Category Archives: Personal

Not Everything about Los Angeles Is Bad

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you know that more often than not, I am complaining about LA: the traffic, the people, the pollution, or whatever pet peeve it is this month. But in recent months I have revised my opinion: yes, it is exceedingly difficult to live in LA. This is not a very livable city like Ann Arbor or Portland. But there are certain advantages to living here. What follows are some:

1. The weather. It’s eighty-four and sunny. No, not today, every day. If you suffer from Seasonal affective disorder, like I do, there is no better place to feel good, year round. The greatest weather catastrophe we get is rain, and that’s about once a year. Beat that, Seattle.

2. The beach. I live five miles from the Pacific coast. Need I say more?




3. Randy’s Donuts. Short of heaven, I don’t think there is anywhere better to get a hot, fresh donut. If you are ever in LA, even just passing through LAX, make it a point to stop at the giant donut.

My only complaint: more restaurants aren’t designed by way of what they serve.





4. Free movies. There really is no place else in the world where people outside theatres give out tickets to free movies. Sure, many of them are previews of movies I have no interest in, but the simple idea that anyone can get into a movie for free (and not try that hard) makes me happy.

5. Downtown LA. There is nowhere quite like Los Angeles’ downtown. Filled with interesting stories, shops, and a rich history, crowned by aging movie palaces down Broadway, it is a shame so many tourists stick to Hollywood. There is really so much more to see. At least see the giant redwoods in Clifton’s Cafeteria if you can.

6. KCSN. It may not always be The Music I Want (per their slogan) but it is always on in my car. I like the variety, the absence of deejays, and their choice to broadcast World Café every day. I don’t understand their programming philosophy, but maybe that is why I like it.

7. South Pasadena. I discovered this sleepy little town off the 110 through my work on their local I recently made this video for the site.

Everyone is reasonably friendly, the stores are cute and not ostentatious, and there are some amazing places to get sundaes. Maybe I like it so much because it is so un-LA. The outlying neighborhood of quaint Craftsman houses reminds me of that sleepy little mirage of a town the astronauts find on Mars in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Bradbury is local, after all, and I bet he based it a little bit off South Pas. Probably not the midnight assassination part, but the quaint part, yes.

8. Vroman’s. Located in Pasadena, this little bookstore that could always occupies several hours of my time when I am out that way. A truly independent bookstore, they are always hosting author talks, putting out good employee picks, and stocking up on new releases. When I worry about the future of publishing, I worry about Vroman’s, and hope they can stay open a little bit longer.

9. Independent Cinema. I live a couple of blocks from the Nuart, the Regal, the Royal, the Regent, and the Bruin—all great single screen theaters that do their best to be independent. And where else would Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams draw crowds other than the Royal in West LA?

10. The Margaret Herrick Library. Some of film’s greatest moments (and an Oscar or two in a display case) are available in this gem of a resource located on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Open to everyone, but used by only a knowledgeable few, it’s a perfect place to spend a couple of hours learning up on some film history.

11. Hollywood. Walking its streets, seeing the lines outside the Pantages, or even passing buskers on the street, something always catches in my throat. I start to see stars, not just the Walk of Fame kind, but the imaginary ones, too. Whatever I may know about the hard rock face of reality, I feel there is possibility here. Even if those opportunities do not exist, or the way up is pretty hard, it doesn’t feel that way on an empty stomach and a head full of stars walking on those streets.

Travelin’ Man

My girlfriend is going to Alaska next month. This is good news, for her, but only depresses me. Not that I regret her trip, far from it; I feel bad because I am grounded. This summer, this fall, this winter, I probably won’t go anywhere. It’s not only the lack of dough, which is a problem, it’s the much bigger fear of the airplane, the lines at security, TSA patdowns, missed dinners, and other miserable side effects of travel.

Yet most good screenplays aren’t written in Los Angeles. They are written on the train back from Redwood City, the biplane sputtering from Ankara to Istanbul, or the boat sailing across the ocean. Only through experience can writers get to the best parts of their imagination, right? Sitting at home thinking of something cool is one thing, but actually living those adventures is something else. Look at Easy Rider, Road to Morocco, or Mad Max. These are all road movies dreamed up or put to film in exotic locations.

Of course, as we learn by the end of The Wizard of Oz (another great road movie) there is no place like home. And for all of its monotony, being at home does give me the ability to write, to eat food I’m comfortable with (read: frozen pizza), and fall asleep watching Netflix. However entrancing the idea of a long adventure sounds, it probably is best I stay at home, financially and otherwise.

It’s a shame, too, because I really could use a vacation.

The End of the Screenplay…Or Is It?

So, for the first time in months, I am confident I have a full-length screenplay in the can. Done. The only problem is it’s about sixty-five pages, not my usual ninety. I have tried different ways to “stretch it” these past few weeks but now I’m not so sure.

I think the story is too straightforward to be elongated too much. “Night Ride,” as it is tentatively named, is a road movie, and I don’t want to spend too much time off the freeway. The journey is ultimately the film’s destination. Also, the moments off the road feel like exposition. Sure, there is room for subplots—but I don’t feel inclined to write them into the story. With such a strong A-plot, it just never felt right to dilute it with extra stories.
I am also wary of writing more scenes in the ride itself. I know how limiting it is to film an entire movie in a car. There needs to be a balance between inside and outside the car.

I have a few ideas on how to add pages, but right now, I need to take some time off, re-read the script as if I just stumbled upon it in a few weeks, and see where those new edits take me. I know that the characters lack enough depth, so the next scenes I write should fill them out as sympathetic, three-dimensional people.

I believe in this script and I know taking time off cannot affect how much I like it. Sure, many screenplays die between the second and third drafts, but for once in my writing life, I have faith.

What do you when faced with a short story? Should I just accept the screenplay’s length and move on? Give up? Keep writing? What do you think?

Expand the Writers Group?

Sundays Mean Starbucks with the Writers Group

So, the Santa Monica Writers Group is getting a bit smaller than I’d like. One of our members moved back East and another is shooting a movie in Hungary or somewhere Eastern European. Recently, there has been a push among the remaining four members to add a couple more.

Obviously, I’m happy to look for more members. More eyes mean more perspectives, and more perspectives hopefully mean a more well-rounded criticism. Also, writing is a lonely pursuit, and it’s always good to have more friends who are writers. We can be lonely together.

Yet I also don’t want to make the group too big. I have been in rooms with too many writers and it’s not fun. Writers are a prickly bunch and when they don’t feel like they are being heard they get ornery. Attention, space, laughter all become commodities and the conversation can become something of a battle—who has the best joke, who can command the most attention, etc. Plus, with a group of ten, it becomes harder to find a table at our Starbucks HQ. I’d like to keep the group down to five or six.

I’m going the Craigslist route in terms of advertising, but if anyone is in the LA area and reading this, you are more than welcome to join the group—just send a ten page writing sample.

Applicant or not, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this pressing matter.

The Second Act Doldrums

While I have not made the half hour of progress per day as I planned in December, I am still hard at work on the new screenplay. This one I have faith in, it’s the first action movie I’ve written and already I see franchise potential. OK, that’s going too far, but at least I am past page sixty and not giving up. My problem is that while I’m into the second act I don’t really know where to go next. I have a great introduction, and even a wonderful ending in the bank, but this part is a stumbling block. My characters are out on the road, they’re running away from the bad guys and they’re going…somewhere.

My solution is to spend some more time this week outlining. I have a two page guide but have since abandoned it. As my story-world has become more complicated, the guide has filled with notes and become too messy to understand. Anyway, I have new goals for the screenplay.

For the second act, I want my characters to get to a specific place, but I don’t want them to make it there too fast. I want that climactic final scene to feel earned. I want to reveal certain mysteries embedded in the story, but I don’t want those to feel too obvious, either. And I want the audience to get to know the characters well enough that they’ll want to follow them into the third act. I have a lot to work through.

I’m open to suggestions. Those who have waded through the second act doldrums, help! What works best? What should I do next?


Christmas has passed, the trees are evenly lined up on the side of the road, and 2010 slowly breathes its last gasps. Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions.  I am compiling a list and checking it twice and have even planned on sharing it this week with my writers group, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the one item I plan to stick to no matter what this year.


That’s it.

Writing is a job, and lately, I have been showing up to work late, or not at all. Some days I’m too tired, other days I prefer to come home and watch Netflix on Demand (which is like TV, except better, because it shows lots more Fawlty Towers). A half hour of writing is not unreasonable, and gives me time to do other things, like watch Netflix. It’s enough time to get excited and not enough to intimidate me.

I notice that in the past during these mandated half-hour stretches, I tend to goof off on the internet for twenty minutes and then write for ten minutes. Instead, I plan to take the Jonathan Franzen approach and disconnect the internet. My only worry is with my spotty technical knowledge, I won’t be able to reconnect the internet. Of course, that’s a 2011 worry.

If I can write a page in a half hour, and write every day, that’s 365 pages, or the equivalent of about four screenplays. That easily bests my grand total of zero screenplays from 2010. I just have to stick with the plan. I’m pretty compulsive about other things (read: Netflix) so I shouldn’t have too much of a problem with this—I hope.

What are your resolutions? Please respond in the comments.

And Happy New Years!

An Idea

Fantasy--Not My Strong Suit

So, I am working on a new screenplay, I just haven’t written anything yet. I mean, I jot down notes just about every day in a Word document, sometimes in a journal, but I haven’t written a line of an actual story. I’m sort of afraid to start. My last screenplay, Rolidet, went nowhere. I got to about page fifty, couldn’t think of a satisfactory second act, and gave up. This was only after I had workshopped it with my writers group and they had read several drafts of the first ten pages. I am going back to my old habit of never talking about anything to do with the screenplay until I have a draft in hand. It’s a superstition, sure, but it works.

Rolidet was a fantasy screenplay, which meant pretty much anything goes in the story: griffins with wigs, talking chimps, magical fruit, but somehow, I couldn’t focus it down to something manageable. I was kind of overwhelmed by the plethora of options and gave up.

For this new screenplay, I have an ending and I even have a beginning. There’s a strong concept and even a protagonist. It’s the middle I’m afraid of—the actual plot that keeps me up at night wondering what to write. I wonder if my high concept is just too high concept. I worry that I’ll let it down somehow, that my story won’t live up to my expectations of the story. I worry that I don’t know what the story’s tone is. I worry that I won’t be able to complete it. I worry that people won’t like it. I worry that I’ll send it out to contests and no one will read it. And this worrying takes up too much of my writing time, which worries me in turn.

I guess I just need to find the motivation to write, to stretch my imagination and hope for the best. I tend to lose interest in stories after a couple of weeks anyway, so if I don’t start writing now, I probably won’t write anything.

So how do you get over the hump of not-writing and begin writing? I need help!

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Quesadillas

The book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten captivated me as a kid. If in fact all I ever needed to know I learned when I was six, what was the point of the other twelve years of education? Yet in the long run, the simplistic lessons like always share, respect each other’s naptime, don’t show up with no clothes on to school bore fruit.

Little did I know that in the process of making quesadillas I would come up with my own set of simple rules. Quesadillas and life are not so similar, but there are some telling intersections—both are labor intensive and intensely more satisfying with the right ingredients. Plus, quesadillas are pretty much the only thing I can cook, and well, I’m good at it (not so with life). So why not give advice on something I’m capable of doing?

Publishers, I impatiently await your requests for the book form of this entry.

1. Use the best ingredients. I try to make the quesadillas with a rotating cast of flavors. Sometimes I use red or green peppers, other times onions, asiago cheese, even apricots. There are some mainstays like cheese and tortillas, but even those are flexible. Likewise, a life spent trying new things is much better and more interesting than one lived in a single state of mind. Both life and quesadillas promise vast possibilities just waiting to be explored.

2. Never fault good preparation. The more time I have to prepare the ingredients, the better. If I have fifteen to twenty minutes of prep time I can finely cut the peppers, warm the tortillas, and spread some oil on the grill. With only ten minutes I’ll always botch something or cook them unevenly in the microwave. Preparation always pays off, in cooking and in life.

3. Give it enough time. I’m an impatient cook so I like to eat the quesadillas after a minute on the grill. These are definitely the worst kind of quesadillas—all crumby and cold. Good quesadillas need two to three minutes on each side as a minimum. I can’t say it enough, but patience here pays off.

4. Enjoy. The best kind of quesadillas come straight from the grill. There are many people who save up their pleasures, but I say take them at once, hot. You deserve it. Plus, who knows how it will taste tomorrow?

Hellcats and Hollywood

“Being Here Doesn’t Mean You Belong.”

The billboards for “Hellcats,” a new show on the CW, have popped up on Santa Monica Boulevard and on the 10 Freeway; I can catch them pretty much anytime I leave my apartment.  These words, and the attitude-mannequins that accompany them, taunt me, as if their special message was meant for me. Being in Los Angeles doesn’t mean we’ll ever let you be a screenwriter. We already have enough of those. You don’t belong. Go home. Get lost.

And that’s when the negative thoughts start: The competitions I didn’t make, the rejection letters, the unreturned query e-mails, and the screenplays and specs now sitting in a box, unread, unedited, forgotten testaments to failure. Index cards gathering dust. Unfinished sketches sitting on my computer desktop. Replays and remembrances of the times and places I received those rejection letters. The dual failures of criticism and giving into the words printed on those form letters.

But the message, “Doesn’t mean you belong” still haunts me. I’ve heard many people describe Hollywood as a high school. I’ve never seen it as such, but now I sort of understand: A high school clique, the kind that dresses in spandex and leads cheers. The kind you’ll never belong to. The kind who if I asked, would tell me there are enough creative types to go around.

On bad days, the thoughts keep going and keep me from my writing. The billboards become ubiquitous. On better days, I remember other things: the friend who for six months sent me the agency job list every day, the comments to this blog, friends who are also writers, and other stories of directors not making it for years and then one day helming a movie.

I guess the payoff is that it’s only a billboard. I don’t have to watch the show, nor do I have to be a part of its nasty clique. If I’m lucky, I’ll find my own television show, one that fits, something more my speed and accepting of my writing and identity, high school quirks and all.

And don’t worry, my revenge will come when Hellcats gets cancelled in two months.

Carpe Diem Comedy Club

I was never the best stand-up comic, which made my meeting with Terry all the more unlikely.

I was sixteen and had just finished a set at the appropriately titled New York Comedy Club in midtown Manhattan. I was third or fourth in a bringer show. To all of those unaware of how comedy clubs work, this meant I had to drag along a couple of unwilling friends and family, in this case my mom and Gary, a friend of the family who lived in Tudor City. I told the door guy, as is my wont, that the other friends were coming, they were just lost, because, let’s face it, The New York Comedy Club could be anywhere on Earth, right? New York, Idaho, Alabama, etc.

It was a good set. My mom had left about an hour ago. She always got through the first comic, got disgusted, and decided to take a walk. Gary stayed but had a forlorn imprisoned look the entire time. Either way, I thought I was funny—I remember I had energy, I had memorized my monologue, and I actually told jokes, instead of just “winging it,” which never worked. Although this may have only been my third or fourth set anywhere, I already felt like I was getting the hang of stand-up.

Terry was the booker, the person I had initially emailed about the show after seeing it advertised on an online message board. And here he was at Gary’s and my table, crouching next to me, telling me he’d like to talk in the hallway. This was the corridor conversation I had dreamed about.

“We want you to come back,” he said. Not only that, but he wanted me to perform in a couple shows in the next couple of months. He gave me his phone number.

I told him I’d call when I got back to Washington, D.C.

And I really did want to call, but then school, and homework, and stuff outside of school got in the way. I did other stand-up shows, but the same reluctance to call Terry infected my practice time, my choice of gigs, and my monologue work. At seventeen, I was a hack and by eighteen I was done. Or Gary refused to come to any more shows. Or a combination of those two things. Either way, after sixteen, there was no more Terry nor would there ever be again.

So my message is seize opportunities when they come. Make the most of those conversations and relationships you have once and then forget. Who knows, right? You may run into Terry.

I would appreciate your thoughts. When have you come close to success and blown it? Have you too squandered opportunities? I need to know.