Thursday, December 28, 2006

Movie + cell phone + thug = unhappYness

This Christmas day, my wife and I went to see The Pursuit of Happyness. Good film, very much enjoyed it. Will Smith flexes his dramatic acting skills in a head-shaking true story.

However, this dude sat next to me. He was generally quiet and unobtrusive, which is always a blessing. But the most amazing thing happens about a half hour in...

First, his cell phone rings...
Second, he answers the cell phone...
Third, he continues speakingnot whispering—to the caller.

I was stunned. I stared at him, hoping his peripheral vision would feel my steely gaze, but to no avail.

My wife almost lost it. She leaned over and said, in a loud whisper, "You need to hang that up right now!" He ignored her and kept talking.

I sat there. Fuming. Certain things should be common sense. Not turning off your cell phone in a movie theatre is being pretty think-skinned, but (barely) forgivable. But answering a phone call? And then not whispering??? It's so far beyond the pale that my wife and I were speechless.

This... thug wasn't mostly listening on his call, so I told myself that the next time he speaks... and he did—

Turning to him, I said—in a regular voice—"Dude, seriously—you're talking on a cell phone. In a movie. Get real." (Should he not take my reproach gracefully enough, I at least wanted everyone within earshot to know I wasn't being nasty about it, just appealing to his sense of decency.)

He looked at me, for a long moment during which he must have thought he had a right to be offended. And then he hung up. Nothing else happened for the rest of the film.

Though I'm not really for capital punishment, it might be the only way some thugs will ever learn.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

REVIEW: The Break-Up

A "clever romantic comedy" is what the back of the box said about The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn and wow, was that ever misleading advertising. The Break-Up was so un-funny and so un-romantic that my wife and I had to stop watching after half an hour—and we never do that.

Vince Vaughn is a talented comedic actor, right? In Wedding Crashers, his motor mouth antics must have made it a challenge for the film crew to keep quiet during takes. I'm not always a fan of Vaughn's schtick, yet certain roles often work well for him.

Jennifer Aniston, too, knows her chops, as her many years on Friends have proven.

So what gives? Why was this film so bad? Well, that's just it—it wasn't bad per se, just that it was poorly advertised: instead of a romantic comedy with some dramatic moments, it's actually a romantic drama with some comedic moments. Their quarrels in the first half hour are uncomfortably real, and thus not really funny at all. Honestly, what's so funny about watching people fight with such sincere malice?

I think I know what happened. If I had to guess, The Break-Up's shooting script was probably very clever and very funny, and garnered enough buzz to attract several big (comedic) names: Justin Long, Jason Bateman, Ann Margaret, Vincent d'Onofrio, Cole Hauser, Judy Davis. So, great, you've got all these great supporting actors, and you've got two amazing lead actors known for their comedic talent... so it's got to be a romantic comedy, right? Hardly. Because Vince Vaughn is notorious for his improvisational tangents, his improvs with Anison were very very good material... but only for a drama. And at times, Aniston's line delivery is so resonant that it hurts. She's clearly as gifted doing drama as she is with comedy.

The problem is that the ultra-serious tone of their fights starts the movie, so any subsequent humor has a wet towel draped over it. You keep cringing—when is the next painfully real argument going to happen? It's more angst-filled than enjoyable.

The Break-Up shows that you can have all the elements in the dish, but if they don't work together harmoniously, then you've got zilch. Setting the proper tone at the start of a story is paramount, and The Break-Up's director, the relatively unknown Peyton Reed, gave too much liberty to his comedic actors to do their thing. Everyone might have fared better, then, to clearly define the movie's tone to everyone while in pre-production... if we improv, we improv around this particular kind of tone, i.e. we don't want serious/angry, we want silly/angry.

Apparently, the critics agreed with me: 113 of 168 reviews were unfavorable. The math says that's a pitiful 33%, a big fat "F" no matter how hard you spin it.

Ready for the plot reversal?

Production Cost: $52 million
Worldwide Gross: $203 million!

Which means that The Break-Up makes a profit purely because of its star appeal, even though—as a romantic comedy—the movie stunk. Wonderful. More of the same is sure to follow.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Oh My God

Okay, not for the squeamish on this one, but I wanted to share a short film I found a couple of years ago by John Bryant called Oh My God. I can't link to it, but you can watch it on Atomfilms here.

WARNING: Oh My God is extremely dark humor... so dark that some people don't find it funny at all, but they're missing the point. A must see for anyone who enjoys parodies of movie cliches.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

AROUSAL: The Story So Far

I thought it would be fun to do a clip show to track the progress of Arousal from its first baby steps. Here goes:

A discussion with a fellow filmmaker about gratuitous sex in films fires up my engines. I ruminate.

Still mulling over the discussion about gratuitous sex scenes, I stumble across a related concept which might be a cool idea for a film. I run it by my wife for medical plausibility and it seems feasible.

Think some more. Ultimately, I decide the idea is worth spending time turning into a script.

I write the Origin of my Arousal.

In trying to get my head around who the characters are, to clearly picture them in my head, I start trolling Myspace for some random souls to be my visual placeholders, which I talk about in The Beauty of Myspace Casting. If you've already read the script, can you suss out who's who in the picture at left just on their eyes alone?

Research begins in earnest. Writing a horror film means I need to know the genre, to anticipate the audience's expectations. I start adding films to my Netflix Queue. Here is my list as of today:

My Netflix Queue for Horror Research
Repulsion (When it's crossed off, I've seen it!)
The Vanishing
Wages of Fear
Diaboliques, Les
Come and See
Knife in The Water

Cabin Fever
Wrong Turn
Ju-on: The Grudge
High Tension
Night of the Living Dead
Dawn of the Dead
The Shining
The Haunting
The Innocents
Eyes Without a Face
House of 1,000 Corpses
Shaun of the Dead
Cannibal Holocaust

Films I've already seen
Blood Simple
28 Days Later
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

While toggling work on other projects, including being a Script Super on a feature, I think about Arousal in all my free time. Daydream is more like it... I wake up thinking about it, I go to sleep thinking about it, I eat with the TV off and drive while thinking about it. Could all this be considered billable time?

JUNE 2006
It's time to start hammering the errant ideas into a story of some kind. Do I tell one person's story, or many? Do I tell a nonsequential narrative like Jackie Brown or The Limey? How should the story end? How can this film be different than all the others that came before it while still be fresh and surprising? At last, I feel it's time to get Aroused, so I spend most of June fine tuning my five page single-spaced outline.

At some point in the mix, I write about Throwing Rocks at a Tree, which is getting your characters in a mess, make them think they find a way out, but put them in an even bigger mess. Wash and repeat.

The dam bursts! All my many months of troubleshooting story problems culminates in what feels like divine will. Draft 1 is written within 10 days (spaced out over 35 days), and I provide updates at 14%, 19%, 22%, 39%, Halftime, and 67%. At 77%, I talk about the coming denoument of the plot, and at 83%, I talk about Shane Black's good news/bad news theory of action. Not surprisingly, the five page outline I had started with changes a lot as the story is translated into finer details. Character motivations pull the story down unexpected paths, plot holes once glossed over in the outline become gaping holes not easily spackled over.

As Draft 1 comes to a close, I throw out an invitation to chat with me via Instant Messenger as I type out the final pages of Draft 1 (which haven't changed much in Draft 3!)

On September 6th, 2006, the news becomes official: Draft 1 is 100% complete!

I go over that first draft and am generally pleased how much of it I like. Sure, it's got flaws and is nowhere near done, but I don't feel like I'm going to have to rewrite it from the ground up. After an two hour extension for my self-imposed deadline, I announce that Draft 2 is officially ready for scrutiny! My growing list of readers has queued up to read this draft and I implore them all to be brutally honest.

The first of the feedbacks trickle in... and one reader in particular, while entertained for the first half, is so shocked by the degree of violence in the second half that she stops reading it. Had I not prepared my readers for the anguish within? To offset that kind of reaction, I issued an Arousal Warning.

Feedback is an indispensible tool of the trade and, while I half-expected some adverse reactions from those who don't like gore, I had also not expected any reactions that severe. It got me thinking about what exactly I was aiming for with my story. Some people like gore for its own sake, while others consistently prefer suspense over gore. Was I writing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Scream? If I were showing gore for its own sake, then that would be—technically, at least—gratuitous. And if that were true, had I lost sight of my original intentions? And if so, was I bad, sick and wrong for that choice? Thus I had a long internal (and external) debate about Gore vs. Suspense.

I always try to collect as much feedback from my readers as possible to allow the proper context for the feedback as a whole: if 1 of 20 people hate the story, I can probably ignore that 1 person's feedback. If all 20 people hate the story, I need to take heed. Because I have relatives in town, I extend the deadline not just once, but twice.

For a second draft, I am happy to see a lot of really positive feedback. There is also much constructive feedback, so I compile it all and let it percolate in my head for a few weeks.

As I begin rewriting Draft 3, I remember what Harvey Weinstein had said about Clerks, so I pay particular attention to Arousal's first 30 pages by dissecting it into a whammy chart.

Knowing that I need a little extra time, I give myself an extension (my readers expect nothing less!) and yesterday, I decide it's time to put the pen down: Draft 3 was done.

JANUARY 2007 (projected)
While some people think there are three stages to a film—pre-production, production, and post-production—there are actually only two: making a film, and selling a film. For scripts, this truth becomes glaringly obvious. Now that I've written this script, I expect to follow my own advice in submitting scripts to Hollywood. Oh joy of joys.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I'm done getting Aroused!

That's it. I'm done. I'm shagged out. I'm spent... draft 3 of Arousal is complete. (For now.)

I made several improvements from Draft 2, thanks in great part from my feedback readers. Arousal is still at a barely passable 120 pages, but it'll have to do for now. I'm sure that, with enough skullsweat, I could cut out another 8-11 pages, but I've memorized almost every page by now—which means it's time for a break.

Maybe I'll work on Safe Harbors over the holidays, or maybe my as yet untitled romantic comedy about reincarnation.

Thanks for all the great comments. I know some of you wanted to read the last draft, but preferred to wait for Draft 3; if you still want to read Draft 3, please contact me!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Arousal Draft #3: 2 day extension!

I know, mea culpa, because I waited until a week before Arousal's draft 3 deadline to begin rewriting in earnest. Still, though—in my defense, I had printed out everyone's feedback and kept it all in mind so that when I did start rewriting, I wasn't beginning in a total vacuum. A stitch in time and all that.

Page length has been pretty amusing to observe with each successive draft:

Draft #1: 107 pages (31 Aug 06)
Draft #2: 117 pages (16 Nov 06)
Draft #3: 125 pages (17 Dec 06)

In my own view, a script's length (and here I mean only a reader's script bandied about for a studio sale) really hits the mark at 109 pages—109 is enough pages to develop a feature length story, but doesn't look too daunting to read on a Saturday night because of the twisted pyschology behind 99 cent pricing: if you had a choice between reading a 110 page script and a 109 page script, you'd probably choose the 109 pager because that 1 page difference feels much shorter.

While I was pretty happy that draft #1 came in so svelte, and luke warm that draft #2 was longer, you can imagine my face while looking at my behemouth of 125 pages. Good Christ, I'm not James Cameron yet!

So axe some of it I must. I'm trying to cut between 6-8 pages (leaving me with a decent 117-119 pages). That's a lot to strike out, but it's possible to excise a line here, a word there, a paragraph here, a redunancy there... I'm constantly amazed how much repetition can be removed to make each remaining word really pack a punch.

This part of the process is where you really question the need for scenes (indeed, the need for every word of every paragraph in the script), and where I feel the most important work is accomplished, where the script's sparkle finally begins to show. It's painful because you've got to kill some babies along the way, but the script is almost always the better for it.

Draft #3 new deadline: Sunday, December 17, midnight.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Basic Math (the Verizon way)

This is so embarrassing I want to cry—it's 22 minute audio clip, but worth it:

Verizon repeatedly quotes a data transfer rate of 0.002 cents per kilobyte. When one customer uses 35,893 kilobytes, he owes—according to Verizon's quote—35,893kb X 0.002 cents, which equals 71.786 cents. It sounds like painfully simple math, but at least three service reps repeatedly quoted this customer as owing 71.786 dollars... even after he walks them through the math!

What's so astonishing is that it's not a very hard math problem to illustrate if you use multiples of 10 to get a feel for how large the final number should be:

1kb X 0.002 cents = 0.002 cents
10kb X 0.002 cents = 0.02 cents
100kb X 0.002 cents = 0.2 cents
1,000kb X 0.002 cents = 2 cents
10,000kb X 0.002 cents = 20 cents
30,000kb X 0.002 cents = 60 cents
35,893kb X 0.002 cents = 71.786 cents

How do those cent units become dollar units??? Verizon's service reps must have kept looking at their computer screen instead of relying on grade school mathematics and common sense. It turns out Verizon's actual rate is 0.002 dollars per kb, but they fundamentally didn't understand the difference between quoting cent units vs. dollar units.

Fortunately, Verizon eventually came to their senses, perhaps after being publically humiliated via that dude's blog:
Dear George Vaccaro,

Thank you for your reply. Again, I apologize for the miscommunications regarding this issue and for your frustration and inconvenience as a result.

In review of your account a previous representative has credited for the data charges in question for $71.79. You may take this amount off of your current amount due. In the future please keep in mind that it is .002 dollars per KB while in Canada.

It has been a pleasure assisting you today, and we appreciate your business. Have a wonderful week!


Verizon Wireless
Customer Service

"We never stop working for you!"

Monday, December 04, 2006

Local DJ Hosts Soundtrack Search for Our Feature Film

Amazing radio celebrity Staci Anderson landed this gig for our feature film Lunatic Messiah.


Bad Highway Productions, Inc.
1412 21st Street, Suite B
Sacramento, CA 95816

Ross Pruden, Publicist

"Local Licks" host Gilmore to help find music for Bad Highway's feature film Lunatic Messiah

Tuesday, December 4th, 2006

SACRAMENTO, CA -- Mark Gilmore's "Local Licks" radio 98 Rock show is hosting a "Soundtrack Search" so bands across Northern California can submit original music for Bad Highway Productions' Lunatic Messiah, a feature film currently being produced in Sacramento County. Selected bands will receive film credit, inclusion in future press releases, and airplay on 98 Rock's "Local Licks" radio show.

Soundtrack submissions will remain open until the end of the year. "After we wrap in late December," says Doc Maxwell -- Lunatic's director and founder of Bad Highway Productions -- "I'll lock myself in the studio to piece everything together and base my decision on the quality of the music as well as how it fits the feel of the film." Maxwell always prefers local talent: "There's too much undiscovered talent around here to look further." Examples of preferred music are Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity" and Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall". Tempo and style may vary, but lyrics must be clearly understood. Preferred themes include paranoia, confusion, unrequited love, anger, fear, and vengeance.

For more guidelines on submitting songs, please visit To submit music for the Soundtrack Search, bands should email their name, band name, phone number and MP3s to For more information about the film Lunatic Messiah, please visit or contact Ross Pruden: 415/823-0672 or

Friday, December 01, 2006

Arousal's Whammy Chart

The first time Harvey Weinstein saw Clerks, he walked out: "It looks like hell and everyone's talking and nothing happens in the first five minutes."*

That painfully honest feedback was bouncing around in my head as I wrote Arousal's second draft. Weinstein wasn't wrong—generally, you know instantly whether you're going to like a movie or not. Not to say that rules can't be broken, but Clerks is the exception because Kevin Smith is endowned with a unique brand of whimsey.

Storytelling is, at its core, about sales. However, instead of selling a tangible product, you're selling an experience, a feeling. Because the key to sales is getting your foot in the door, you have to do or say something which grabs your potential customer's attention for the first 10 seconds. Once you've won that 10 second battle, you have to do or say something that buys you another 30 seconds, and then a minute, and then 10 minutes, then a half hour, then an hour. It's about small battles, carefully planned and executed.

For screenplays, this translates into pages: each page is a battle. Of course, each scene is a battle, too, but pages are a physical delimiter and if you can just... get them... to turn... that... page... YES! They'll read a little more... and then a little more. And look—a new scene! Why, what happens in that scene? Oh, I have to turn the page again? Okay... And so on. Pages are the small battles that win the war.

Thus, the Whammy Chart. It's so easy to focus on the particulars of a scene, to weed out the plot implausibilities, correct the typos, the vapid dialogue, the stale characterization... and all the while, lose sight of how the script feels as a whole. This technique is mentioned in Writing Treatments that Sell, among other places. It measures the story's intensity rating on a page by page basis and provides a holistic viewpoint where a script's weak points (and strong points) stand out immediately.

Using Excel, this is the Whammy Chart I completed for Arousal's Act I. I had been concerned not enough conflict was happening to get readers to turn the page, and I was right. This is the amended Whammy chart, so you can't really see what the original story looked like, but the first draft had a lot of 2's and 3's in the first 15 pages. I pictured myself sitting in the audience with Harvey Weinstein as he assailed the screen, "Nothing happens in the first five minutes!!! Killing... me..."

Thanks to my Whammy Chart, I revamped Arousal to make the threat more real in the first 3 pages. In theory, the palpable danger should give the reader enough whiplash to want to read until the 10 page mark, where something else side-swipes them. That should kick them to the end of page 30... and so on. Evidently, readers agreed.

On a micro scale, the Whammy Chart is also useful as a mental guide: whenever I'm done with a draft, I weigh the pace and tension happening across each page, and—starting with page 1—try to move the paragraphs around so that the bottom of each page ends with a mini-cliffhanger. I am, literally, trying to create a page-turner. No novelist can ever pull that trick out of his tool chest!

* Harvey was told to watch Clerks again and "keep thinking 37". Miramax eventually bought Clerks for $227,000.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Amateur (short film)

I know enough about editing to know that this is practically a masterpiece:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New blog about "it's"

I started a new blog, nothing fancy... just something to humiliate any editor using it's as a possessive instead of a contraction. If you spot "it's" on a web site whose editors should know better, let me know and I'll post it. Most blogs are immune.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Um... thanks!

Tracie and I found out yesterday that we're going to have a baby girl in April! The ultrasounds look awesome—all major bones and organs have reported for duty. Gawd, that girl can kick up a storm.

Longtime Blogger readers will remember my Red Letter Day on August 3rd... that was the day we found out Tracie was pregnant. We didn't want to say anything so early in the pregnancy (bad things can happen in the first 3 months), but we're 20 weeks as of today so it's time for another Janet and Justin nipplegate.

(For the record, Tracie first felt her kick on November 5th, 6:38PM while we were watching Carolina. Stupid Ross! We should have been watching Battlestar Galactica!)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Readers have been Aroused...

Here's a sampling of the feedback I've gotten about my feature screenplay Arousal:

I was held captive throughout and didn't put it down.... The story line and plot kept my attention from page one to the end. —J.M.

Gross, disgusting and horrifying... An entertaining read.... I read it from start to finish nonstop because the story moved along so well.... definitely marketable. —G.G.

A solid script that stands a good chance of being a successful film.... the story had me fully engaged by the end. —R.C.

Huge potential.... has enough sex/nudity to get you 3 consecutive NC-17 ratings without parole. —D.R.

With the right actors, even on a shoe-string budget, this baby will become a cult classic because it is well-written and entertaining.... one of the finest horror films I've ever read... I would buy the DVD for $15.99 if it went direct to DVD. —J.L.

Marvelous, simply marvelous. I love your writing. —M.S.

You have the three major items that make a horror film for me: gore, nudity, and the use of alcohol or drugs.... it kicked into overdrive and you had my undivided attention. —L.I.

A really interesting and good script.... the ending was pretty awesome. —W.R.

I'm not usually a fan of zombie movies, but this one is original enough that it's more than just a zombie movie. —S.C.

There were moments when I jumped, moments when I exclaimed, "Oh my God!", and moments when I was so scared that I looked over my own shoulder. —C.L.

I enjoyed it. Especially the ending! Brilliant. —A.R.

Intrigued by the premise... —S.D.

You are a sick sick puppy and obviously have some issues to work out. Having said that, I must say I loved all the really dark and disturbing aspects of the script. —P.N.

I really got into the script... never got bored. —T.T.

Thrilling... —A.S.

I was trepidatious, nervous, nail-biting and excited-scared... —Z.B.

As you can see, the response to Arousal's early draft is overwhelmingly positive, which is always nice to hear because it means my many months of "dark room ponderings" haven't been completely for naught...

However, not all Arousal's feedback is laudative, and the constructive comments are an ideal jumping off point to hone Arousal into something even better. Reader feedback is like a film's test audience—it identifies which parts are universally loved... and universally loathed. Certainly, I have a vision of the story I want to tell and I want to get as close to that vision as possible, but I also don't want to tell a story that makes every reader throw the script across the room after reading the final FADE OUT.

A great story is like a musical piece—it should make almost every reader feel some sort of resonance by the end, even if that resonance is dissonant only to them. Not everyone is going to appreciate acid jazz or house music or thrash metal, but they should be able to see there's something appealing about that brand of whimsey to other people. Brazil, for example, has an ending you either love or hate—likewise, some readers are not going to like Arousal. My focus, then, is about how uneven that love/hate ratio is, and whether I can live with that margin.

One of the best uses for feedback is uncovering all the "false notes", the weak links in the chain which yank the reader out of the story: flat dialogue, clumsy plot development, improbable setups or payoffs, typos... all these jolt the reader and ruin the story's pace and tension. Thanks to all your wonderful feedback, most of those weak links have been mended, for which I'm extremely grateful; when you start to know a script inside out, your eye skips right over the most obvious problems. When we finally roll cameras next year, all you feedback readers can be assured a place on the IMDB as a story consultant! I couldn't have done it without you!!!
Saepa stilum vertas, iterum
quae digna legi sint scripturas.

Turn the stylus frequently if you wish to write
something worthy of being reread.

—Horace, Satires, vol. 1, X, p. 72-73

Monday, November 13, 2006

Friday Night's Car Accident

True story:

Friday night, while driving at night on the causeway to Jane & Charles' engagement party in Davis, at a law-abiding 65 miles per hour, I saw something on the road ahead of me. At first, I thought it was a car's back fender, but it was too roundish. It could have been a basketball or soccer ball, but its size was way too large and the pattern looked more like a beach ball than a soccer ball.

My brain got stuck.

This mystery sphere was a bizarre 3 feet tall... and now I'm thinking, what the hell is a 3 foot beach ball doing in the middle of the road? Do they even make beach balls 3 feet tall? Is it actually a 3 foot beach ball on the road or is my brain playing tricks on me? Maybe it's just some dirt on my windshield... a fleck of dirt or mud or—

In the time I realized it actually was a 3 foot beach ball on the road, it was 2 feet in front of my car. In a dreadful instant, I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do. I couldn't swerve or brake. In fact, if I'd swerved or braked, I would certainly have made things worse. I was powerless.

As Winston Churchill once said, "When you're going through hell... keep going."

I squinched my eyes tight...

SCHWACK... ku-thunk

My car ran right over it, launched about a foot into the air like Bo & Luke Duke, then landed again. Nothing happened to me or my car. I was okay.

After a brief moment of shock, I glanced into my rear view mirror and saw nothing. No swerving cars. Zip. It was as if nothing had even happened. I probably popped it.

Of course, I dialed 911 to tell them about my mysterious beach ball. I'll never know if I saved a life or not with that phone call. All I know is that I dodged a bullet Friday night. Had that 3 foot beach ball been a person, I would like to think my brain wouldn't have gotten stuck... that I'd have swerved or done something, anything. Instead, I'm left to dwell on a solitary, terrifying truth: had that beach ball been a person, instead of me typing this, I'd probably be in jail, in the hospital, or the morgue.

My dad once said, "Driving means you control two tons of metal. Don't ever take that responsibility lightly."

Left hand at 10AM, right hand at 2PM. Eyes on the road. Drive safely.

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Famous Brined Turkey Recipe

Since everyone's search engines are suddenly trolling for a scrumptious way to roast a bird, here's my famous brined turkey recipe. I mean, my god, just look at this beauty:

That's last year's bird, a whopping 23 pounder. We fed a lot of happy villagers with this bird before retiring to a murderous game of Werewolf. For all you über-nerds, you can even see the actual printed recipe I used last year.

If you do make this turkey, please let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Last call for AROUSAL feedback

Attention Feedback Readers!

I'm compiling all my feedback for Arousal and would love to hear your comments if you haven't sent them in yet. In this busy world, I know it can be daunting to write a commentary sufficiently meeting your own expectations, but if you can spare just five minutes to briefly tell me what you thought of Arousal, and specifically what you thought of the ending, I'd be very grateful. You've read Arousal by now, so why not jot down a few notes that might guide me in tackling Draft 3? (And Janey, you're exempt from this, so you know.)

By the way, I've gotten some excellent feedback so far. You are all the cat's meow. Or the bee's knees. Or something quaint. I love all your reactions, even the negative ones!

Finally, I'm shooting for Draft 3 to be complete by December 15. So start getting excited!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Arousal Feedback Extension!

"Holy shit! I still have to write that feedback for Ross!"
"Crapper—that feedback is due on Halloween??? I'm a goner!"
"There's no way I'll read 117 pages by tomorrow!!!"

If any of the above describes you, there's no reason for you to be scared, even if it is the day when the dead are meant to walk the earth...

I have family in town and am completely distracted and wouldn't be able to read feedback even if you gave it to me on time. Which is why I'm granting all you slackerheads another week to give me feedback on Arousal. (Latecomers: Arousal is my feature horror script I'm shooting in the spring and I'm offering a story consultant credit for anyone daring enough to give me their honest feedback.) On November 8, all my relatives fly back out of town and I'll be able to give all your wonderful comments the attention they deserve.

So congrats—your executioner got a rain check until November 8th @ midnight.

Lucky bastards.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Half Life News Anchor

For years, our wasted youth has played Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Battlefield 1942, Doom, Quake... and now, finally, we finally have something useful to show for it: customized newsfeeds anchored by virtual characters. Swank-hay.

This isn't exactly shocking news... the idea of using a virtual character in a visual narrative like news has been tossed around for years, and even done in a rotoscoped form with Max Headroom, but it's never been a fully automated news delivery service like this one. Here, see what they say about it and remember to keep your mouth from dropping open:

News At Seven is a system that automatically generates a virtual news show. Totally autonomous, it collects, parses, edits and organizes news stories and then passes the formatted content to an artificial anchor for presentation. Using the resources present on the web, the system goes beyond the straight text of the news stories to also retrieve relevant images and blogs with commentary on the topics to be presented.

Once it has assembled and edited its material, News At Seven presents it to the audience using a graphical game engine and text-to-speech (TTS) technology in a manner similar to the nightly news watched regularly by millions of Americans. The result is a cohesive, compelling performance that successfully combines techniques of modern news programming with features made by possible only by the fact that the system is, at its core, completely virtual.

This is the shape of the future—highly specialized news broadcasts. If you're only interested in North Korea, stamp collecting and the price of wheat, you'll get a news broadcast on only those items, including blog commentaries if you so wish. It's the sexiest way to aggregate information I've seen so far, and it's only in its infancy.

More on News at Seven.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dilbert Creator Loses Voice

Scott Adams, the guy who created Dilbert, recently lost his voice due to something called Spasmodic Dysphonia—permanently. The number of people who have recovered from this disease? Zero.

But it's a weird kind of disease because it doesn't mean your voice is completely silenced in all contexts: Adams can give public speeches, but can't talk to people off stage. He can sing to people in private, but not talk to them normally. Bizarro.

Adams, the perennial optimist, experimented with various exercises and studied his own voice. Eventually, he stumbled upon poetry... he could speak in a normal voice using rhyme, and continued to do so until he actually kick-started his own brain and dislodged whatever wooden shoes had been thrown in there.

So now he can speak again. Thanks to rhyme! This is an astonishing story of perseverance, cleverness, and (dare I say it?) divine beauty.

Here's an excerpt:

Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn’t mean I can’t be the first. So every day for months and months I tried new tricks to regain my voice. I visualized speaking correctly and repeatedly told myself I could (affirmations). I used self hypnosis. I used voice therapy exercises. I spoke in higher pitches, or changing pitches. I observed when my voice worked best and when it was worst and looked for patterns. I tried speaking in foreign accents. I tried “singing” some words that were especially hard.

My theory was that the part of my brain responsible for normal speech was still intact, but for some reason had become disconnected from the neural pathways to my vocal cords. (That’s consistent with any expert’s best guess of what’s happening with Spasmodic Dysphonia. It’s somewhat mysterious.) And so I reasoned that there was some way to remap that connection. All I needed to do was find the type of speaking or context most similar – but still different enough – from normal speech that still worked. Once I could speak in that slightly different context, I would continue to close the gap between the different-context speech and normal speech until my neural pathways remapped. Well, that was my theory. But I’m no brain surgeon.

The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn’t considered. A poem isn’t singing and it isn’t regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jumped over the candlestick.

I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.

Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal.

Here's the whole incredible story.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Think small.

Two items of big news today—

1) Scorsese is downgrading to low budget film projects.
2) So is George Lucas.

First, here's what's up with Scorsese (italics in the articles are mine):

Scorsese set to 'quit' Hollywood
Scorsese's latest film, The Departed, topped the US box office

Film director Martin Scorsese says he plans to take a break from Hollywood to make low-budget films. His latest movie, The Departed, cost $90m (£48.5m) and topped the US box office, but Scorsese says he is finding it harder to make films in Hollywood.

"When there are very big budgets there is less risk that can be taken," he said at the Rome Film Festival. The director said his next project would be a "small-scale" adaptation of Japanese novel The Silence. Written by Shusaku Endo, the book tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries. "I have wanted to do it for 15 years," Scorsese told reporters.

Career high
The Departed is a remake of the Hong Kong drama Infernal Affairs, and stars Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Nicholson plays a crime boss in Boston who plants a mole inside the city's police force, just as his own organisation is being infiltrated by an outsider. The film gave Scorsese the strongest opening weekend of his career, taking $27m (£14.4m) at the US box office.

The director said film studio Warner Brothers had been supportive during the shooting of "an experimental film like The Departed, which we only finished three weeks ago. But I don't know how much longer that can hold out, with regard to what kind of movie they - the major studios - would like to make and the kind of film I'd like to make".

And this article passed my desk last week. Ironic that it comes so soon before Scorsese's announcement... perhaps a trend is in the making? Complete article follows:
Lucas tilts at studio tentpoles
'Star' man sees shrinking pic biz

George Lucas has a message for studios that are cutting their slates and shifting toward big-budget tentpoles and franchises: You've got it all wrong.

The creator of "Star Wars," which stamped the template for the franchise-tentpole film, says many small films and Web distribution are the future.

And in case anyone doubts he means it, Lucasfilm is getting out of the movie biz.

"We don't want to make movies. We're about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we've moved away from the feature film thing because it's too expensive and it's too risky.

"I think the secret to the future is quantity," Lucas said.

He spoke to Daily Variety after the groundbreaking ceremony for the renamed School of Cinematic Arts at USC.

He gave $175 million -- $100 million toward the endowment, $75 million for buildings -- to his alma mater. But he said that kind of money is too much to put into a film.

Spending $100 million on production costs and another $100 million on P&A [Print & Advertising] makes no sense, he said.

"For that same $200 million, I can make 50-60 two-hour movies. That's 120 hours as opposed to two hours. In the future market, that's where it's going to land, because it's going to be all pay-per-view and downloadable.

"You've got to really have a brand. You've got to have a site that has enough material on it to attract people."

He said he's even discussed the subject with Pixar's Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.

"If you don't do very many movies, and you're really lucky, and you really know what you're doing, you can get away with it. But you know at some point you're going to lose a game."

Lucas said he believes Americans are abandoning the moviegoing habit for good.

"I don't think anything's going to be a habit anymore. I think people are going to be drawn to a certain medium in their leisure time and they're going to do it because there is a desire to do it at that particular moment in time. Everything is going to be a matter of choice. I think that's going to be a huge revolution in the industry."

That doesn't mean Lucasfilm is diving into online distribution, though. "Having had a lot of experience in this area, we're not rushing in," he said. "We're trying to find out exactly where the monetization is coming from. We're not interested in jumping down a rat hole until such time as it finally figures itself out."

Nor is Lucasfilm's exit from features instant or absolute. "Indiana Jones 4" is still in development. "Steve (Spielberg) and I are still working away, trying to come up with something we're happy with. Hopefully, in a short time, we will come to an agreement. Or something," Lucas said, without a great deal of enthusiasm.

Lucasfilm also is working on "Red Tails," a film about the Tuskegee airmen of WWII.

"I've been working on that for about 15 years," he said, adding that he's also been working on "Indy 4" for 15 years.

And Lucas Animation does plan to start making feature films -- eventually.

"Right now we're doing television, which looks great. I'm very, very happy with it," he said of his toon division. "And out of doing the animation, we're getting the skill set and the people and putting the studio in place so we can do a feature. But it's probably going to be another year before we have the people and the systems in place to do a feature film."

Lucas admitted the big-budget strategy has done well for him in the past, but said, "We're not going to do the $200 million investments."

He calls himself "semi-retired" but reiterated his plans to direct "small movies, esoteric in nature," after his other projects are launched. He expects to serve as exec producer on the two features and the TV shows, including a live-action "Star Wars" skein.

At the USC groundbreaking, Lucas was honored amid cannon shots of confetti and fanfares from the USC Marching Band for his gift, the largest in the school's history.

Other bizzers in attendance included Lucas pals Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg.

Lucas said the gift is intended to set an example for the rest of the entertainment industry, as well as other universities.

"In a lot of industries, the people in the industry give a lot of money to the schools that produce the people who are their employees," he said, pointing to the auto industry as an example. "The film industry doesn't seem to be too enthusiastic about that idea. I'd love to see the industry do more.

"As self-interest, it's good to have the best trained people working for you. And the best trained people come from film school.

"The world of moving images hasn't had a lot of respect (in academia)," said Lucas. "But it's the major form of communication in the 21st century."

This $175 million, he said, is meant to "put other universities on notice that this is an important discipline that needs to be fostered."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gore vs. Suspense

Had an epiphany of sorts last night about Arousal, in part due to a long email convo with the same person who had such ad adverse reaction to it last week. It shows you can always learn from the ones who don't like what you're doing.

Rather than tell you what this reader said, I'll just quote them:

The truth is, I felt conned. The beginning of your movie is really very good. I was trepitatious, nervous, nail biting and excited-scared. Then just completely fucking horrified and repulsed. The shift is really sudden and nasty. It suddenly becomes this whole other animal....

I believe subtle nuances make a good movie. The intimation of something frightening is much more interesting than the obvious.

Movies like Psycho are psychologically terrifying without being over the top visual.

Your movie, half way through, becomes something that moves from suggestively scary, to downright ugly. I couldn't watch it.

And my reply:
I have been pondering the nature of gratuitious elements in stories at length since our recent communications. The question you say—the "why?" factor—is the core of the issue, in my view. But instead of "Why does this element in the film exist?", the broader question might be better framed as "Why does this film exist?" Certain stories require certain elements: take those elements out, your movie won't make sense. If they can be taken out, then they're needless to the story, and thus gratuitous. If it's graphic sex or violence, then it's equivalent to watching porn or a snuff film. (See? I've been listening! tee hee)

My challenge from the start of this project was: how do I write a story including sex and violence but where none of the sex or violence is gratuitous? For the story, then, I would argue that the sex and violence are crucial to the development of my story...


The story itself may be called gratuitious. That I cannot, in good faith, dispute. The story might even be called an excuse to show a lot of sex and violence. But no more so than the sex in Boogie Nights, right?

I forgot to add here that the answer to "Why does this film exist?" for Arousal is more commerical than artistic, i.e. I'm making this film to be financially successful, not really to make an artistic statement (there is a tiny artistic statement in there, but let's face it—it's a hack and slash film I want to sell so I can make enough money so I can do this full time).

Then I came to my small epiphany:
I wouldn't want to see Chainsaw Massacre, but I would see Scream. I'm finally starting to see your point now...

I'm sitting here kind of speechless, because I'm thinking of Session 9, and that film is almost entirely bloodless, but it's terrifying because everything is suggested. There could be ways to tone down the gore and even ramp up the tension. Jaws is another example which I'm sure you must be thinking of. Blair Witch, too.

In my scramble to gain attention and guarantee marketability, am I trying too hard by being so graphic? Session 9, a personal favorite, is so great because everything is left to the imagination. That got me thinking about Brad Anderson, the director of Session 9, Happy Accidents, and The Machinist, all great films which build a lot of suspense with a tiny amount of gore, if any at all.

Arousal, though, is in a different genre. It's more akin to 28 Days Later, Dawn of The Dead, Wolf Creek. It follows more in the tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Scream, and that was a concscious choice, but I wonder now if some of the more extreme bits can be toned down to increase the suspense more.

Kevin Costner once said that acting is deciding whether or not to kiss someone—once you kiss them, it's action. Mostly, people prefer the former because there is still some question as to the outcome. A child covered in blood, standing 10 feet away and staring intently at you is probably more frightening than that same child violently attacking you because when he's just standing there, you don't know what the hell the he's going to do.

In the movie The Car, James Brolin has the demon car pull over, but the car does nothing. It just sits there. Parked. You can't see anything inside. There are no door handles. It's dark and menacing, a powerful black beast quietly preparing to pounce. Like waiting for Mulder and Skully to kiss, that delicious tension is endlessly watchable.

As I go into Draft #3, I'll be keeping this lesson firmly in mind. Since the story is, at its core, about how seeing sex and violence stirs us—or arouses us—from the numbness of everyday life, I'm unclear how much can be toned down. The town scene could certainly be revamped to insinuate rather than blungeoning the audience with an overt display of the macabre.

Warning to all feedback readers: I'm leaving town next week and won't be back until Monday evening, then 2 days later I have guests in town for two weeks. So if you want any kind of coherent reply and/or discussion, please get your feedback in within the week. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until after November 8.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Arousal WARNING!

I received an email from a feedback reader for Arousal who said they weren't finishing the script, that the script was a snuff film, and that they wanted to block me from their Myspace friends.


I'm keeping this person anonymous because I don't wish to mock them or single them out—feedback is feedback. It's neither wrong nor right. In point of fact, this kind of reaction is ten times more valuable than laudative remarks and I'm trying to figure out why she had such a strong reaction, especially since I've received remarks like "I LOVED IT!" and "You're sick, but you have a good screenplay."

But it got me thinking... Arousal does have a lot of sex and violence in it. And I wrote it specifically so it would. I had hoped to make the storyline require sex and violence or else it wouldn't make any sense. How, for instance, can you tell a story like Boogie Nights without showing them shooting a porn? How can you show the erotic quandaries the protagonist faces in 9 1/2 Weeks without at least a few sex scenes? How can you not show Jake watching the dancing naked lady in Body Double?

So here are some words of warning to any of you feedback readers who haven't read the script yet:

  • Arousal is a horror film—it is meant to get under your skin and yank your strings. If you don't have some kind of reaction to it, I haven't done my job.

  • Arousal was written to be easily marketable (and easily filmable).

  • Arousal has a lot of sex and a lot of violence.

  • Arousal is about a hemorrhagic fever—a virus that makes you bleed from every orifice—so you will see a lot of blood.

  • Arousal uses sex to explore different aspects of sexual arousal, but also to contrast sexual arousal with the clinical definition of arousal, which most people know as "fight or flight".

  • When you combine sex and violence, you get rape. So of course, rape is going to be a recurring element.

  • I love and respect my wife, my two cats, and everyone else, especially women—Arousal's gritty subject matter doesn't mean I'm a twisted homicidal snuff filmmaker. One need only read my yawner headstrong romantic drama 62 Blocks to Battery Park to know I originally didn't want to write horror films to make money. (I hasten to remind everyone that James Cameron's second try as director was Piranha 2. Not even Piranha 1, but Piranha 2!)

  • Not everything written in the script will get to the screen—there are some horrifying scenes I threw in at the last moment that I'm unsure about because they are too extreme, and frankly, may be gratuitous. This is why I have feedback readers.

Consider yourself warned!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sacramento Cop Shoots "Lunatic Messiah"

Just grabbed this off the teletype. Check out that last para!


Bad Highway Productions
1412 21st Street, Suite B
Sacramento, CA 95816

Ross Pruden, Publicist

Principal Photography to Start on Feature Film Halloween 2006


October 3rd, 2006

SACRAMENTO, CA -- On Halloween day, Doc Maxwell -- full-time police officer and President of Bad Highway Productions -- will begin shooting Lunatic Messiah, a psychological thriller feature film. Pre-production started this week at Bad Highway's new office space in midtown Sacramento.

Maxwell was still a full-time police officer when he incorporated Bad Highway Productions five years ago, but temporarily went part-time last year to ramp up his film company. "I looked at Sacramento's film community," says Maxwell, "and thought a small production studio making high-quality films without million dollar budgets was a niche market which had not been exploited enough. Because digital video has leveled the playing field for indie filmmakers, I had intended Bad Highway to just produce shorts and features but when I read the script for Lunatic Messiah, I knew immediately I wanted to direct it myself. Lunatic Messiah was a perfect fit for Bad Highway because its story was intriguing but it could still be shot inexpensively without sacrificing any quality."

Producer Meaghan Sinclair is equally enthusiastic about the project: "We have a great team working on this project so I can't wait to see this film get to principal." Still photographer Greg Pond of Greg Pond Photography in San Francisco will lens the feature: "Bad Highway has used Greg in the past," says Maxwell, "and we really like his work, so we're giving him a lot of freedom to make this film look however he wants." Maxwell has already cast actors from Sacramento, including Aysha (Something In The Clearing, Lost & Found, and Deer Season), Matt Lengerich (7eventy5ive, 99 Pieces), and Tyler Cook (Nine is Mine, 7eventy5ive), but is always looking to cast extras for the larger scenes.

Lunatic Messiah follows the life of a man encountering society's apocalyptic collapse and the subsequent deteriorating sanity he faces. Writer Steve Papineau's first feature film Claude's Cafe was an official selection at 2005's New York Film Festival and his last feature film, The Scorpion and The Chainsaw, is currently in post-production. Papineau cites Saw and The Night of The Living Dead as major inspirations for Lunatic Messiah -- "Like those classics, I wanted to set Lunatic Messiah from the standpoint of a main character dealing with an outside gone crazy."

Bad Highway's next project production is Arousal, a horror feature film written and to be directed by a writer living in Sacramento. For more information about Lunatic Messiah, please visit or call Ross Pruden: 415/823-0672 or

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Arousal, Draft #2: Ready for scrutiny!

Draft #2 is shiny. Come and get it.

If you didn't get an email about the script in the last hour, email me at ross >at< to get the script.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Arousal Draft #2: 2 hour extension!

I tried to get the most recent draft edited by deadline, but I'm still short a couple of hours. My new deadline is 2AM (2 hours from now). Watch this space...

Oh, for a few of you, I've lost your emails, so if you want to be a feedback reader, send me an email: ross >at<

Here are the people whose emails appear to be eluding me:
* Kristen Brownell
* The Question Is Moot
* Will Entrekin

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Screenwriting Expo 2006!

A big holla! out to all my homies in Los Angeles: I registered for the Screenwriting Expo from October 19th–22nd (arriving 3ish on 10/18; leaving 3ish on 10/23), so if you want to grab some food and chill wit me for a bit before I head back north to Sacred Tomatoes, I'd love to hear from ya. Wes will probably try to get me drunk as hell every night, but I told him no booze (well, not to excess, anyway) until after the conference. This is my education, hombre, and I don't squander it.

But let's clear one thing up right now—I don't go to conferences just to say I went. In fact, I feel quite strongly about conferences now, especially pricey ones. I've spent too many hours at conferences, lectures, socials, mixers, and schmooze-fests, and most of it has yielded next to nothing. If I go to a social now, it's to spend time with a select group of people with whom I already have a lasting relationship because we've worked together on a project: blood and sweat, it seems, has a crystallizing effect. (It works the other way, too: if you want to see more of your friends, do a project together. You can thank Josh Mehler for that pearl of wisdom!)

Unlike a community of lawyers or doctors or engineers, a conference like the Screenwriting Expo has no pre-qualifications to cull out the posers. Everyone wants to write a screenplay so everyone who can afford the ticket will go. And oh, there are so many. I wonder how many seriously study the craft? How many will actually write a script entertaining enough to be produced? Most importantly, how many people think outside the box and do what nobody else does?

Still, seeing that many writers and/or filmmakers in one room is daunting. I'm reminded of what my filmmaker friend Curtis calls the "intentional blinders"—if screenwriters and filmmakers actually knew the slim odds at getting their stories filmed, they'd give up... so they intentionally ignore the odds. Call it a madness if you wish, but for us creative types, it's a survival tactic—when hope dies, all else is for naught.

Finally, all the time I spend talking to other writers and filmmakers could be time I spend working on my script, or even producing my script. So why would I talk about it when I could be doing it? Yes, it's nice to know everyone's name in this room, and maybe something will come out of all that face time, but that sound you hear? That clickity-clack typing sound? That's me... typing your screenplay.

Nevertheless, this conference is worthwhile. This year's conference has a series of lectures specifically geared towards horror scripts, so I'm sure Arousal will benefit from that.

But the crucial lectures will be from Battlestar Galactica series developer Ron D. Moore and Farscape series creator Rockne S. O'Bannon. Because I'm developing Safe Harbors, my own sci-fi project with its own challenges about world creation, I expect there is much these two amigos will say that I'll find pertinent.

Plus, I get to see my Cuban-Americana sister again, which is a total bonus track! My golden heart... it's been too long. I'm so glad we're walking the filmmaking path together!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"I am not a number... I am a free man!"

Few TV shows really hit me where I live like the 1967 cult classic 17-episode The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan. (About the only other worthwhile series from that time is Fawlty Towers, but I digress.) And today I read that studios are in talks with Christopher Nolan to direct a film version of The Prisoner (Nolan's most famous accolade is the superb Memento).

Never heard of The Prisoner??? For shame...

A British secret agent, trying to quit his job, wakes up in a strange place, "The Village", where he's only known as No. 6, from which there is no escape, and any attempt to escape is blocked by mysterious floating bubbles called "Rovers." As Number 6 tries to escape, his cheery superiors and neighbors try to get "information" about why he wanted to retire...

In my mind, Number 6's most famous refrain comes when his superiors continue to call him by his number, and he responds: "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own." In this age of encroaching hegemony, can't everyone relate to that statement?

I loved McGoohan in this role. It was something about the way he used his hands, his facial expressions—they always seemed to hint at his churning anger and frustration. Like Christopher Walken, you couldn't stop watching this guy because you wanted to know what he was going to do next. It's also a little bit like Alias where you had this guy trapped by government types and though he usually seemed like he'd accepted his fate, you knew he was so smart (hello... he's a spy!) that he was just keeping up appearances, that deep down you knew he was working on his next prison break. And, of course, you were always right.

Another twist in the tale is The Prisoner came a year after a series called Danger Man (also known as Secret Agent Man), which also starred McGoohan as a secret agent doing secret agent things. So if you'd been a fan of Danger Man, then seeing him play the previous secret agent role in a different series, as a kind of a quasi-sequel, would be surreal at a bare minimum.

There have been talks to film The Prisoner as a feature for almost as long as the show went off the air, but choosing Christopher Nolan to direct will cinch it this time. The original series was unapologetically enigmatic, a non-stop mindgame of a storyline, so choosing someone like Nolan is the best fit for this kind of story. They might even revive the series, which—if done properly, like the short-lived Mission: Impossible TV remake in the 80s—could be killer.

Finally, I know the film is going to get made this time, and it's going to be good, for one other terribly relevant reason: this news was posted was August 21st... my birthday! That's kind of weird when you think that this series is as old as I am.

Be seeing you!

Monday, September 25, 2006

One Dumb Dog (And Some Funny Cats)

These videos always always make me laugh. But here's a puzzler, Batman: my wife has a notoriously low-key sense of humor (if she laughs twice and slaps her knee three times, she's really enjoying herself), and zero sense of humor when it comes to slapstick comedy. Why, then, does slapstick comedy by animals other than humans make her laugh so hard that she cries? If anyone can tell me, I can finally stop going to that support group on Wednesday nights and resume my LAN party gaming.

I love dogs. But this dog is extremely dumb and/or insane. I guess that's part of the reason why I love dogs. And what is it with dogs protecting bones? As a joke one Christmas, I gave my family's puny Yorkshire Terrier a foot long bone and almost knocked over the tree trying to pry it back out of her mouth. You haven't lived until you've seen a dog only somewhat successfully drag a bone equal to their own body weight.

There are a few in here which get me every time: the black kitten jumping onto the table (0:42) because the payoff is so unexpected; the white kitten walking on the dresser (0:50) because you couldn't pay an actor to do comedy that funny; the black cat jumping on the wall (1:11)... I just picture his surprised face as he slides down the wall; and then my all-time favorite: the white cat jumping on the kitchen bar (1:15)—cats don't usually see the slippery surfaces and grasping a heavy toaster on the way down probably doesn't help matters. This is like one of those Road Runner moments where the anvil magically positions itself over the falling cayote.

These aren't as good as the previous clips, but they're still amusing.

Okay, seriously—what's up with the kitty high fiving? And check out the kitty at 0:44... he had to have been hungry!

These clips aren't funny as much as they are about cats being cats. Which is still funny.

This reminds me of the Lylebird, which can mimick any sound. The Lylebird isn't as funny, though. Oh Long Johnson. Why I eyes ya...

I can't tell if I'm amused or disturbed.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Keeping Up Appearances

This article caught my eye today because I've always thought how great it would be to do a webcam chat without ever worrying about what I'm wearing:

Fake half-suit for videoconferencing

Slobs who work at home can look their best for videoconferences with the Businessbib, a pullover half-suit that has a built in shirt and tie.

Businessbibs are hand-made from recycled materials and are supposed to be sturdy and stylish. Priced between $135-150, they can be ordered online.

This fake business suit is especially amusing if you know that the necktie—while essentially designed as a bib to keep one's shirt from getting dirty over a particularly messy dining experience—is now used only a decorative item, and as such, we now sell a necktie protector as a bib for our bib. Madness!

One has to wonder who would ever be courageous enough to wear a Businessbib... I mean, copping to wearing this idiotic thing would be worse than telling your mom that you enjoy watching porn. Furthermore, if I were a CEO doing a webcam chat, I'd intermittently insist everyone on the call get up for some silly reason just to watch their face blanche as they realized their Businessbib (and anything not covered by the Businessbib) might show up on the webcam. Who says the corporate world isn't entertaining?

I wait patiently to see the day when a video conferencing business type has a conference over dinner and uses a necktie protector for his fake half suit. Then I know we'll have completely lost our minds.

And for the academically inclined, here's what Wiki says about neckties:
A cravat is the neckband that was the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie. From the end of the 16th century, the term "band" applied to any long strip of cloth worn round the neck that was not a "ruff". The ruff itself had started its career in the earlier 16th century as a starched and pleated strip of white linen that could be freshly changed to keep the neck of a doublet from getting increasingly grimy, or for use as a bib or napkin. A "band" could indicate a plain, attached shirt collar or a detached "falling band" that draped over the doublet collar.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Great Escape!

If you've never seen The Great Escape with Steve McQueen, the commercial below won't hit home with you... but that just means you need to see The Great Escape! (While we're on the topic, it would be wrong not to remark what astonishing lengths Allied P.O.W.'s went to in order to escape from their Nazi captors. While the film captures a feel for this, the book really drives the point home. One can't read the book without feeling a sense of awe of how resourceful, and how courageous, these men were to pull of an escape of such scope.)

Here's the commercial; make sure you watch all the way to the end:

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The best, and the funniest, commercials are often the most simple, but scaled to a ridiculous proportion.

Friday, September 15, 2006

My Harebrained Road Map

I finally uploaded the Table of Contents for Harebrained Pipe Dreams, my new blog for anyone who wants to start an online business for almost nothing. Hopefully the TOC should give readers a clear idea of why they might want to keep coming back.

When it comes to stuff like Pay Per Click campaigns and podcasting, I couldn't possible say I know much, if anything, so I'll have to go trolling for advice to report something worthwhile. Still, though, just telling people how to set up a decent web site for under $30/year has got to be helpful to somebody out there.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

iTV will rule

I've said before that the future of entertainment is goin online: the cleanest crispest versions of downloadable media will be kept in a central location. If your house burns down, you don't have to repurchase DVDs, you just sign back into your Apple iTunes account and re-download all your movies.

The question for me has been, when? Half a year ago, Warner Brothers was trying out a business model where you could buy the rights to download an advance version of King Kong soon followed by the DVD upon its release. Well, that's interesting, but does it mean we'll always have access to that downloadable version? Warner Brothers isn't in business to provide online entertainment.

But iTunes is.

It's not at all surprising that iTunes is now offering movies for download, but what is surprising is that studios have allowed iTunes to do it. But Apple has worked hard in scaling the Digital Rights issues with music, then TV, so movies are the next peak to ascend.

The only obstacle in their path is how to make a customer's purchased entertainment viewable on TVs. So Apple rolls out iTV:

Jobs also offered a sneak peek at the company's plan to use a sleek silver box to wirelessly connect the PC to the living room TV. The box, temporarily called "iTV," will cost $299, and will be available before April 2007, Jobs said.

I stopped reading this article when I read that paragraph... Apple has found the skeleton key that will convert their company in the entertainment giant of the next 20 years. No more wasteful DVD duplication for studios, no more wasted money upgrading from VHS to DVD to HD to whatever... all that will slough off into the margin as Apple provides the purchase rights to any type of online entertainment. Apple's market share will explode once the market sees the trend go that way.

Hey, I could be wrong, but look how far Apple has come with music in only five years. In five more years, everyone will be using iTunes and iTV. Hell, PC users are already using Quicktime and iTunes—once quintessentially Apple-only products—so the debate is no longer about which computer platform users have chosen.

Here's the entire article:

Warning to Jobs: Taming Hollywood not easy
The king of digital music surprised no one with its new movie download strategy. Now comes the hard part.

By Jon Fortt, Business 2.0 senior editor
September 13 2006: 9:23 AM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) -- Plenty of the usual "oohs" and "aahs" to go around when Apple Computer took the wraps off its movie download strategy Tuesday, but the iPod maker might have a harder time dominating digital movies than it has had ruling digital music.

The reason: the movie industry, while in turmoil, is in a far stronger position today than the music industry was when Jobs came to the rescue a few years ago when record companies were reeling from the onset of Internet piracy.

But that isn't keeping CEO Steve Jobs out of Hollywood. In a presentation that opened with a new lineup of iPods for the holidays, Jobs unveiled Apple's (Charts) iTunes movie download service. Movies will cost $12.99 in the first week after their release, and $14.99 starting in the second week. Older movies will cost $9.99.

Jobs also offered a sneak peek at the company's plan to use a sleek silver box to wirelessly connect the PC to the living room TV. The box, temporarily called "iTV," will cost $299, and will be available before April 2007, Jobs said. But the company did not detail how iTV will work. (More on Apple's announcement).

Apple, of course, isn't the only technology company looking to partner with movie studios. (Charts), for instance, announced last week its Amazon Unbox service, which allows users to download movies for viewing on PCs and Windows Media devices. Sprint Nextel (Charts) also announced a pay-per-view service last week. And startups including CinemaNow, Guba and MovieLink are also competing in the market.

Flawless execution is key
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said Apple's iTV is impressive, but warned that the company has little room for error. The technology has to work seamlessly in the home from the get-go.

"That's going to be (Apple's) challenge," said Gartenberg. "This thing better work out of the box. This is the kind of thing that needs to work the first time."

What's more, if Apple hopes to make it big in movies, it's got to play by Hollywood's rules.

Apple's movie launch differs in key respects from its original iTunes Music Store launch more than three years ago. When Apple unveiled its paid music downloads, it bet that millions of Internet users would pay 99 cents a song to legally download music - an idea many considered far-fetched, since savvy Web surfers had grown accustomed to grabbing free downloads from services like Napster and Kazaa.

The skeptics were wrong, and Apple's gamble paid off big.

Its head start in paid downloads has allowed it to dominate the market, with a huge lead over rivals like Microsoft (Charts), and mostly dictate its terms to the music industry.

And though music titans have openly pushed Apple to let them charge more for hit songs, Jobs has resisted, saying it's imperative that Apple keep the digital download system simple. And since Apple's iTunes commands three quarters of the download market, according to estimates by industry analysts, Jobs gets his way.

Hollywood's pricing power
This time around, Apple's video offerings join an already crowded field of Internet video services, and Hollywood is determined to keep Jobs from wielding as much influence over video downloads as he does over music.

Case in point: iTunes movies will have variable pricing. It seems that strategy was important to Disney (Charts), the first Hollywood player to allow TV shows and movies on iTunes.

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook, who was at the Apple presentation, said variable pricing makes a lot of sense in movies - first-run flicks should cost more, while "You take an older title like 'Old Yeller' - something like this gives it new life," even at $9.99. It's the same argument the record labels made, but to no avail.

Cook also offered this: It's important, he said, that the digital download business be "revenue neutral" for Disney, meaning that Disney plans to make as much money from downloads as it does from DVDs after packaging and other costs are factored in.

The biggest threat Applewood faces?
The main competitor for all of the online services could be a company with an entirely different strategy for shaking up the movie business: Netflix.

Just as Apple changed the game in music downloads, Netflix has changed the playing field for movie rentals. The company booked more than $463 million in revenue in the first half of 2006 thanks to a wildly successful model that lets subscribers pay as little as $5.99 a month for unlimited DVDs.

Why isn't Apple pursuing a digital version of the Netflix subscription model? With music, Jobs has said, people are accustomed to owning their favorite tunes and listening to them over and over again.

But it would seem that movies are a different story. Consumers buy DVDs -- but they're more likely to rent a movie on a whim, watch it once, and send it back. Some services, like Guba and CinemaNow, are pursuing the digital rental business.

It remains to be seen whether Apple will offer its own subscription option, and whether its movie efforts will prove as popular as its music store. Either way, Apple might not be the only star on the red carpet.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A new blog: "Harebrained Pipe Dreams"

I started a new blog today dedicated to starting low-cost online businesses. It is called Harebrained Pipe Dreams and its mission is to catalogue my experiences in starting up businesses with almost no money and no time.

It will differ from this blog in several ways:

* it will have advertsing (AdSense)
* it will be family-friendly—no expletives or lewd behavior
* it will have contributors
* posts will be partially duplicated on Myspace

Please visit it frequently if you care to. I'll let you know if a regular schedule of posts is established. Any comments are very welcome!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Should I do a new blog?

I never thought I'd go to you all for advice, but so many of you are techno-geeks like me, so I thought I'd take a crack at it.

I'm getting ready to build a small internet business from the ground up, just something small in my spare time that could, over time, turn into something much larger. I had thought about blogging about each step in the process, which might be very informative to those attempting to do something similar, but I already post so much stuff on this blog that I don't want to oversaturate it with more gunk.

Because my internet business topic is so specialized, I also thought a dedicated blog about it might make for an interesting book after the business is running well (or not). A further reason to splinter this blog into its own site is that its topic is ideally suited for advertising. I've shied away from advertising on my personal blog, because... well, it's my personal blog. The only thing I might ever sell on my own blog are T-shirts saying "I support my local blogger." But a topic-centered blog about starting a business? I see no reason why I can't turn a profit through advertising.

Gabrito, I need your sage advice. And for all my readers, I'd really like to hear your take on it. Obviously, anyone else out there who professionally blogs, or runs their own internet business... I would love to hear your feedback!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Arousal, Draft #1: COMPLETE!

Well, the beast is finally slayed. So I guess it's no surprise that what comes to mind is this stanza from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky:

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

Screenplays are a 100 meter dash compared to the marathon of writing a novel, but they can still leave you winded at the finish line. I wrote Arousal's first draft in about 10 days of actual writing (spread out over 35 days), but spent over two months plotting out Arousal's storyline... and came up with its concept over a year ago, come to think of it. If you count the endless hours of daydreaming I expended, I really spent more like 5 to 6 months "writing" this sucker.

But it's done. And during this morning's celebratory chat session at Infusion Cafe, mere seconds after I had typed the final "FADE TO BLACK", I had my first IM chat with the inimitable "Bookstar" Myspace addict, Will Entrekin. Will's most notorious character trait is how prolific he is. Come on, bro—save some words for the rest of us, will ya? You even put Kristen to shame. Anyway, good peeps. Sharp guy. His blog is somehow always interesting. Since I have a laptop now, I can finally participate in his annaul Academy Award commentary. Scha-weet!

Out of the frying pan, as they say... For all the time it takes to write a first draft, there is a definitive end to it. Rewriting? It's like that philosophy question they used to ask us in college: if you run half the distance to a finish line, then half the remaining distance, and then half THAT remaining distance, and so on, will you ever actually reach the finish line?

Great God, let's hope so. My vorpal blade gets thirsty for blood!

Arousal IM Chat Wednesday 9AM-12PM

This is a shout out to anyone interested in a joining my Webcam conference chat this Wednesday morning!

I'll be chilling for three hours at Infusion Cafe in my über-cool whisper dome (subject to availability) as I finish off the first draft of Arousal. The hardest work is over for this script, so I can take a few distractions from friends and fellow writers as I finish off and proof the first draft. I'll be happy to answer any questions about Arousal and any upcoming film projects. My lawyers have told me no more lewd conduct, so nothing but G-rated behavior tomorrow. Sorry! (But hey, you might get lucky if you ask.)

When: Wednesday September 6th, 9AM-12PM (PST)
Yahoo ID: rosspruden

You'll have to use Yahoo Messenger to see the Webcam feed, but you should be able to use any IM application to join the chat. If you're using Yahoo Messenger, you must first add my ID ("rosspruden") as a "contact". This is kind of last minute so I'm not expecting a lot of people to be there, but if you can make it, it'd be great to chat with ya!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Arousal, Draft 1: 83% Complete

Argh... does Tarantino write such crappy first drafts? Still, 91 pages ain't bad. Quantity, not quality. Quanity, not quality.

I read somewhere that Shane Black, the writer behind The Long Kiss Goodnight and Lethal Weapon, said that the trick behind writing good action is definiing a plausible Good News/Bad News ping pong game:

GOOD NEWS—you've escaped the enemy is his private jet...
BAD NEWS—there's a henchman on board!

GOOD NEWS—you throw the henchman out of the plane...
BAD NEWS—you instantly realize he's vented all the fuel and had the last parachute!

GOOD NEWS—you jump out of the plane and knock him unconscious in mid-air...
BAD NEWS—you can't untach him from his parachute!

GOOD NEWS—you tie yourself in with his parachute and can pull the rip cord...
BAD NEWS—the rip cord is broken!

...and so on until you reach the ground.

Writing a climax scene with so much action is challenging, but also fun in that it's designing a game of breakneck ping pong with shocking twists and turns. But with words.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Arousal, Draft #1: 77% complete

Finally, I'm getting to the good stuff for my feature script Arousal—the climax and denoument of the main storyline (two of the three sub-plots have been resolved by this time). I'm at page 86 and closing in on the final act... Now more than ever, I have to keep reminding myself that this is only a first draft and that 60-85% of it is likely to change, maybe more.

As with every writer, I'd like to think that I crap gold turds on every try, but first drafts are deceptive... sometimes it takes a few weeks (or months) to peel off the rosy-colored glasses and handle a red pen with the scrutiny needed to tell a worthwhile story.

If I've structured this right, and chosen the right kind of ending, hopefully this will be the only way this story can end. So I'm excited to show it to you all so you can tell me what you think.

Which brings me to...

Please be patient with my artistic whimsy—my initial drafts aren't usually released for feedback because I expect so much of it will change after my own read-through. But fear not—your time shall come! If you want to be a feedback reader, I do want to hear from you, but under one condition: you must be totally honest. If you don't like the script—even if you hate it—I really want to know that. If 1 person out of 10 hates it, that's different from 9 people out of 10 hating it... and both are valuable kinds of feedback. Oh... and did I forget? Exceptional feedback readers will get a Story Consultant credit when this film gets produced.

And let's be honest—haven't you always wanted your own entry on the IMDB?