Tag Archives | screenwriting

Christmas Movies

9_things_you_probably_didn_t_know_about_Love_ActuallyIt’s a few days before Christmas, and I still have shopping to do and presents to wrap.  And cookies to bake. Forgot about that.  So what am I going to do tonight? Watch a Christmas movie, of course.  Because, Christmas movie. Enough said.

In general, I’m a terrible movie watcher, which is ironic for a couple of reasons.

#1 is because going to see a film at the movie theater is one of the great pleasures of my life.  I love every bit of it; buying the crummy popcorn, watching the stupid advertisements, worrying that the people behind me are going to talk all the way through the movie.  There’s something about the good old shared experience of watching a film that I just really enjoy.

And #2 is that I often study–and recommend–screenwriting books to apply to novel writing.  Those screenwriters, man they have structure down.  And structure is one of the hardest things for a novelist to master, at least in my opinion (and I’m fully aware that might just be my issue, though I see it in students and clients as well).   And, yeah, I get it, reading screenwriting books without watching movies is sort of like writing a novel without ever reading one.

But for some reason there never quite seems to be enough time to go to the theater.  And I’m terrible about watching movies at home. I get antsy, for one thing.  But worse is my genetic propensity to fall asleep in front of the TV set. (I can’t tell you how many stellar performances I missed on The Voice this year.) It truly is genetic.  My mother was famous for dozing in her chair watching Frazier, her favorite show, with a stack of half-read newspapers in her lap. My sister falls asleep in front of the TV and so does my daughter, who loves to tell the story of how she fell asleep during one of her first dates with her husband.  He did marry her anyway,luckily.  Putting up with slumbering women is apparently a prerequisite for marrying into this family.  To this day, my husband pretends he believes me when I tell him I’m really not asleep and I haven’t missed a thing.

But Christmas movies.  They are different.  We have several that are required watching every year, and for some weird reason I don’t fall asleep.  I could probably recite every line of every scene of these movies, and yet I don’t get bored and pass out.  Go figure.

I have no idea why I don’t fall asleep during them, but I have been thinking about what makes them enduring, and that is just plain old-fashioned good writing: characters you care about, plot lines that have some teeth.   With the exception of a couple on my list, you could take the background of Christmas out of them and they’d still work.

I keep waiting for Hollywood to come out with a new classic Christmas movie I can add to my list but that hasn’t happened for quite a few years.  In the meantime, here are our favorites:

Must Watch

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There’s no better way to start the Christmas movie viewing season than with this classic of goofiness which really does exemplify the crazy intentions we set for a perfect holiday.

Elf.  Yes, Elf.  Its a great screenplay and a great cast–James Caan (one of my all-time favorites), Will Ferrell, Mary Steenbergen, Zoe Dechamel. At a dinner party a few nights ago, I was shocked to find people who had never seen this movie.  It really is worth it. (It is actually showing at the Laurelhurst, if you live in Portland.)

Love Actually. If I could only watch one Christmas movie, it would be this one.  Like all things that have to do with love, it is easy to mock. But I love it.  So there. (And if you are a fan, also, here’s a link to some tidbits you might not know about the film.)

Will Watch if There’s Time

White Christmas. I’m not the best for old movies, but I do love this one.  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney–what’s not to like? Plus, the ending where the big door opens up and the snow falls down is one of my favorites.

Meet Me in St. Louis. Not technically a Christmas movie, but still.  I’m not as big as fan of this as some of the other oldies, but my husband loves it so I watch it.  Once in a great while, anyway.

Can Watch Between Christmas and New Year’s

The Holiday.  This was a movie that appeared and disappeared in the theaters, but for some reason I love it.  In some ways it is tied more to New Year’s Eve and though its set at Christmas, there’s not a lot of Christmas stuff in it.

So that’s my short list of Christmas movies.  We’ve managed to watch the first three so far this season. Of course, this year I really am going to the theater the day after Christmas to see the new Star Wars movie.  (I don’t even know its proper name.  Everyone refers to it as the new Star Wars movie.)  And by then I’ll probably be back to my usual falling-asleep-in-front-of-the-TV routine.  But I’ll have had my fill of Christmas movies by then.

So, tell me in the comments.  What are your favorites?  Which movies do you like to watch over and over?

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The Writing Life: LA in November

LA in November is warm and sunny, though everyone here insists is it freezing cold.  As I write this in Pasadena, it is 75 degrees, which, let me emphasize, is NOT COLD, though it was chilly enough this morning to have to cover up with a blanket during the daily writing session on the porch.

LA in November is green and brown, much like LA in August.  When I left Portland last week, everything was yellow and orange and red, leaves covering streets and lawns and sidewalks, everything glistening in the rain.  There were still quite a few leaves left on the trees when I departed, and I'm hoping the trees are not completely bare when I return home mid-week.

LA in November features soft light and incredible Saturday night traffic jams that require the navigational skills of several people using the GPS on my Iphone.  You know traffic is bad when every major freeway reads red on the Google map.  I provided the phone only, no navigation, since the geography of LA is still such a vast mystery to moi.  Although, this trip the plane flew in to Burbank at a different angle, from the west, in such a way that I could see the whole of the city laid out before me–downtown, the west side, the ocean beyond.  Expansive views like that help to set my navigational map down here.  But not enough to dodge around major traffic jams.

LA in November is seeing friends and hearing about their screenwriting projects or television deals and making me thankful I'm a novelist.  Dealing with the publishing industry is difficult enough, but Hollywood is a whole other level of stress and angst.  (Now, if only I would hear back from the wonderful agent who is reading my manuscript and then I could truly crow about how great the publishing world is in comparison…..)

LA in November is attending a great weekend workshop on an energy clearing modality (more on that in a future post), hanging out with friends, eating Mexican food, and even better, amazing home cooking from a gourmet organic chef.  It is sleeping with ear plugs in so that the five cats who live here don't wake me up…and taking walks in Eaton Canyon...and spending lots and lots of time reading manuscripts.

But mostly LA in November is being grateful for friends, old and new, and the time to hang out with them. It is being grateful for the fact that I am a writer, and my work is transportable so that I can leave Portland in the dreary days of November and come down here for a break.   The writing life, I'm telling you, it is the best thing ever and damn am I glad that it is mine.

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The Writing Life: Letter from LA

Sitting in the garden at the Pasadena coffee shop called Zephyr, I whiled away a few good hours talking New_LA_Infobox_Pic_Montage_5 with my screenwriting friend Brian.  We discussed the movie biz and the publishing world while a gentle breeze rustled the ivy covering the patio walls and handsome Armenians smoked hookahs at a table nearby.  Russian literature reared its head for consideration, as did the economy (what current conversation is complete without touching on that?) and other mysteries of life.

That was on day six of my trip to LA.  I was in Pasadena, to be exact, staying with my friend Suzanne, who told me all about her new modality, Reference Point Therapy, and took me through a couple sessions.  I had a tarot reading on day seven, which forecast many good things ahead for me.   I've had tarot readings when such was not the case, that's for sure–which is, perhaps, the beauty of the cards, which are difficult to fake.  Sort of like plotting a novel is difficult to fake–if it doesn't work, the problems are obvious.  (Less obvious, of course, is how to fix it.)

This trip turned out to be a much-needed bit of R and R.  After the year I've had, I needed it more than I realized.  I regret that I was unable to do many of the things I usually do when in LA, such as visit Julie or see Diana.  But I'll make time for them next trip.   This visit was strangely free of meeting with clients, though I did attend one networking event.  And, as usual, stumbled over my tongue when it came time to explain myself:

"And what do you do?" said the bright-eyed young woman.

"Oh, I'm a writer," I replied airily.

"That sounds so exciting.  What kind of writing do you do?"

This is the dreaded question.  "Well, I um, do a lot of ghostwriting.  You know, for business owners who need a book to promote themselves.  And I also do copywriting, like for websites?  And, let's see, I teach creative writing, too.  Because you know, my true love is writing fiction. And my main goal is to get the novel I just finished published."

By this time the bright-eyed woman has turned away.  I hear her asking a middle-aged man what he does.

"I help people maximize their business profits by teaching them to pay attention to their bottom line."

I really need to develop the art of the elevator pitch.  Its a good thing I'm not a screenwriter, required to take meetings with producers and pitch a one-minute synopsis of my novel ("It's, um, Bridget Jones meets Something's Gotta Give?")

But I did manage to have a lovely conversation with a chiropractor who immediately got how important having a book is to promote your business, despite my bumbling attempts to convince him.  And then I went home to a pretty good bottle of Syrah, so that made everything okay.

Yesterday, Suzanne and I went to see Julie and Julia, a most wonderful movie.  Neither of us had been to see a movie for months, and going to the theater to see movies is one of the things I love to do.  It took us about three hours to get there because we kept screwing up the showing times and having to drive back and forth to various theaters.  But it was worth it.  I loved the film.  What's not to love when Meryl Streep nails Julia Child, like totally nails her?  And Amy Adams plays a blogger who hits the big time. 

Now, at this very moment, I am sitting in the San Francisco airport.  I have a three-hour layover here, despite the fact that a direct flight from Burbank to PDX is only two hours.  But it gives me time to ponder southern California, and the strange hold that LA seems to have on me.  I don't miss it when I'm gone from there, but as soon as I get there, I start plotting when I can get back.  Can somebody explain this to me? Plus, I'm a Portland girl, through and through.  I like rain and greenery.  I like people who walk places (I can't tell you how many times I nearly got run down by Very Big Trucks on my morning ambles through Pasadena) and bicyclists and citizens who take public transportation and eschew their cars. I like pale skin, beaches you can walk along and not see many other people, and ice-cold ocean water.  I like people of various shapes and sizes and levels of beauty.  So can somebody please tell me why I keep falling in love with LA?

A couple of non-LA related notes:

Please go vote for Whimsey, my friend Julie's dog.  Because A. he's adorable and B. it would really help her out.

And don't forget the exciting contest that is coming up right here in this very spot next week.  Stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0.

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Character or Plot Driven? and Other Between Holiday Thoughts

My screenwriting friend Marc sent me a link to an article by Lawrence Konner, writer for a gazillion projects including Planet of the Apes (!) and multiple upcoming movies that sound blockbuster-ish.   There's a lot of good bits in this article, so much so that you could take any one of Konner's pronouncements and expand into a longer article.  Remember, nearly everything he says applies to all kinds of storytelling, be it fiction, or creative non-fiction, or you latest short story.  It is helpful to study screenwriting no matter what genre you are writing in, because screenwriters focus on story.

The part of the article that I enjoyed most was his thoughts on character versus plot.  "If you try to get characters to do what the plot determines, then they're moving falsely," Konner says.  He goes on to explain that the first thing you should do is write a biography of your character because the number one thing you want to do is get your audience (or reader) involved in some way with the character.  You must know your character's background, upbringing, current status, dreams, goals and desires.  The last aspects are among the most important because a character wanting something is what will power the plot.

Go read the article, its worth a look.

In the department of other bits and pieces, here's a small round-up of recent interesting things that have crossed my desk:

Nobel Prize winner Le Clezio says that writing was actually his third choice of career.   Firsthe wanted to be an architect, but his math skills were poor.  Then he wanted to be a sailor, but his eyesight was bad.  So he became a writer.  Writing soon became an "uncontrollable impulse."  Le Clezio considers himself a storyteller above all else, and not someone who writes to espouse political views. 

Has anybody read any of his novels?  I'm intrigued by them, myself.  Read the article about him here.

Anne Wayman did a good post called Of Creativity at the beginning of the month.  She links to a couple good posts on the subject. All of them are worth checking out.

PhilosophersNotes is a really cool idea–they call it Cliff Notes for Self-Development books.  During this holiday season, you can download the top 25 titles for free–its an awesome deal.  Be sure to read the Meet the Philosopher page on the site, about Brian Johnson, the guy behind it all.  It's inspiring.

For those of you looking for freelance writing jobs, Anne Wayman lists the places she hunts for them (or just subscribe to her job listing).  Two links to Anne Wayman–clearly she's doing awesome work for writers!

And, finally, Obama's chief speechwriter is 27.  Honest.  This is a fascinating article about him and his relationship with the president-elect.

I think that clears up all the things I've been saving to post about in my Google notebook.  Now its time to return to the magnum opus I'm working on, my 2009 goals.

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