Best Bits of 2013 – The Year of Screenwriting Dangerously

There are a glut (a word I do not use lightly) of “best-of” lists that appear this time of year. Originally, I wasn’t going to add to the pile at all, but I wanted to recap the work of screenwriters I’ve enjoyed in 2013. I’ve been blessed to be on the receiving end of so much great wisdom this year, so I figure this is the least I can do.

(A disclaimer- I am not a movie critic, so my viewing isn’t as thorough as someone who watches movies for a living. I see a lot of movies because I write movies. I sometimes gravitate more to movies/genres/stars/writers I like. And there are still a handful of unseen films on my must-see 2013 list, as listed below. So, better yet, don’t even consider this a year-end list. This is just a collection of films I liked in 2013 that had awesome writers and creators that I’ve learned a whole lot from. Enjoy.)

1-Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg – The World’s End

The only film I can ever imagine seeing in a theatre 13 times (which I really did do) because I am so much in love with the Pegg/Wright aesthetic. Shaun of the Dead turned me on to a whole genre and Hot Fuzz turned a genre I already loved on its head, but The World’s End was something… else. Something really beyond your average film-going experience. Something really smart,  invaluably sweet and utterly enjoyable.

Screenplays for all three films are available on The Ultimate Three Flavors Cornetto® Trilogy Blu-ray™ and there are oh-so-many how-to writing and filmmaking bits floating around online that the guys have shared in their decade-long writing partnership. A huge inspiration to me.

 

2-Ed Solomon – Now You See Me

My all-time favourite screenwriter since forever turned out to be the coolest, sweetest and most generous writer, possibly ever. Did I mention the smartest? Also, probably that. And did I mention I love his work. Swoon. Just swoon.

I was really enchanted by Now You See Me (remind me to post more about how great Mark Ruffalo always is) and I can’t wait to see whatever he works on next.

 

3-Katie Dippold – The Heat

I watched The Heat in theatres, on planes, in airports, in bed. I loved everything about it – including the performances and director – but I especially loved the funny and fearless script. It also prompted the realization that Katie Dippold was one of the few female screenwriters I could actually name… And that was part of the reason why this blog was created in the first place.

 

4-The Great Teachers of TX (Austin, to be exact)

I have been promising myself every year, literally, for nearly 20 years that I would make the trek to Austin, Texas to spend a week of sun and fun there during SXSW. Finally, this year, I made it… almost. I made it to Austin just in time for the 20th Austin Film Festival. I do not regret that choice. Those folks aren’t kidding around.

They say it’s a writer’s festival and they mean it. I spent a lot of time and money on screenwriting events over the past 12 months and, though Austin was kinda pricey, a lovely bunch of people made it worthwhile, including:

Craig Mazin – Identity Thief

Craig Mazin is really, really good at his job. Aside from the weekly Scriptnotes podcast with John August, he wrote both this year’s Identity Thief and The Hangover Part III. But it was Craig’s A-Game at the AFF that floored me. Especially his panel Structurally Sound. I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried but, man, it felt like a whole screenwriting education crammed into an oh-so-brief session (in a very tiny room, even).

Listen to Scriptnotes

 

Shane Black (with Drew Pearce) – Iron Man 3

This year, after a long and flirtatious courtship, I really fell hard for Shane Black. At AFF, listening to him talk in such loving, dulcet tones about noir, hard action, insane thrillers and Iron Man… You had me at noir, Shane. You had me at noir.

Listen to the brilliant On Story Podcast with Shane Black

 

Vince Gilligan – Breaking Bad

This was the year of Vince Gilligan was capped off with the heartbreakingly brilliant end of Breaking Bad. I very nearly expected the AFF crowd would organize a parade to hoist and carry him through the streets. And deservedly so.  In the lead up to the AFF, I did some binge-watching of classic Gilligan-penned X-Files eps like Memento Mori and Drive. I have so much respect for someone working at that insane level of talent.

Listen to the lovely On Story Podcast with Vince Gilligan

 

(Side note: is it weird that I can’t find any of the video from the Austin Film Festival? They seemed to film everything, and there was so much good stuff… If anyone knows where I can point to, let me know!)

5-For Heroes, Thrillers and those Lost in Space

Joss Whedon (with a little help from William Shakespeare) – Much Ado About Nothing

Find someone Joss Whedon hasn’t inspired and I’ll give you a nickle. I have a lot of nickles and I’ve never had to give one away. (I forgot about Much Ado initially, only because I first saw it at TIFF in 2012. It was magic, though, no matter how or when or where you saw it. Enough with the Marvel nonsense Joss! Make more Shakespeare!)

 

Nicolas Winding Refn – Only God Forgives

Another early entry that may not be for everyone, but film I liked from a generous filmmaker nonetheless.

 

Scott Z. Burns – Side Effects

There aren’t enough straight-up adult thrillers. I don’t think Hollywood ever had an era where they cranked out an excess of these. There’s no time like the present…

 

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight

I love these movies. Richard Linklater has written a bunch of other brilliant movies. Julie Delpy has written a bunch of other great movies. Before Midnight is a masterclass in everything.

 

Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron – Gravity

One thing I’ve learned in 2013 is that the more movies you watch, the more cynical you can get about the strained, cookie-cutter fare that seems to rerun endlessly. If you ever wake up feeling like that, watch Gravity. Or anything Cuaron, really.

 

7-The New Kid

Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station

I’ve already declared my Best Picture for 2013 because the only movie that made my heart stop in 2013 was Fruitvale Station. So, if you haven’t seen it, do. And if you’re the type who votes, take it under consideration.

Read the unlikely story of Ryan Coogler

 

Still playing 2013 catch-up (some are available for reading right now, thanks to Go Into The Story for the links):

Enough Said by Nicole Holofcener

Dallas Buyer’s Club by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Saving Mr Banks by Kelly Marcel

Philomena by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope 

Nebraska by Robert W. Nelson

Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom by William Nicholson 

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts 

Inside Llewyn Davis by Joel and Ethan Coen

 

And, yes, this is still my favourite clip from 2013. No contest. Happy new year indeed.

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Support It: The New Rebellion (Or Doing Something About Diversity in Film) @AFFRM

(I’m gathering the last of my “Things I need to do” in 2013″ lists, so apologies if there are a few random posts over the next 48 hours…)

If you’ve taken one thing away from this blog, I hope it’s that I’m passionate about diversity in film and entertainment. I’ve kind of chucked my whole life force in that direction… (more about that later). It’s so crucial to give an equal opportunity to have a cultural voice and reflection to all people or, more articulately:

“If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” – Junot Diaz

And, as is human nature, you may find yourself dwelling on your smallness and your singleness and your lack of clout (or klout) to actually make a difference in the world at large. You might feel like diversity in entertainment is long overdue, but what can you do to change it?

The first step – as I’ve really only learned this year myself – is to seek out like-minded individuals and engage everyone you can find. Pick brains, ask questions and don’t take no for an answer no matter how many times you hear it.

On the like-minded individuals front, one way you can support diversity in film by joining ranks with Affrm. Go to their site. Watch their video. See some of the change of which they’re trying to embody and help us all to benefit. Add your voice and become one of the last few people Affrm needs to meet their January 1st goal:

DO IT.

Kevin Smith Says What We Are All Thinking

Hopefully you`ve had a chance to read If you like my stuff, then you like women by Kevin Smith.

If you know nothing else about Kevin Smith, you should probably know he`s good at rallying his following (anyone remember the Southwest debacle?) and he really doesn`t seem to hate women. In fact, judged solely through his work, he seems to like and respect women.

So, to make a short story shorter, someone (who, according to the article, doesn`t think it`s fair to be called out for your actions, so I won`t mention a name) wrote a blurb-type thing that included a small snark attack on Smith`s 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It was a throwaway line that Smith seemed to acknowledge with a throwaway woe-is-me response in jest.

Subsequently, as so often happens whilst on the internet, shit went crazy from that point onward.

Does it suck that the first thought in some brains is to lash out at a woman with some misogynist bullshit? It sure does. But I don`t see what this has to even do with Kevin Smith… aside from publicity. He mentioned published material on Twitter that bugged him, naming the source of the material (people seem to do that a lot on Twitter. Shocker!). A bunch of other people took up their own cause and spewed some lady-hating venom at the source of the aforementioned material. Should that happen? Well, the lady hating, no. Not ever. But the rest of it…

There was a teachable moment here. One where two people could have stood up for the what (and why) of things they say and think. But, in this case, half of the problem goes unresolved. It was a golden opportunity to call out any old random people who were using a nothing issue as a platform to spread hateful ideology. Instead… At least Kevin Smith called it out. So that`s something.

As an aside, if you look at the original article (included in the link above), there`s no reason given why a bunch of content is disappearing from Netflix in 2014. I`m assuming it`s a licensing issue, but that writer certainly didn`t bother to explain it. Just another example of the sloppy snarkism that seems to have completely invaded (and, possibly, saturated) the whole of the internet age. Just frame the smallest snippet of information entirely with some self-serving, snark-filled inner monologue and, voila, you`re qualified to write whatever you wish. There really are no more journalists, just the last outpost of the sad hipster- the only outlet where they can carpet bomb a path with their own special snark (which, pathetically, is just plain old, tired, sad, same as all the rest snark. Sigh.).

That`s just my opinion. And I can say with fair certainty I`m not saying any of this as a result of some deep-seeded misogyny.

PS: I actually really enjoyed Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. How do you like them apples?

ICYMI: Roundup of Must-Reads from 2013

You`ve been busy writing. You`ve spent a huge chunk of the year, brow furrowed, trying to figure out what will happen to imaginary people who live in places that don`t exist. It sounds crazy, but it`s true. So, be sure to sit back and take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments.

And, as soon as that moment is over, get your ass back to reading and writing.

Here`s a (very short and quickly assembled) list for your holiday reading pleasure. Of course, you can scan back over the (brief) history of this blog and (hopefully) find more content, links and reading of interest to you.

Most importantly, no matter how measured your success in 2013, keep chasing your passions. Remember that hard work will always get you somewhere.

And all the other crazy cliches you can think of… Or:

The Black Board Presents Everything On Women Working In Film and TV

From Go Into The Story: Read (and learn from) 2013 Screenplays

Listen to the Scriptnotes Holiday Spectacular

Vulture and The Toughest Scene I Wrote

A list of Movie Cliches You Must Avoid

Read the wisdom of FILM CRIT HULK

Practice what [Mystery Executive] preaches

(Though there is really nothing better on Twitter than Stay Puft.)

Get thee to thy Black List

Even though Hollywood ain`t perfect, don`t forget that the tech sector is a sexist timesuck for women (especially as board members)

So always be thankful for what you got. Now drink up, and let`s boo boo. Happy Holidays!

 

Davis + Davis = Two Women Who Have The Secret to Slow Sexism in Hollywood

Two really interesting thoughts I wanted to share, from an acting point of view…

Geena Davis has Two easy steps to make Hollywood less sexist

Viola Davis says I will never see myself on screen

Both pieces are kind of sad and hopeful, somehow, at the same time. The (very simple) steps Geena Davis proposes seem to make sense… I hope every writer has tried the gender switch- in both directions- with at least a couple of characters at some point in their career. It`s such a worthwhile exercise. We can make change with quantity alongside quality.

As for seeing herself on screen, well, Viola Davis has a point there. She says, basically, that it`s because her range of humanity doesn`t mesh with the portrayal of black characters. I`d step that out even further and say almost nothing she mentions meshes with the general portrayal of women on screen, either. It`s a shame that an actor as brilliant as Viola Davis isn`t getting a flood of great roles that she has to turn down because there are just too many to choose from. It`s a shame that she`s still seeing the things we all see and that make us all scratch our heads.

And I don`t see why we can`t keep these things in mind as we strive to build the new normal. The more we write a quantity of women who are three-dimensional, the more everyone will get used to reading it. The more it gets read, the more it has the chance to get made. So, let`s do more of this. We can always do more of this. Go.

Happy List-Mass Everybody!

(Haha! GET IT? Because it`s holiday time and there are lots of lists… No? Why am I wasting my delectable puns on you then?)

Well, it is that time of year. Again. Both The Black List and The Hit List are out. And lots of other lists, I am sure… But lists make me tired and, after too many of them, I get rage-y. So, let`s just stick with these for the moment, shall we?

(For a detailed breakdown of The Black List stats, THR has a good-un.)

I haven`t really officially counted, and I certainly don`t have an infographic (I`m much more of a Venn Diagram girl, for anyone still looking to get me a gift!) but there are trends. There are always trends. For example: 

-Lots of overlap on both lists (but lots of change in rankings from list to list)

-Lots of women on the lists are already employed on TV and a couple have been Nicholl Fellows (high fives all around)

-Lots of the writers have some kind of representation (I would say all of them do but, again, no hard numbers)

-Lots of the scripts are by established (and well-represented) writers, and a few have appeared on said lists in previous years 

-Lots of horror, sci-fi, thrillers and dying children (not necessarily all together… or separate)

-Lots of bios (two on Mister Rogers alone?!) and based on true stories (so, so many)

-Lots of the loglines for these are terrible (so, so terrible)

But have you noticed that some of these points seem to go against advice that`s perpetuated quite often to young writers? Including:

-If you write a great script, Hollywood will find it (apparently, representation needs to find you first)

-Don`t chase trends (Based-on-true stories seem to always be ranked so high on these lists, so wouldn`t writing a biopic generally give you a better chance at getting industry attention?)

-You need a great logline to pitch your script (Apparently that`s not true. At all.)

And so on.

Also, and I do hate to have to say this, but not a ton of ladies on the list…

Which brings up the age-old question- It is because of fewer scripts written or a lesser-quality of scripts submitted? Either way, it sucks. And it needs to change.

So, let`s all work on it. Let`s all try and Be The Change in 2014. Always quality over quantity but, yeah, let`s work on quantity too.

 

Mysteries We Love: That Mystery Executive… (@MysteryExec)

A quick post (before more on year-end list-ness tomorrow) to give a quick shout out…

One of the resources I was most pleasantly surprised to discover in 2013 was [Mystery Executive] on Twitter.

Random? Sure. After all @MysteryExec doesn`t necessarily give out advice or tips or solicit you to part with your monies like the gurus do, but there is a whole lotta action going down like, oh I dunno, this:

MysteryExec’s advice to male screenwriters on writing women

In a more random and less related note, I found a few of these Me to We cards when going through my stash of holiday cards left over from last year. (Found them after I bought a bunch of Unicef cards for this year though, damnit!) I think I`m going to send these out from now on, though. They`ll carry my favourite message from 2013 into 2014 and beyond.

#BeTheChange

(Thank you for your kind words, courage and leadership @MysteryExec)

Support It: Alex Winter and the Deep Web

At this moment, the project has about three days to go and needs about another 10K. If you love interesting docs on the subject of the deeper recesses of the internet, Alex Winter`s Deep Web might just be for you.

One person at the Russian Oligarch level would put this doc over the funding goal. So check out the Kickstarter page to get involved. And hurry!

 

Rashida Jones Says What We Are All Thinking

Hopefully you`ve had a chance to read Why Is Everyone Getting Naked? by Rashida Jones.

I`m not sure her detractors understand the concept of `Slut Shaming`. Or maybe I don`t understand it. Because what I understand it to be is when women are called out for exhibiting overly sexual behaviour that causes them to deserve some treatment (you shouldn`t dressing provocatively if you don`t want to get raped – that`s slut shaming).

The way I read it (and I`m not paraphrasing anything, so I might be totally wrong) is that the worry stems from some women in the public eye who seem to act out mostly as a sexual fantasy blow up doll for the enjoyment of others. Even women who have full, confident and even very blatant and in-your-face control of their sexuality are not defined by it. They`re all still three-dimensional people.

And those three dimensions are the aspect that the perky popstar girl-toy seems to miss. These girls have agents and managers and stylists and dressers- not one of them has 100% control over their image. And they are walking billboards for… whatever they`re selling. Perfume? Clothes? I really have no idea anymore…

This is not a new trend, obviously. There`s Britney Spears, who was still in her teens in the 90s (oh yes it was!) when dunked into a schoolgirl outfit and told to Work, Bitch! And look at the poor girl still trying to do it! Was she ever doing it for herself? Has she ever seemed like a person who`s had any control over her image and career?

On the receiving end, the message that is broadcast, loud and clear, to girls and women through these manufactured pop princesses: You will never bee good enough. Whore yourself out and try, because that`s your only chance, but we`re going to tear you apart either way. You will never succeed with your brains or your ability, so make sure people can see your boobs in that fake sex tape you make.

Talk about something society should be shamed over…