Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#13 Write the Trailer

So after a fun family-filled holiday weekend, I am always raring to get back to work and get pages out.  Of course, there are lots of steps that need to happen before I get pages out – brainstorming, character development, treatments… I thought I would share one of my favorite writing exercises with you all. 

Basically, I write the trailer for the movie I haven’t yet completed the script for.  For me, as a director/writer - I dream visually, so it helps to do this before I’ve finished all my scene breakdowns and character development.   If I can create poignant glimpses into the story for a two minute teaser, it helps me stay on point through the rest of the work.   It helps me visualize what Act Two is all about.  It’s also a great reminder that (duh) the film has to be compelling: dynamic in the individual moments as well as in the big picture. 

I actually pulled out the trailer script to THE LAKE EFFECT when we were cutting the trailer after the movie was finished to remind myself what I originally felt were the trailer-worthy moments in the film – what would bring people into a theatre?

Anyway, here’s a rough trailer script for the CYNICS.  Hope you enjoy it!  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


T-minus two days to GOBBLE GOBBLE!  

This year, my husband and I are hosting Thanksgiving, which means we’ve spent a fortune at Trader Joe’s, we have a turkey bathing in brine in our teeny fridge and I have to clean the house…  Giving thanks is a lot of work. 

It’s true, isn’t it?  Giving thanks is a lot of work.  It’s so much easier to complain!  (And often funnier.  See Seinfeld.)  We’re champs at seeing what’s missing from our lives, seeing the lack – whether it be time or money or love or a flat screen HDTV (Now you know what to get me for Christmas).
We filmmakers are especially guilty of this. We kvetch that there’s not enough time or money, not enough crew, not enough light…  While I was making the most money I ever made as a screenwriter, I opined the lack of creative control, the lack of respect, the lack of time to focus on my other projects.  
Appreciating the good stuff is just… harder.  For some reason, it takes a concerted effort to see what is right in front of us. 

I love Thanksgiving (minus it’s perverted neighbor Black Friday – sometimes I swear we’re living in some dystopian future out of a Margaret Atwood novel).   But I digress (shocker); in the spirit of the holiday, I’m cultivating an attitude of gratitude, focusing on the abundance instead of the lack.  There’s so much to be thankful for!  (I just burst into Dr. Suess book writing – Eye Book, anyone?  “So many things!  Like rain and pie and airplanes way up in the sky!”)

Beyond the obvious: I have a roof over my head, a devoted husband, a beautiful child, a loving family, and the best friends… I am thanking my lucky stars that Producer Jennifer Westin gave me the chance to make The Lake Effect.  I’m grateful for the cast and crew who gave their talents and tireless efforts to put the story on the screen.  I’m grateful for the family and friends who enabled me (as a new mom) to get the film through post and out to festivals.  I’m grateful for the awesome responses we’ve received from audiences…

The list is endless: I’m not making porno (nothing wrong with porno, just glad I’m not making it), I’m not pregnant (Again, nothing wrong with being pregnant, just not ready for #2 yet.), and you are reading this right now… thanks, you! 

Hope you’re inspired to see the good stuff this Thanksgiving weekend... CHEERS! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

BLOG #11 The On-line Debut of my (old but so good) short film SMACKERS!

Pucker up, people.  It's Smackers.
So my bigtime Producer just emailed me reminding me that that I have a blog deadline looming and although she was aware that this blog would be dedicated to the online premiere of my short film SMACKERS, she kindly suggested that maybe I could mention some topics that are trending to move my blog up up up on the search engines and out of the small circle of my friends who are kind enough to read it.  

I thought, "Sure.  No problem.  I'm all about trending.  Trending and transmedia and social networking.  Look out future, here comes a girl who wore a rainbow belt with a Smurfette buckle halfway through the eighties."

I figured I could throw some casual references to current events and/or popular people into today's blog and reach millions.  Easy. Peazy. Then I googled "trending." 

Here's Google's list of what's trending at 8:52 on Monday November 14th.   

Steve Smith
Niciolas Cage
Ravens vs Falcons
Latin Grammy
Android Gingerbread
Los 4.2 release

Effing Garfleid?  WHAT?!  No Thanksgiving?  No Harry Potter?  Maybe I don't understand what trending is.  I admit it - I barely have time to brush my teeth let alone my hair.  I have a precious hour and a half to write during naps and then another hour after bedtime IF I skip washing the dishes.  I'm a mom!  Keeping up with a fifteen month old who can stand on chairs and unpack a toy box in under 10 seconds is donkey bonkers.   By the way, all you mom bloggers who seem to have time to make sugar free organic carrot cupcakes with bunny ears and then write about it, what are you snorting??? 

I don't even have time to look all the trending things up to find out WHY they're trending.  
So I ask you, readers:  Is Steven Smith a football player? Did Nick Cage get arrested?  What kind of Cruise is in the news - Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruise, Booze Cruise?  I was so curious about Adroid Gingerbread (a new edible robot perhaps?)  that I learned we'll soon be using our phones to pay for things - Not sure yet if it lets you pay with rollover minutes. 

Okay - so this brings me to the long overdue reason for this post.... sharing SMACKERS - the first short I ever wrote and directed.  It enjoyed a very long festival run back before VIRAL had anything to do with the internets... but it is super duper viral.  

Clocking in at a mere minute and a half, Smackers parables the downfall of Junior High royalty.  Hopefully, it'll give you a good quick laugh at your desk this morning.  

PS: If you like Smackers, please PASS IT ON.  Share it.  Re-post it, blog it, tweet it, like it, digg it, book its face.  

My dream is that Smackers is seen by more people on-line than it ever was in a theatre and then it can show up on a trending list and confuse the hell out of someone else. :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


So this week, I was given a powerful reminder of how affecting film can be and also how very talented
and amazing my friends are.

Last week, my friend Zack Mathers created a video of his sister shaving his mom’s head.  Zack’s mom Rene is fighting cancer.  Even the rough cut of this video had me racing to find the phone in tears to call Zack to tell him how beautiful it was – how touching and funny and inspiring… how he had captured his family at a crossroads, facing their battles with laughter and love… and I was desperate to see and hug them all.   My words can’t compare to the actual work, so please take a second to check it out.

Mom's New Haircut from Frequent Flyer Productions on Vimeo.

Then on Saturday, my friend Lynette Howell had the LA premiere of her Oscar-buzzed-about film Blue Valentine and I was proud as punch to be there cheering her on from the red carpet to the after party.  I can say again, even the rough cut of this film was a marvel – but now that I’ve seen the big beautiful final version flickering up on the screen at Grauman’s, I promise that it is worth all the buzz and it is worth all the many many years she fought to get it made.  (A side note: The MPAA has given this intimate portrayal of a marriage falling apart an NC 17 rating; meanwhile, the most violent films are given PG-13 ratings.  Our American hang-ups about sex and our comfort with violence is another blog altogether, so I’ll just quote Amy Poehler and say to the MPAA, “Really?!”)

Here’s the link to the Blue Valentine trailer on Itunes.

Finally, last week, my phenomenal cinematographer husband Brett Juskalian was in Vietnam shooting a music video for a Vietnamese boy band.  He sent me a clip of the shoot on a night that I was feeling really low because he knows that I am a complete freak for dance videos, dance movies.  I had a copy of Girls Just Want to Have Fun on VHS that I watched so much, the tape finally snapped sometime in the late nineties.  Anyway, watching this Vietnemese boy band do a hip hop dance off with girls from the future in front of their cryogenic time machines was AWESOME. Film doesn't have to change the world to change your world if just for a couple of hours or a moment.
Here's the vid:

If that doesn't work, here's the link to it (my lack of tech savvy will not stop this blog from being posted on time!) 

So basically what I’m saying is I have really cool friends (and an extra super cool hubby).  

No, that’s not what I’m saying.  I mean, yes they are cool but more importantly, these people (and so many more of the ridiculously talented people in my world) remind me what this funny little thing called cinema is capable of. Whenever I’m sitting at my desk scribbling away through a nap time and feeling thoroughly disconnected from the Universe, these people and their greatness remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing. They inspire me to be my best self and my best artist.

I hope to reach all of you with more of the work that they helped inspire soon.

Maybe next week, we’ll do a revival of some of my old short films while we’re waiting for The Lake Effect to bubble to the surface.  

Stay tuned!  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blog #9 Guest Blog from Producer Jennifer Westin

Hi all, in my next guest blog I promise to back track and give a bit of insight into the producer’s story behind The Lake Effect but this entry will be a bit of a tangent. Hope you’ll come along.

Today I’ve been wondering if going into film producing was the wrong thing to do with my life. 

Before we get all Xanax, let me explain:  today is Election Day here in the States and while the country debates the future of our education and health care systems I’m looking at examples of DVD box cover art.  I’m a fairly political person, or at least I care a lot about the social and financial challenges we face. Which every election cycle makes me ask the question—should I be doing something more…Significant with my life?

I bat around the idea of becoming an errand girl for the Sierra Club or delivering water for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.  But then I realize I’ve come to a place where my skill set is pretty specific.  I don’t know anything about water safety or medicine or saving jellyfish (other than I support all those things).

And then I remember the other side of the coin—art is significant.  True, it’s not as necessary as clean water, but historically once a society has got the basics under control, they start creating art.  They need the water to live, but they live for the art.  Yes the world would have survived without 500 Days of Summer, but it was very funny and sweet.  Which leads to the two great potentials of Movies as Art: entertainment and social commentary (best done together!).  When times are tough, people need diversions. You get great 1930’s comedies like Bringing Up Baby and great 2009 comedies like The Proposal.  The incredible reach of cinema makes it a powerful instrument.

And it is exactly that reach that gives social commentary films such power.  There’s nothing quite like a great film made at just the right time to kick off a necessary society-wide discussion.  And so in honor of Election Day (and so I don’t have to change career paths) I give you:

Jennifer Westin’s list of the 10 Best Social Commentary Movies of All (my life) Time.

Philadelphia—quintessential Hollywood at its best. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington confront homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic.  With stars that big, the whole of America had to pay attention.

Do the Right Thing—race relations in the troubled 80’s in Brooklyn. Spike Lee depicts how things can spiral out of control on one hot day.

Three Kings—my generation’s war movie. Ironic, sad, funny, a little sexy, David O. Russell picks apart the first Gulf War.

District 9—sci-fi parable with an anti-apartheid message in last year’s wonderfully inventive South African indie.

Heathers—classic critique of 80’s Me Generation values, Shannon Doherty + Christian Slater + Winona Ryder = a wicked dark comedy

Boys Don’t Cry—Kimberly Peirce’s harrowing drama tells a real-life story to spark empathy for its tragic subject and gender identity issues.

WALL.E—Pixar’s brilliant dystopian children’s story has dark undercurrents for the parents.

Boyz in the Hood—stark tale of an urban ghetto in LA, John Singleton’s first feature shed light on how tough it was.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—not made in my lifetime but remade in my lifetime (Ashton Kutcher & Bernie Mac anyone?) so this classic about liberals confronting their hidden racism slips in.

Safe—one of my personal absolute favorites, Todd Haynes’ movie starring Julianne Moore as a detached housewife with mysterious ailments touches on Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and loads of feminist theory.

Notes on the list:
-Of My Lifetime:  Arbitrary? Perhaps but if I didn’t limit the possibilities somehow there’s no way I could choose just 10.  Plus I’m partial to my generation and didn’t want to make an All Vietnam War movies list.
-I didn’t include any movies based on novels because someone would surely write “Hey, that’s based on a novel” in the comments section.  But that did knock off a lot of great ones (Blade Runner, The Hours, Children of Men)
-I didn’t include any documentaries because they are so often social commentaries that they’d take over the list.
-I didn’t include TV because it’s outside the scope of this blog (until we run out of movie stuff to talk about).
-I’m a child of the 80’s, sue me.

Final Disclaimer: There are plenty of great ones that I haven’t seen or am forgetting or that I personally just don’t like. Leave your suggestions in the comments.