THE EAGLE HAS LANDED!

I'm writing this from San Salvador, El Salvador.

The plan was for me to come down here later in the week, but things never happen quite the way they're supposed to. No problem, I'm pretty flexible.

So I get a call from my manager around 5:00 last night, "Can you leave tomorrow?" I told her I could. She said she'd call me back.

A few minutes later she called back and asked, "Can you leave TONIGHT?" I told her yes, but it'd have to be late in the evening.

She booked a red-eye flight that was scheduled to leave around midnight.

So I hustled home, threw some things in a bag, kissed my wonderful girlfriend goodbye, and raced to the airport.

I got my ticket and through security in, oh, about ten minutes. Then I spent a bit of quality time in the "exclusive" lounge they have available four Business-class travelers.

I eventually got to the boarding area. I soon found out the plane would be delayed. Whatever.

Once I was on the plane there was yet another delay. We didn't actually get off the ground until close to 2:00AM. It's only about a 4-hour flight and they're an hour ahead of the L.A. time-zone, so I landed in San Salvador around 7:00AM.

I was picked up by a gentleman in a Porsche and made a swift (really swift) journey to my hotel.

After a brief rest period, I was taken to a private golf club where I had lunch with some of people involved with the project. Then I spent the day interviewing the subject of the film. He's a warm and fascinating man and I've enjoyed talking with him.

I'm supposed to be here another week or so. They tell me I'll be seeing some gorgeous locations in the next few days, so I'm really looking forward to that.

It's fairly amazing how quickly this has all come together. Less than three weeks! But my reps and a group of enthused producers have made it work. If only all movie projects could be like this!

Anyway, I'll keep you posted.

UPDATE: "THE EL SALVADOR PROJECT"

Yesterday my reps met with the backers of the “Untitled El Salvador Project.” It was a lunch meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I was not in attendance. I’m told the meeting went very well. Everyone was very enthusiastic about my “take” on the story. The upshot: the money people behind this project definitely want to move forward and are willing to put up the necessary funds to get the script written. So, this is definitely some good news. A few contract points still have to be worked out, then some paperwork needs to be signed, but it looks like I’m taking a trip down to El Salvador. (Unfortunately, the only Spanish I know I picked up from watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If I need to rob a bank or waylay a payroll transport, I’ll be in fine shape.) As always, I’ll keep you posted on any interesting developments.


* * *

My book, Q and A: The Working Screenwriter -- An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today's Film Industry, is now available. Pick up your copy today!

MISSION: CENTRAL AMERICA!

I stopped at my manager’s office yesterday for a meeting (to re-strategize after that fiasco from last week). But before I even sat down, she said, "Do you have a passport?"
I asked, "Why?"
She said, "You’re going to Central America."
I said, "I am?"
Then she proceeded to tell me about a producer who wants to hire me for a project.

Here’s the deal thus far: I’m to be sent down to El Salvador (all expenses paid, of course), interview the subject of this particular story, spend a few days getting a feel for his environment, his family and friends, his life, then come back and start working on a script. I’ll get half of my fee, which has yet to be completely negotiated, when I commence on the script, and the other half upon “completion” of the script. (I put the word completion in quotes cuz a submission draft is still far from completed.)

So I sat there, just slightly dumbfounded. All I could say was, "Um, sure, it sounds good."
Then I asked, "When do we start?"
"End of the month," says my manager.

I have to admit, I felt a little bit like a spy being sent off on a mission. I half expected to hear the James Bond theme playing as I was given the particulars of the deal.

Now, as usual, I’m taking all this with a grain of salt since this might very well implode in the next few days. Again—as I wrote in a blog a couple weeks ago—I’ll believe it’s for real when paperwork has been signed and a check clears into my bank account. But who knows, maybe luck will be on my side with this one. Maybe this will all go forward and I’ll get a trip to El Salvador and meet some interesting people. Maybe I’ll cash a nice paycheck and start work on a cool screenplay. Hey, it could very well happen.

Then again...this is Hollywood. As usual, I’ll keep ya posted.


From the L.A. Times: Scriptland

I read this in the Los Angeles Times this morning. I found it rather interesting and amusing...so I thought I'd share with all of you. (Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters.)

By Jay A. Fernandez, Special to the Los Angeles Times (March 5, 2008)

Hollywood scribes often refer hyperbolically to the terror and torture of being "in the hole" when trying to write, while simultaneously admitting that forced isolation is the only way they'll get anything done. Well, the story of Darryl Francis -- who inadvertently literalized the circumstance -- may put things in perspective.

Too absurd not to be true, here's what actually happened:

Three years ago, talent manager Danny Sherman moved with his then-wife, Wendy, into a home in an un-gentrified Silver Lake neighborhood. While Sherman was at work, a vaguely threatening-looking guy with a teardrop tattoo under his eye would toss wolf whistles Wendy's way when she came outside. After ignoring him for a few weeks, Wendy finally struck up a conversation and learned he was a 15-year veteran of the neighborhood named Darryl Francis who had recently been released from prison."

They made nice," Sherman recalls. "But in the conversation she somehow told him that I represented screenwriters. And, of course, Darryl had a screenplay. And he wanted me to read it. That made me even more worried."

Apparently, Francis, incarcerated most recently at Wayside county jail (now called the North County Correctional Facility) on a 32-month stretch for receiving stolen property, had found himself in solitary confinement after a little misunderstanding with some Latino inmates. A previous tenant had left a contraband pencil, so Francis used the quiet time -- 43 days, all told -- in the hole to sketch out a comedy idea called "Tow Truck," chewing away at the pencil tip to sharpen it whenever it got too low. (He also worked on it during a stint at Avenal State Prison.)

What Francis handed Sherman after cornering him on the sidewalk one day with "Are you the manager man?" was 200 pages of handwritten material in different colors of ink and pencil, including 20 pages that a girlfriend had typed up before dumping him. Sherman nervously took the pages, thanked Francis and quietly hoped he'd never see the guy again.

Then, incredibly, he actually read them. And discovered that the characters and dialogue were hilarious. Francis was not exactly a comedy novice. To keep himself busy and (relatively) safe during the 11 years off and on that he spent in prison, Francis would write funny, fictitious, combative letters from his family members and read them to the other inmates as a kind of stand-up routine."

I was always the clown," says the 42-year-old Francis, who grew up in South L.A. "I always kept the humor no matter where I was at. Once you accept the fact that you in there, there's nothing else you can do about it. . . . I just tried to make it work for me."

Sherman passed Francis' material to an Emmy-nominated client, Dean Ward ("Talk Soup"), who fleshed out the story and incorporated characters from Francis' fake letters until they had developed it into the story of brothers who revive a towing business to save their old neighborhood from commercial development.

Ultimately, producers Broken Lizard Industries ("Beerfest," "Super Troopers") brought the script to Our Stories Films, which optioned the spec last summer. Ward, Francis and Sherman then sold an animated series called "Letters From Tha Slammer" to Superdeluxe.com, TBS' online comedy outlet, based on Francis' epistolary high jinks (the show will be available on the site in a few months).

"I'm always teasing Darryl that he took the easy way out," jokes Ward, who's working on other projects with Francis. "I had 10 years of heartbreak writing spec after spec before I finally sold a script. And he goes to prison, writes one script and sells it. If I had it to do all over again, I'd skip film school and go straight to San Quentin."

Buy Q and A: The Working Screenwriter here!

Parenthetical directions...

Once thing I spot in most novice scripts: the overuse and improper use of parenthetical direction. These directions are what I refer to as “superfluous and/or awkward bits of business” and “telling the actor how to act.” Let’s take a look at some examples:

JOE
I don’t care what he says...
(gesticulating wildly)
He’s wrong!
(clenching his fists)
He’s wrong and I’m going to prove it!


Another example:

JANE
(nodding)
Yes, I agree completely...
(stops all of a sudden and smiles)
And I think it’s just wonderful!


Another example:

JACK
(cocking head, thinking about it)
Gosh, I guess I shoulda called first.


Another example:

MIKE
(putting hands on his hips)
I don’t see why I have to do it! I really don’t!


Another example:

PETE
(frowning, but resolute)
He might be gone, but I promise you, we’ll get out of this.


Another example:

JANE
(sad and emotional)
She meant so much to me. If I could just have one last chance to say I’m sorry.


Are these parentheticals superfluous? Yup.
Could some of these directions be considered awkward? Definitely.

How do you act “frowning, but resolute”? Do we care if Mike put his “hands on his hip” or if Jack “cocks his head”? NO!!

Look, if you’re doing your job properly, you don’t need a lot of parenthetical directions. In fact, you might not need any at all. Your setting, tone of story, characters, their lines of dialogue, etc., should adequately clue us in as to how the character is feeling and how the line is to be read. For instance, here are a few lines from a scene where the wife confronts the husband after the he’s been found sneaking around with his secretary:

HUSBAND
It’s not what it looks like, Helen.

WIFE
It’s not what it looks like? What does it look like, Harold? It looks like you’re having an affair with your secretary!


No parentheticals are necessary in the above example. Alas, many novice writers will write it this way:

HUSBAND
(desperately trying to hide the truth)
It’s not what it looks like, Helen.

WIFE
(pacing back and forth, angrily)
It’s not what it looks like??? What does it look like, Harold? It looks like you’re having an affair with your secretary!!!!!


The above exampled parentheticals are not only unnecessary, they also clog up the page and slow the read. Just give us the lines and let the actor and director do their job.

For what it’s worth, I just read No Country for Old Men, and I didn’t spot a single parenthetical direction in the entire 121 page screenplay. I also recently read the script for Knocked Up. Barely any parenthetical directions in that script.

Now, I’m not saying a screenplay shouldn’t contain any parentheticals whatsoever—cuz an occasional well-placed parenthetical direction can be quite necessary in a screenplay. Now you’re asking, “OK, Jim...so when are parenthetical directions necessary?” Glad you asked. Here are some examples:

Let’s say you have a scene with more than two people, and we need to know who a line is being said to. For instance:

TOM
(to Dick)
I want that witness in my office by noon tomorrow.
(to Harry)
Better get me a cup of coffee, it’s gonna be a long night.


Or maybe a character imitates someone famous, like this:

BRUCE
(a la John Wayne)
Smile when you say that, pilgrim.


Or maybe a character is talking to herself, like this:

SALLY
(to herself)
Girl, you do some really stupid things sometimes.


Or maybe a lonely man is sitting at a hotel bar and a pretty girl steps over to him, moves right up beside him and:

WOMAN
(a delicious whisper)
I’m in room 207.


Or maybe a character realizes something mid-line, like this:

JESSE
I don’t know. It could’ve been anyone. It could’ve been –
(dawning on him)
Wait...I know! It was...Tyler Piedmont!


Anyway, I think you’re getting my point here. A well-placed parenthetical is fine. Just use ‘em properly only when absolutely necessary.

And finally:

Only in Hollywood...
So, a few of my good friends took me out for a birthday dinner last night (my b-day was Sunday). I stopped in at a book store prior to meeting with them. While perusing the DVD section, I saw comedian Jackie Mason strolling through the aisles, cellphone to ear and two rather grim-looking men following close behind. Not sure if they were Secret Service agents or sycophants. Later, I met my friends at a well-known, old-time Hollywood eatery on Santa Monica Boulevard. Comedian Tim Conway was standing near the front entrance. He was so funny on the old Carol Burnett Show. Later in the evening, after leaving a bar at the plush Beverly Wilshire Hotel—where my friends had “adult beverages” and I had my usual cranberry juice—we spotted film director Cameron Crowe and his wife Nancy Wilson (of the rock group Heart) waiting for their car to be retrieved by the parking valet. And oh, my girlfriend and I ran into Howie Mandel at a Thai restaurant in Hollywood a few weeks ago. I’m a big fan of Deal or No Deal (one of the only things I watch on television) and I think Howie is so great on the show. Whatever.

Life in La La Land continues.

* * *

APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.con and Kindle e-book! You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!
Now you can follow me on Twitter!