other types of science fiction. When I recall some of the biggest summer blockbusters of my childhood (like “Armageddon,” “Independence Day,” and “Men In Black”) they all tend to have some element of science fiction in their premises, yet I think of them as straight-up action films. Why is this? Is it their big budgets and commercial successes, or is it something more nuanced about their stories? Part of why I group these movies in the action genre is probably because of their mass appeal, but I think it’s also due to the way their science-fiction elements are used to incite plot events as opposed to using them to say something insightful about human nature. I realize I have an even further peculiar tendency when it comes to categorizing movies of this vein, because in terms of what I arbitrarily consider “real sci-fi” I’ve invented two sub genres: “hard-core science fiction” (the movies that take place in outerspace or other unrecognizable realms where characters beep, warble and fluff up their fur to communicate) or “pop science fiction” (movies that have scientifically impossible premises yet take place in a relatively recognizable world)…

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