Friday, March 21, 2014


Last fall I drove to Las Vegas to see Nine Inch Nails and it was amazing. You probably remember me writing about it for two months before and after the show. I bet you were also pretty sick of hearing about it.

Well guess what? I'm seeing them again this summer!

They're touring with Soundgarden, too. I used to really, really want to see them but kind of lost interest when they reunited. I figured they'd put on a good show, but I wasn't interested in traveling to see them. But now that they're playing with Nine Inch Nails? Sign me up!

I tried to get tickets in Las Vegas, but I couldn't so no Ronald's, Society Cafe or Twin Peaks for me this time. Instead I'm hitting up Red Rocks in Colorado. Should be fun. This is my way of bragging about it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Last month, my friend Jamie Gadette (whom I've known since we were 16 and I was making amazing punk rock/hip hop mixtapes for her) posted a link to this article.
The Wire -- Inside AmTrak's (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers - Amtrak has begun offering "writers’ residencies" to, well, writers – long roundtrip rides aboard Amtrak trains dedicated solely for the purpose of writing.
It's a brilliant idea and a great way to get people back riding trains. Sort of, anyway. Apparently, from the limited research that I've done anyway, it's pretty hard to actually get approved. I imagine that there's thousands of writers that heard about this and immediately tried to apply.

Amtrak had to then figure out what kind of writers get residencies and how often they can afford to offer the program. The thing is that these days, just about anyone can call themselves a writer. Every coffee shop in LA is full of aspiring screenwriters and every coffee shop in Brooklyn is filled with 23-year-old kids writing their autobiography (thanks a lot, Lena Dunham; but Allison Williams, if you're reading this, call me).

Trains are a little bit obsolete in this day and age. Flying is cheaper and faster (though maybe not safer. I mean really, it's 2014 and my friend uses the "Find my iPhone" app to keep track of where his wife is at all times, but - as of now anyway - it's been two weeks and we can't find a god damn Boeing 777 airplane?) and driving is pretty convenient if you're going short distances. Trains take anywhere from 2-5 times longer than flying and is way more expensive.

I've never ridden the train long distances in the U.S. I took one in South America, and it was pretty awesome. It feels like this is a good idea, but Amtrak is probably being very selective about who they give these residencies to. They'll probably want at least a bit of publicity out of each one, so it'll have to be some sort of established writer. Not like a famous novelist, but someone that actually has a wide readership. If it's a journalist, they'll probably be someone with connections to a few bigger magazines or websites. The first writer that tried it out was Jessica Gross. The piece she wrote during her trip was published by The Paris Review.

It's really hard for me to believe that they'd just let someone with a blogger, WordPress or Tumblr account ride the train for free for a few days, but I don't know for sure. I do know that they're only selecting 24 people, which makes it more competitive than I thought at first.

But it definitely won't stop me from trying. That's on my imaginary list for "Things to do in 2014."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been a band for a long, long time. I never paid much attention to them because I kind of hate that name and that's how things go. I didn't think they were bad, but I also never gave them a real shot until a few months ago.

And they're really, really good.

This song was featured on episode 7 of TRUE DETECTIVE (that whole show is amazing, by the way) and it showed up in an awesome playlist that I found of all the songs featured on the show. After a few times through everything on the playlist, I switched to BRMC and have been listening to their entire catalog pretty much non-stop for the past couple of weeks.

I suggest you do the same. You won't regret it.

Friday, March 14, 2014


The hardest part about being a screenwriter is probably having your stuff re-written all the time. Well, that and actually getting a project off the ground. That one is probably harder.

But what sounds good on the page doesn't always translate well to the screen, or it paves the way for a much better exchange. Screenplays are like blueprints in that way. All the information is there and will get you a precise, finished product, but there's always a little room for growth and change. That's especially true if you have talented people in front of the camera and a director that's willing to try things on the fly.

Some of the best scenes in movies have been pieces that weren't in the original script and made up on the fly. ScreenRant has a list of 32 of the greatest unscripted scenes. I dropped a few of my favorites below, but you should really head over and read the entire thing if you have the chance. There are tons more out there, but these are probably the most well known.

While chasing Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) after she's been kidnapped, archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) runs into a large sword-wielding bad guy dressed all in black. Instead of fighting him in what would surely be a losing whip versus sword battle, Indy simply pulls out his revolver, puts the man down with one shot and moves on. The original script called for a long sword fight but a day earlier Ford got a severe case of food poisoning and didn't have the energy to film the scene as written. After a discussion with director Steven Spielberg, the scene was changed and became an iconic part of Indiana Jones mythos.

GOOD WILL HUNTING - The Farting Wife
In this scene between therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) and math genius Will Hunting (Matt Damon), Williams proves that comedic-minded actors usually give the best ad libbed scenes. The entire story about Maguire's flatulent spouse was made up on the spot by Williams and not a part of the original script.

JAWS - "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
While chumming the waters in an attempt to lure the deadly great white shark within range, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) gets his first look at exactly how massive the killer shark truly is. Stunned, startled and filled with fear he stands up and utters the now famous line to Orca Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) completely off-script, "You're going to need a bigger boat.” Turns out, he was right.

As smuggler-turned-hero Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is about to be encased in carbonite, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) reveals her love for him. The script called for Leia to say "I love you" to which Solo was supposed to respond with "I love you too". Ford decided that Solo wouldn't say something like that and instead, changed the line to simply "I know."

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE - "Singin' in the Rain"
Alex (Malcolm McDowell) breaks into a happy song as he and his "droogs" perform a bit of "ultra-violence" and rape. Reportedly Kubrick filmed this scene several times and wasn't happy with it each time - until he told McDowell to just "do anything he wanted". McDowell decided to belt out "Singing in the Rain" and Kubrick was so pleased with how much better the scene became that he acquired the rights to use the song immediately.

The story goes that after Gene Kelly, who made the song famous, actually saw the movie, he was furious. When Kelly, Kubrick and McDowell wound up at the same party at some point after the movie premiered, Kelly refused to speak to either of them.

TAXI DRIVER - "You talkin' to me?"
When screenwriter Paul Schrader wrote this scene it simply said "Travis talks to himself in the mirror" - there was no specific dialog given. Everything that insomnia-plagued taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) says during his faux-conversation was improvised by De Niro on the spot. To this day, whenever someone walks by a mirror they can't help but utter his now famous line "You talking to me?"

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Terry Gilliam has made some great films over the years. 12 MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and BRAZIL are probably the ones that spring to mind first, but a quick look through his IMDB page and you'll be impressed with his body of work.

He sat down with Filmmaker Magazine a few years ago and gave these 10 lessons for directors. I've kept it bookmarked ever since, and whenever I need a little creative inspiration, I pull it back out.

Since it's still movie week, I'm throwing it up here for you, too.

1. Growing up is for losers. 

As a child, I always drew funny creatures, funny characters. But I think the trick is not to grow up, not to learn to be an adult. And if you can maintain the kind of imagination you all had when you were babies, you would all be wonderful filmmakers. But the world tries to make you grow up, to stop imagining, stop fantasizing, stop playing in your mind. And I’ve worked hard to not let the world educate me.

2. Film school is for fools. 

Live and learn how to make films. I didn’t go to film school. I just watched movies in the cinemas. And probably my greater education was actually making films, so that’s all I would ever say: watch movies, get a camera, make a movie. And if you do it enough times, eventually you start learning how films are made.

3. Auteurism is out. Fil-teurism is in. 

Being an auteur is what we all dreamed of being, as far [back] as the films of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, when the idea of the auteur filmmaker arrived on the planet. And people kept using that term, and they do with my movies because I suppose they are very individual and they give me all the credit, so they say I’m an auteur. And I say no, the reality is I’m a ‘fil-teur.’ I know what I’m trying to make but I have a lot of people who are around me who are my friends and don’t take orders and don’t listen to me, but who have individual ideas. And when they come up with a good idea, if it’s one that fits what I’m trying to do, I use it. So the end film is a collaboration of a lot of people, and I’m the filter who decides what goes in and what stays out.

4. Put your ideas in a drawer. Take them out as needed. 

I do have a drawer in my desk with all the ideas that I have and that I scribbled out. I put them in there and some day I use them. At the beginning of a new film, I often go in that drawer and look at everything I’ve done and see if there are some ideas that might apply to what I’m doing. But things grow, so I just start with a sketch and then refine it. And you do it with other people’s ideas coming in. That’s the fun part.

5. All you’ve really got in life is story. 

I think the important thing is stay true to what you believe. I mean it’s much more important to make your mistakes than somebody else’s mistakes. Like too many other filmmakers have compromised because somebody advised them [that] if you change this, the film will be more successful commercially. And then the film isn’t successful commercially, and these people get so depressed and destroyed because they didn’t ever finish making their film the way they intended it. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. And you’ve got to be willing to take the consequences of whatever it is. If you succeed, fantastic. If you fail, you might have to get a proper job.

6. Command the audience with your lens. 

I keep wanting to see more of the world always. When I’m looking through the camera, when we’re setting up a scene, I don’t feel like I’m in the scene. And the wide angle lens, because we see so much, it seems to wrap around me a little bit. I also like the fact that with long lenses, the director controls the audience much more because you show the audience only exactly what you want. Everything else can be out of focus. And I like it to be a little bit more vague so the audience has to be aware of the environment as well as what I want them to look at. I don’t want to really separate the character from the world that it’s in. So the world is as important, and the rooms and everything, as the character sometimes.

7. Nothing can defeat a director who is one with his actors. 

I think the key is to make sure that the cast, especially if they’re big Hollywood superstars, likes the movie. My first film in Hollywood was The Fischer King, and Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are playing the two leads. And I knew as long as Robin, Jeff and I were united, there was no way the studio could break it, and the film would go out. Same way with Twelve Monkeys. Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis and I were one. In both instances those films went very smoothly.

8. Surround yourself with improvisers. 

I like the actor to surprise me all the time because the problem when you’re making a film, if you've written it and you’re directing it, you've been with it so long, it becomes a bit rigid. It can become mechanical when you’re shooting because you’re just trying to do exactly what you were thinking about for the last year. And what’s wonderful is when the actors come in and they do something that’s completely surprising, and suddenly every day becomes fresh. And it makes me stay awake.

9. Directing is not for the faint-of-heart. Or the sane. 

What I love about Don Quixote is that he keeps misinterpreting the world. He thinks the world is either worse or better or whatever. He gets it wrong every time. But in the end he has these heroic, epic moments, and he seems to be unstoppable. He just goes on and on and on. I think it’s a great example for people, especially in film, in how to get through life, because film can often be incredibly disappointing. What I like about the Don Quixote documentary is that so many other filmmakers when they saw that, they started telling me their stories of equally horrible disasters. It’s a very difficult business. [Lost in La Mancha] should discourage anyone who is not willing to live in a world where disasters like that occur. Don’t make films if you’re not going to be able to deal with things like that. I’m always working on it and one day it will happen. It’s changed me. If you’re going to make a film about Don Quixote, you’ve got to be as mad as Don Quixote, so the nature is helping me go crazy.

10. Be an enlightened despot. 

I expect the actors to really be totally committed to the film and to their character and forget about who they are. Get rid of your vanity. Just be whatever the character demands. I think it’s horrible when I hear stories of actors coming and they bring their own makeup people and their hairdresser. Wait a minute, what’s going on here? The power is in the wrong hands. And if you let the power go to the actor, then you’re not directing the movie. And the actor is not thinking about the entire movie. Only the director is thinking about the entire movie. I don’t ever want to be the guy that is saying, “this is the only way that it can be done.” I don’t want to be a dictator. That’s not interesting. It’s interesting if you can have a dialogue going all the time and trying to all agree to find what is the best way for this film to go.

Bonus Lesson: And whatever you do, don’t ever work with the Weinsteins. 

I suppose it would have been nice to have made more films in the 71 years that I've been hanging around this place. And if I have a regret, there’s only one really, and that was working with the Weinsteins [giggles]. That’s the only one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


There's been a bunch of great stuff online over the past few weeks and it really got me thinking long and hard about movies again. It got me thinking about what makes a good movie and what it takes to make a great movie.

The Dissolve, a site started by a bunch of great writers, does this thing called "Movie of the Week" where they pick an older movie and write about it for a few days. A couple of weeks ago, they chose AMERICAN MOVIE.

This has always been one of my favorite documentaries for many, many reasons. The story of Mark Borchardt trying to get his great American movie, NORTHWESTERN, off the ground is nothing short of brilliant. Chris Smith spent two years following Borchardt and his friend Mike Schank as they go through their pretty boring lives in Milwaukee. Borchardt is in his mid-30's, lives at home with his parents, works at a funeral home and is pretty much the definition of a failure.

He's trying desperately to change that perception though, and he's convinced that if he can just get a little bit of money, he can finish COVEN, use the profits from that to finance NORTHWESTERN and ride off successfully into the sunset of his life. It doesn't quite work out that way.

AMERICAN MOVIE is really a brilliant documentary about life and about the process of making movies. It's a documentary that makes me think two different things.

1) You have to be pretty talented and incredibly lucky to start and finish a movie.

2) I'm more talented and way luckier than Mark Borchardt, right?

I'm pretty sure the answer to number two is a resounding "yes!" but I can't be sure. For one thing, making movies in the mid-to-late 90's was WAY harder than it is today. Before everything became digital, you had to know a lot about all the different equipment. Shooting on film was expensive and editing on a Steenbeck and splicing parts together by hand was incredibly difficult - far more so than shooting on an iPhone and importing everything into iMovie or Final Cut. Borchardt may be a hapless, bumbling, drunken fool, but when it comes to actually working film equipment, he knows his shit.

I don't know how to do any of that stuff. That's why I always second guess myself when those questions arise.

If you've seen AMERICAN MOVIE, head over to The Dissolve and read all the great stuff they compiled for it. There's the keynote essay, an interview with director Chris Smith 15 years later, and a round table discussion between all the writers.

If you've never seen AMERICAN MOVIE, what's wrong with you? Call me ASAP. I own it. I'll let you come over. I've got snacks, drinks, a comfortable couch... It's a hell of deal, really.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


There's not a whole lot to say that hasn't already been said here.

Harold Ramis was one of my comedy idols. He's not on the same level as Steve Martin or David Letterman, and probably wouldn't end up on my "Mount Rushmore" (since that's been the phrase of choice lately), but the man was definitely up there.

He had a gift and a voice that lent to some amazing work over the years. Not everything he touched was gold (I'll probably never watch YEAR ZERO), but a lot of it was great.

Look at the list of stuff he wrote:

SCTV - Second City TV was a Canadian sketch show where Ramis got his start along with John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short. That's a hell of a team.

From there, his resume just includes one seminal comedy after another with ANIMAL HOUSE, MEATBALLS, CADDYSHACK, STRIPES, GHOSTBUSTERS and ANALYZE THIS. There were a few stinkers here and there, but Jesus. Those are the movies he wrote from scratch. 

Then we move on to his directing resume and, if you're not blown away by this, then I think you're in the wrong place.

CADDYSHACK, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION, GROUNDHOG DAY, MULTIPLICITY, ANALYZE THIS (and THAT), THE ICE HARVEST (a really, really underrated movie, by the way) and a bunch of episodes of THE OFFICE when it was in its prime. 

Sure, a few more clunkers in that category too, but come on!

As an actor, he appeared in a lot of those, but he also appeared in a bunch more where I'm sure he had a hand in some of the material, even if he didn't get the credit.

Harold Ramis, along with Bill Murray and John Hughes were responsible for my favorite movies from the time I was born through 1995. That's just a fact.

There aren't a whole lot of celebrities that I'll miss, but Harold Ramis is definitely one of them.

Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter Venkman: What?
Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Venkman: Why?
Spengler: It would be bad.
Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

Monday, March 10, 2014


I've decided that this whole week is dedicated to movies.

It's not lost on me that this blog is mostly about movies anyway, but this week we're getting specific. This is actually what I was going to do last week, kicking it off with the Oscar recap, but then I ended up having kind of a lot to do after work each day and couldn't get to it. So I pushed it back a week! Everyone's cool with that, right?

Doesn't matter. We're doing it anyway! Let's start here.

I went to college for a while. A couple of different times, actually. I enjoyed it, I learned a few things, and thought it was helpful - for the most part. I absolutely hated that they kept pressuring me to declare a major and start tailoring my class schedule around that one subject. I get why they do it. It makes sense because you can't have thousands of 18-22 year old kids wandering around a campus with no direction (although with how fucking expensive tuition is, I'm surprised they didn't encourage more students to take ultimately meaningless classes for longer period of time. College is kind of a sham like that.).

My biggest problem is that what you want to do when you're 18 isn't always what you end up doing. Most of the time you don't even get close. If you're a doctor, then sure, you're probably always going to work in the medical field, but aside from that, it's wide open. I know a guy with an anthropology degree that works in advertising. Another guy went to law school and works at now. I'd be genuinely shocked if "what you majored in" and "what you're doing now" is ANY better than 50/50.

It's a crap shoot, really. When I was 19, the guidance counselor (or whatever it's called in college) at the University of Utah kind of forced me to choose a major. I was wide-eyed and idealistic back then, so I chose Film. I wanted to make movies. Gradually it changed to Film Studies, because I didn't really see how you could make a living making movies, but I thought there might be a decent future in at least writing about movies. I tacked on a Creative Writing minor for good measure and went through the motions.

Then I got a job writing about movies for the U of U paper and guess what? I didn't really like doing it. I still love reading a few people that write about movies for a living, but the market is so saturated with them that you have to wade through 6 or 7 really bad, link-baiting bullshit pieces to get to the good ones. I have 4 or 5 film writers that I really enjoy reading, but don't trust them 100%. I can make up my own mind.

Maybe that's where I went wrong with my film reviews, though. I tried to write about film in a way that wasn't a straight review, but more of a conversation revolving around my opinion. That turned off a lot of people at the U and I got a lot of hate mail.

Apparently, anyway. No one actually told me how to do my job as A&E Editor, so I made it up as I went along. I didn't know there was an official email address that was collecting everything sent to me until halfway through the second semester. Then I got 6 months worth of emails in a single afternoon, and stopped reading after about 15 people were just complaining about how I sucked at reviewing movies.

That turned me off from writing about movies, but it never turned me off from writing movies or dreaming of making them.

The point of this long, rambling piece is that I'm okay with the path I've chosen, and I never really miss making movies until I read things like this Oral History of SWINGERS piece. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to just drop everything, write a movie, then figure out how to make it.

Since you've already spent time listening to me whine about the collegiate system, you may as well spend another half an hour reading this. It's a really, really great article with all the key players represented. Jon Favreau talks about how he was able to get it made, Doug Liman talks about the tricks he had to pull to get some of the shots (the part where they talk about filming the scene on the side of the road on the way back from Vegas is worth it alone), and Vince Vaughn talks about everything else.

It's movies like this that make me think I could do it. The market is so saturated now, and literally everyone thinks they're a filmmaker that it's impossible to stand out unless you end up with something transcending and brilliant. 95% of the time that won't happen, but it's nice to think about.

Maybe I'll get to it sooner or later. I didn't buy that screenwriting software for nothing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I didn't plan on watching the Oscar's on Sunday night - it just kind of happened. The plan was to watch TRUE DETECTIVE in real time, hate-watch THE WALKING DEAD on my DVR, and then queue up GIRLS on HBO On Demand. By that time it would be 9:30 (Salt Lake time) and I'd be able to catch the last half and hour of the Oscar's and see the big winners.

But that plan fell through, and I ended up watching most of it.

The show started at 6:30 and TRUE DETECTIVE started at 7, so I watched the first half an hour, and I've got to say, I was really impressed with Ellen's opening monologue. Never been much of a fan of hers, but that nearly turned me. Then she ad-libbed the rest of the show, it got really boring and I lost interest again. In the hour that I was watching Marty Hart and Rust Cohle get into some dark, dark shit, nothing important happened during the awards. I didn't miss a single category that mattered (to me, anyway).

Most of the show was really, really boring. I put it on mute so much that you'd think the broadcast team was Matt Harpring and Craig Bolerjack. Ther only real surprise was that AMERICAN HUSTLE was shut out completely. I think that's a good thing. It was a fun movie that I really enjoyed, but it wasn't the best at anything.

Let's look at my six picks/predictions and see what I got right, shall we?

Best Actor
My Pick - McConaughey
Winner - McConaughey
This is what he's been up to the last three years: BERNIE, KILLER JOE, EASTBOUND AND DOWN, THE PAPERBOY, MUD, MAGIC MIKE, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and TRUE DETECTIVE. That's an astounding run. Good on him. MUD still might be my favorite movie of 2013, by the way.

Best Actress
My Pick - Blanchett
Winner - Blanchett
Of the nominated performances, I only saw Sandra Bullock and Amy Adams, but I still figured Blanchett would win. I don't have any facts to back up why.

Best Supporting Actor
My Pick - Leto
Winner - Leto
Maybe next time, Barkhad. Maybe next time.

Best Supporting Actress
My Pick - Nyong'o
Winner - Nyang'o
I've still only seen AMERICAN HUSTLE, but I knew Lawrence wouldn't win twice in a row.

Best Director
My Pick - David O. Russell
Winner - Alfonso Cuaron
I honestly didn't think Cuaron had a chance, but I was happy to be wrong.

Best Picture
My Pick - "AMERICAN HUSTLE. 12 YEARS A SLAVE might sneak in if it doesn't win the Best Director award."
Winner - 12 YEARS A SLAVE
I was half right.

Other notable wins that I didn't care to predict ahead of time:
Spike Jonze won best original screenplay for HER and I'm 100% okay with that, even though I haven't seen the movie. Spike Jonze is the best though, so I'm always happy for him.

John Ridley won Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 YEARS A SLAVE. I haven't seen it, so sure. His feud with Steve McQueen made that one a little bit awkward, but it was nice to see some animosity on a night usually filled with ass-kissing.

"Please Mr. Kennedy" didn't even get nominated (because it was ineligible, of course) and that's a fucking travesty. That song was brilliant in every possible way. That would have been the only musical number I watched.

Not a bad night for me, pick-wise and it was a really good year for movies, all things considered. Hopefully 2014 is just as good. Though it's already March and I've only seen two movies in the theaters this year. I've gotta change that.