Thursday, October 21, 2010

Screenwriting Shangri La



Today, I stood in screenwriting Shangri La.

At the corner of Fairfax and West 3rd Street stood a legendary structure, unassuming in appearance, but oh the treasures it contained. I waved to an elderly security guard and turned down a slender hallway. Every step quicker than the next as I approached—

The Writers Guild Foundation Shavelson-Webb Library

Floor to ceiling shelves loaded with television and movie scripts. Additional compartments housed biographies, how-tos, and how-not-tos along with other hidden gems such as: Steven Spielberg; The Man, His Movies, and Their Meaning by Philip M. Taylor. Over 17,000 scripts… Each treated like the Holy Grail, but instead of ‘not passing the great seal,’ they couldn't pass the glass doors of Billy Wilder’s Reading Room.

Small alcoves with modern, yet comfortable crimson chairs served as sanctuaries for reading and writing. Or people watching. I’m told the farmer’s market across the street has inspired many quirky characters.

I stood there surrounded by ‘thoughts and success’ and felt inspired to write… But alas, this was only a recon mission. I’d left my laptop and notebooks at the apartment in case Shangri La turned out to be the Houston Projects.

I’ll return soon, armed and ready to commence my assault on the screenwriting world.

Until then…


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Road Trip Photos

Multnomah Falls, OR

The Oregon Coast reminds me of Ireland.

You can be Jeff Gordon for $2100.

Sea lion cave. A $12 tourist trap.

Welcome to awesomeness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Picks for New Fall Shows to Succeed



Hour long Dramas:

· Blue Bloods

· Hawaii Five-0

· Undercovers & The Defenders

o I still have hope for Chase

Half hour comedies

· $#*! My Dad Says

· Mike and Molly

· Running Wilde

I am looking forward to seeing Matthew Perry’s Mr. Sunshine, ABC’s Off the map, and NBC’s the Cape later this fall.


Final review



Final Fall Review

$#*! MY DAD SAYS ***1/2

A comedy about a mid twenties, out of work journalist who is forced to move in with his grumpy, forthright father.


· A joke fest. It's filled with dry wit, callbacks to earlier gags (the raccoon) and reversals of expectation which work on so many levels.

· William Shatner was tailor made for Ed, a sour, crotchety old man who speaks his mind and offers stubborn fatherly advice which adds to the charm and mystic of this comedy. And Shatner's stone faced deliveries ooze with sarcasm.

· The dynamic. All the cast seem comfortable in their roles and work together to create an enjoyable sitcom.


· The arguments and faux yelling take away the impact of the jokes. Tone those scenes down and let us enjoy the jokes.

· The awkward dance scene at the end could have been a down ending. Good thing the girl scouts saved the day.

· Lose the laugh track.

Based on the famous twitter account, $#*! is a breath of fresh air and a must see.


A crime drama that follows the lives of a tight knit, multi-generational Reagan family and their dedication to the New York City Police Department.


· The family dynamic. The Sunday dinner scene highlighted how these characters interact with each other. Sibling bickering heated exchanges of opinions, reconciliation and understanding. This is a great example of non-verbal communication. Each character is fully fleshed out with strengths and flaws compounded and duplicated until the Reagans are practically popping off the screen. Danny Reagan takes the law into his own hands to solve a case and he knows he’s going to pay for it… but it was worth it. Chief Reagan takes the opportunity to promote his legacy because he knows he’s on his last leg and has no friends in high places to save him. Erin Reagan-Boyle wants to uphold the law, but also protect her family and she’s not afraid to air her opinion, just like her grandfather. And Jaime, the new blue in a uniform, has a hell of a decision to make…

· The secrets we keep reveal more than what we say… And every Reagan has a secret...

· Story line. Set up, escalating problems, a solution that leads to another problem and more drama. Addictive.


· I’m still thinking…

Wow. The former producers of the Sopranos take an in depth look at the other side of the law and the men and women who serve and protect – by their own rules. The casting is wonderful. From the opening intercut between Chief Reagan’s speech and the kidnapping of the girl, I was put into a chokehold and held breathless until the final fade out. Blue Bloods accomplishes in the pilot what other dramas only dream of doing or spend seasons faking. This is story telling at it’s finest.


After a plane crash in Brazil, the Powell family returns home with special extraordinary powers


· Discovery of powers. When Jim catches the bullet at work and then goes to the batting cage to test his theories was a structurally sound sequence. When he realized he’s not invincible after being shot in the head it becomes a family affair was an added bonus to bring it full circle. Stephanie discovers her speed by running down the highway… I’m not sure it would not have played better had she just ran and got a beaker for an experiment. Daphne’s struggles with her mental telepathy. What a power for a teenager! And JJ has a beautiful mind… As they uncover their powers at different stages in the pilot, it added to the drama as they struggle to control their powers and understand their limits.

· George St. Cloud as the sidekick. From his fainting after shooting Jim, to utilizing the police scanner to building a lair with wifi, he is a great addition.

· The Ending. Revealing there are other extraordinary people out there and that Stephanie’s boss is involved. A tangled web they weave…


· The interview style introduction and the reveal the Powells are attending marriage counseling… I am on the fence because it does not feel like it’s adding to the story, just rehashing or explaining what we are seeing. There is already a lot of explaining in this series and the interview scenes may become redundant.

· Voicing subtext…

· Sneering villains with nothing more to do than shoot people and rehash tired overconfident, one-liners. The reveal that the robber had special powers was great because it sets up a balance of good and evil in this world, but now it begs the question, is this a family drama or will it be a crime fighting/action series…

No Ordinary Family fells like Heroes. Hopefully stays true to its premise.

Other shows watched but not reviewed


Competitive lawyers whoyou know the drill… The POV swaps in the first two acts were a change of pace, but could not save the show.

Old favorites still running on all cylinders

CHUCK – has hit its stride after struggling at the end of season two.

MODERN FAMILY – Can you say more Emmys?

TWO AND A HALF MEN – Old habits are hard to break.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT - Cast dynamic + writing = funny, funny, funny.

GREYS ANATOMY – How will Seattle Grace recover in the aftermath of last season’s bloody season finale?

NCIS – One word. Gibbs.

COMMUNITY -- Another word. Abed.

Hope you enjoyed the reviews and stay tuned…


Saturday, September 25, 2010

More reviews



Part III of the Fall Review

DETROIT 1-8-7 *1/2

A gritty documentary drama about Detectives Washington and Fitch who investigate homicides in Detroit.


· Interrogation scene: Det. Finch uses the silent treatment to crack a perp and gain a confession. Fresh and inventive.

· Det. Washington cuffs a perp to a playground swing set and takes a call from his pregnant wife expecting her to be in labor. The perp tries to make a run for it cuffed to a plastic slide.

· The honest moment in final hostage negotiation where Finch reveals more character in three minutes than he did the previous 40. His heart felt confession about knowing what the shooter is going through reeled me back in… But not for long.


· Cold and lifeless.

· The documentary/Cops style does not help enhance the story, especially when you are not fully committed to the documentary style. Without the interviews or the side bar comments (ala The Office or My Generation) this series feels incomplete.

· I found it hard to identify with any of the characters. The rookie, Det. Washington was a ploy to let us enter the world, but I was never along for the ride. I felt left out on many of the reveals.

Detroit has a high crime rate so there will be an abundance of story lines, however the question is will they be appealing… I feel the ending foreshadows what’s in store for this series.


A comedic drama about two colorful Las Vegas defense attorneys who go all-in when it comes to representing their clients.


· Jim Belushi rocks as Nick Morelli, a sports loving, martini drinking showman, with marital problems. He may not have the perfect life, (he hires a PI to tail his wife because he thinks she’s cheating on him even though they are separated) but I’m willing to forgive him because he’s great at defending his clients. From his conniving nature to his coy smiles, Belushi sinks his teeth into the role and never lets go. The scene with the water cup is one of the many memorable pilot moments.

· The main case. I got to know the defendant, I cared about his situation and was rooting for the Defense to find a way to prove he was innocent.

· At one point Pete claims that they are “Dumb enough to care.” I’m not sure dumb should be used to describe this gem. Smart. Clever. And refreshing. Yes. But not dumb. It has too many elements working for it. The team’s tenacity gives up hope. Their attention to detail keep us engaged. And their humor and pizzazz keeps us craving more.


· Pete Kaczmarek – the gambler/playboy with a heart of gold. Cliché. Jerry O’Connell is the character’s saving grace. He’s not given much, but his animal magnetism and affable delivery keeps Pete from sinking into sleaze ball territory.

· The smaller cases. There were two beats and a lot of women looking for a defendant, but that storyline never came to fruition… Could have done without that.

· The flashy suits. It’s Vegas, so I’ll let it slide.

This show was a pleasant surprise. I went in with low expectations thinking it would be another run-of-the-mill lawyer drama, but the Defenders has an affable quality and an underdog appeal that both fascinates and captivates. The show has three central characters, but is peppered with colorful minor characters i.e. Zoe Waters, with her flamboyant eye shadow and post it note message technique. Defenders is a blend of flash and style with huge helping of substance. Further more, any show that concludes with a serenade by Frank Sinatra Jr. is a must see.


A thriller that follows an ordinary man who unwittingly exposes the biggest cover-up in U.S. history.


· Great mystery and intrigue. “Who are these people and why should we not let them out?”

· Tension. From loaded subtext to the riveting act breaks, I refused to change the channel.

· Jason Ritter as Sean Walker. He hooked me from the start as I questioned how this average Joe went from a romantic cruise with his girlfriend to brandishing a pistol on a 747. He leaves no emotion untouched. A desperate man looking for his girlfriend, you feel for him, but still have no idea if you can trust him. Good stuff.


· Flashbacks. I am on the fence. They rehash information and provide new insight from a different POV, but they have a tendency to break up the tense moments and upon returning to the scene, lose a little momentum.

· Pacing. I was forced to digest a lot in very little time. You want to watch this show, you better drop everything and be willing to keep up.

· At the climax, a 747 careers toward the villa harboring the US President and then the strangest thing happened… And you lost me. Then it was over and now I have to wait a week for the explanation…

The Event feels like a mash up of 24 and Lost. If it can maintain momentum and mystery all blanketed inside a conspiracy this show has staying power, but might be better digested as a DVD box set.


A documentary style drama follows the graduates of Greenbelt High School's class of 2000 and reunites them ten years later so see how their lives have panned out.


· Documentary style. What Detroit 1-8-7 fails to do, this show captures and maintains. The flashbacks, the sidebars and the eaves dropping cameras all adds to the appeal.

· Relatable. Ten years after high school, no one’s lives turned out the way they planned. It was interesting to see how world events changed them, inspired them and even destroyed them... One woman wanted to be a scientist until the Florida ‘hanging chad’ fiasco, then she entered politics. Another was an all star basketball player and then joined the army after 9-11. Some of their dreams died, others were fulfilled, and many settled for less than they deserved, and others just grew up and move on…

· The inner woven storylines. Nine characters all tangled in a dramatic web and brought together for a second chance, maybe to recapture their dreams…


· Jerky nature of the flashbacks. I realize they are meant to represent hand held cameras, but I’d like to keep my dinner down.

· The emotions. This one is a tearjerker, so be prepared.

· The camera-person/narrator probing for answers. I’m on the fence about this technique.

Within five minutes I was determined to conclude my review with, “in the words on my generation. WHO CARES.” But by the midpoint this show had piqued my interest and by the finale, I was in the same boat. I felt for the nerd who found out he was impotent. I cheered when the Wallflower asserted herself. And I am hoping they all can be with the ones they love. We have one life to live and it’s too short to not chase what our hearts desire.

Other shows watched but not reviewed


A conman with a heart of gold… come on.


A comedy about the bad news bears of India’s call centers… pass.

Stay tuned… still more to come.


More reviews



Part II of the Fall Review


A comedy that follows the Chance family, a terribly flawed band of individuals, as they find themselves caring for a newborn baby.


· Surprises and unexpected reveals peaked my interest and invoked involuntary laughter – I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but I just can’t help it.

· Sabrina, the sarcastic checker whose random vandalism stole the show, but her questioning nature and compassion made her empathetic. She could really turn Jimmy’s life upside down and make it fun.

· Singing the baby to sleep. That one heart felt moment made me I realize despite all the bickering and backbiting, this family cares about each other and will help make this work.


· Jimmy, the protagonist, is a whiner who believes no one has any faith in him, which they don’t, but he spends too much time dwelling on that instead of finding solutions to raise Hope.

· Gross out humor – throwing up on the baby. A different twist on a tired joke.

· I felt like I was laughing at this family. Instead of standing beside them I remained on the sidelines, never fully engaged, never included.

Greg Garcia is in his element and this family feels like Earl’s relatives. I kept waiting for Jason Lee to strut through the door. “Growing up, embracing our mistakes and trying to better our lives” seems to be the message but it’s lost in the outlandish plot and gross out humor… Not my cup of tea.


A comedy that tracks three different couples as they deal with relationship status, a new engagement and pregnancy.


· Revealing character introductions. With in the first five minutes I knew who the main players were and at least one of their exaggerated quirks so I could identify with them.

· Fresh scene transitions using photo booths pictures.

· The male characters are more fleshed out with relatable quirks and deliver the better comedic lines. Ben is Jerry Seinfeld with energy, witty and worried where as Casey is goofy, naïve yet true to himself. Together they make a great comedic paring.


· Too much information. Where as Raising Hope was simplistic, Better With You provided one reveal after another until I felt overwhelmed. The first reveal about the young couple getting married would have been enough to carry the show, but the second reveal – delivered in a comedic way – was unnecessary.

· Maddie, melodrama disguised as humor.

· Utilization of the older couple Vicky and Joel (Kurt Fuller & Debra Jo Rupp). Together, they possess a plethora of comedic talent; which is squandered in their minor roles.

Better With You has potential to be a hit – good clean comedy, great premises – but it needs to utilize its setups and refrain from getting too complicated as they continue their run.


A drama that follows Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza who quits his job hoping to right the system by starting his own private practice.


· Lucinda, the fiery private investigator, is complex, engaging and steals her scenes. Of all the characters, she’s the most fleshed out and cliché defying.

· “…No longer a victim, I’m in control of my life” is a powerful message. Garza has a strong sense of justice and a need to protect the innocent. It’s a tale of redemption and making a stand…

· The on going mystery of “Who’s the brute following Justice Garza?”


· The character’s set up was a rip off from Ironman, only the dialogue was changed. Garza is an older version of Tony Stark.

· Lack of scene energy. For the first half of the pilot, the characters (with the exception of Lucinda) felt like they were going through the motions, reading memorized lines… The intensity picked up in the final courtroom show down but by then, viewers could have changed the channel.

· Another courtroom drama…

Outlaw is a typical courtroom drama with a team of experts working behind the scenes to bring justice to a falsely accused man. However, in most courtroom dramas there is a sense of empathy for the accused. I never felt that. I never cared enough to hope this guy made it off death row. As interesting as the case was and the techniques used by the defense to obtain evidence I just didn’t find it engaging…


An action adventure that centers around two former spies, Steven and Samantha Bloom, who are thrown back into the espionage world while trying to lead a normal life.


· Chemistry: The Blooms are a loving married couple looking for adventure to rejuvenate ‘the spark.’ Alone, they more than hold their own, but together they are captivating. And human. Their flaws and forgiving nature built depth and empathy. I cared what happened to the Blooms.

· Action packed first act sets up an adrenaline-fueled adventure that swept us back into the game.

· Bill, the Sidekick. Crafted to reveal character through hero worship.


· Talky – Lots of dialogue, not unnecessary or redundant, but at times more could be relayed through non-verbal communication.

· Distracting camera movements. It’s not a stagnant shot if you keep the camera locked and let the characters move around. The style distracts from the story.

· After five years out of the game, wouldn’t they be a bit… rusty?

Undercovers grabbed me right from the start and lead me on a high-octane adventure with compelling characters, original action sequences and surprising act breaks. My biggest concern is budget. Can this series sustain its explosive, adrenaline rush for 22 episodes? I hope so… In the mean time it’s a must see.

Stay tuned… more to come.