Friday's Links

Here’s what’s interested me in the last week:

How Phony is Shepard Fairey?
There’s a fine line between art and plagiarism. 

Apple Store Design Hits a Glass Wall Again
Who is the Old Georgetown Board and why are they holding up Apple coming to DC?

How Will We Survive Battlestar Galactica’s Radioactive Future?
Some practical suggestions.

Christian Bale, Hero of the Set
I find this a little hard to believe – a movie set being terrorized by a DP?

Writers Need to Promote Their Books
Seems obvious, but just because you’re published, it doesn’t mean that your work is done.

Eurabia is Writers on the Storm Competition Semifinalist

My screenplay Eurabia is a Semi-Finalist in the Writers On The Storm Screenplay Competition. Out of more than 1300 scripts submitted, Eurabia finished in the the top 50 screenplays out of more than 1300 screenplays submitted. My screenplay Eurabia is set in the near future. In this dystopian story, America has lost the war on terror and Europe is controlled by radical Islam. However, the CIA has a secret plan to change the course of history… While I didn’t win the competition, it was great to get the recognition. Another nice and useful thing about this competition is the “coverage” I received for Eurabia.  Coverage basically is notes from a professional script reader on your screenplay, what works, what doesn’t, and what could be improved. I thought the coverage I received was really useful. It included ratings on structure, dialog, originality, premise, execution and even the title of my script.  Additionally, it included a couple of narrative sections that, while brief, offered concrete suggestions on how I could improve Eurabia.  Here’s what the anonymous reader wrote about Eurabia under Strengths/Weaknesses:

Really a great concept that is well-executed. The first part of the second act lacks tension, but otherwise the script is tight.

Second acts, in films and in life, are really tough. A second act is halfway through a movie when things start to drag or they introduce some wacky twist and you start to wonder about the film. It’s a fair criticism of Eurabia. When I wrote the script, I knew the beginning and I knew the end but the middle parts were a bit hazy. In parts of it, I was definitely feeling my way along, trying to figure out what was going to happen. Second act weakness is a common problem for scripts. I’ve revised Eurabia several times already. I can see the problem in the second act but am not sure how to fix it yet. The detail about “lacking tension” was helpful criticism because it highlighted what needs to be fixed. And here were their Reader Suggestions:

Consider upping the threat that he faces with releasing this ‘weapon’. Because he knows exactly where and when, the tension lessens. Possibly making the release a little less predictable might add some tense moments. May not be right for your script, but something to think about or play with. This is somewhat nit-picking, but this script is so close.

This is a note referring to the end of the script and a choice the main character has. It’s another good suggestion. Eurabia goes along in a very linear manner to a confrontation that’s talked about earlier in the script. Everyone can see it coming. Maybe it would be better to derail the train before it gets to the station. It’s an interesting idea. Overall, I was really pleased with the Writers On The Storm Screenplay Competition. The contest was administered professionally, the coverage was useful and the overall experience was a positive one. I’ve been on the other side of the table, as a judge for the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition, so I know how difficult it can be to plow through massive quantities of scripts of varying quality and still provide serious coverage of a script. With more than 1300 scripts, Writers on the Storm has done herculean work.

Check out the Eurabia Coverage (PDF) from Writers on the Storm.

DC Shorts – It's On!

I’ve been involved with the DC Shorts Film Festival as a film and screenplay judge for the past couple years. It’s such a good time.  The movies are interesting, the parties are awesome and there’s a very friendly, constructive buzz about the whole affair. This isn’t Hollywood – these are real people, just like you, who make great short films

DC Shorts will take place Sept 11 – 18 and will feature more 100 short films from around the world plus parties, seminars and a screenplay competition. I was a judge for this year’s screenplay competition. From dozens of submissions, we selected six finalists – these are short scripts which will be read aloud at a staged reading during the festival. The audience will get to vote on the winner, who will receive $2000 to turn their script into a short film.

All the action takes place at E Street Cinema downtown and nearby venues.  If you like booze, creative people and interesting films, then it’s an excellent festival to attend.



Eurabia is ASA Screenplay Contest Quarterfinalist

I just learned that my screenplay Eurabia is a Quarterfinalist in the American Screenwriters Association (ASA) 11th Annual International Screenplay Competition. This script, which I wrote last year, also made it to the second round of the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition.

For the ASA competition, 130 Quarterfinalists were selected from the 1,400 screenplays submitted. Their entries will be judged again and the top scores will advance to the semi-final round. Semi-Finalists and Finalists will be announced in late May 2008.

Eurabia is a disturbing look at a possible future. The year is 2028. America has lost the war on terror. Europe is now “Eurabia”, a continent under the grip of radical Islam. But the CIA has a secret plan to use a biogenetic weapon to change the course of history.

From the abandoned streets of New York to a Paris ruled by imams, this political thriller follows an unwilling hero as he’s forced into a plot to change the world. Like most Americans, Roland wants peace after a devastating war with radical Islam. However, with an upcoming cultural exchange program with Eurabia, Roland is in a unique position, one that the CIA wants to take advantage of to introduce their new biogenetic weapon. This weapon changes the brains of radical Islamists, to make them tolerant and open-minded.

Roland is blackmailed into carrying this weapon to Eurabia. He doesn’t intend to use it – he expects to find common ground with a traditional Islamic society. Instead, he finds an oppressed people, ruled by a corrupt and violent elite cloaking themselves in the Koran. He develops a love interest, Gillian, and watches helplessly as she and her daughter are abused. Amal, a wise mentor, guides him toward a final confrontation with the rulers of Eurabia.

One has to just look at today’s headlines to see the timeliness of my story. I wrote this controversial script to explore the ideas and conflicts of our time – freedom, security, paranoia, individual rights, globalization and progress.

Read an excerpt from Eurabia.

After the Gold Rush is 2008 BlueCat Lab Semi Finalist

My screenplay, After the Gold Rush, has been selected as a Semi Finalist for the 2008 BlueCat Screenwriting Lab.

The BlueCat Screenwriting Lab is a really interesting project. Founded by Gordy Hoffman (brother of Phillip Seymour Hoffman), BlueCat has become one of the best screenwriting contests in the country. What distinguishes them from other contests is that Gordy is a writer and tries to further development of screenwriting as a craft. If I’m a finalist, I’ll receive an all-expenses paid trip to LA to attend one week of screenplay mentoring (including a staged reading of my script) at the BlueCat Screenwriting Lab.

What’s my screenplay about? After the Gold Rush is about a dotcom failure, washed up at the age of 24, who goes abroad to end it all. But he can’t escape the sensual pull of Italy…

I wrote it in the wake of the dotcom crash, inspired by my own work on web sites and a couple of “research” visits to Europe. I was interested in how people regain their creativity after crushing defeat.

Read the first five pages of After the Gold Rush. And, if you want to read more, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF of the complete script.

Hollywood 2.0

A fascinating post by Marc Andreeson on rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley’s image.  Here’s his inspiring conclusion:

However, in the event of a long-term strike, out of the ashes of the traditional model would — I believe — come the birth of certainly dozens, maybe hundreds, and possibly even thousands of new media companies, rising phoenix-like into the global entertainment market, financed by venture capital, creating amazing new properties, employing large numbers of people, and rewarding their creators as owners.

As someone who’s made a career out of working on web sites, and has dabbled with filmmaking,  I’m ready for this new world.  When you build a web site, it’s all point and click, online collaboration, drag and drop, copy, paste, submit.  When you make a movie, it’s about printing out scripts, stuffing them in envelopes and pitching your ideas in person to people far removed from the actual decision-makers.

This is a world that’s calling out for disintermediation.  The moviemaking business is filled with gatekeepers (like studios and agents) that add costs and keep consumers from getting the content they want.  Andreeson rightly points out the music industry as an obvious parallel.

I have a friend who gets all his media from YouTube.  He doesn’t watch TV.  I suspect that, the longer the strike drags on, the more people will be like my friend.

The Internet has utterly changed countless industries.  Now, with advent of the writers’ strike, it’s Hollywood’s turn.

Eurabia Makes to Austin Second Round

My latest screenplay, EURABIA, made it to the secound round of the 2007 Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

EURABIA is a disturbing look at a possible future.  The year is 2027. America has lost the war on terror. Europe is controlled by radical Islam.  From the abandoned streets of New York to a Paris ruled by imams, we follow an unwilling hero as he’s forced into a plot to change the world.

Read the first ten pages online.

DC Shorts in September!

Mark your calendars.  DC Shorts is returning September 13-20.  Like last year, the action will take place downtown at E Street Cinema.  This year, we will present 89 films and 7 live script performances, culled from 14 countries.  I say “we” because I was one of the script judges.

Also check out Rough Cut, the City Paper’s blog covering the event.

Reverend Billy Comes to Silver Spring

reverend billy in Austin
Reverend Billy preaches against Starbucks in Austin, TX.

Reverend Billy came to the chain-ridden streets of Silver Spring to minister for our sins. What did we do wrong? Americans shop too much, according to the Reverend, with our dreams dictated by major brands and our lives enslaved by credit card debt.

With this type of message, you would think that his movie, “What Would Jesus Buy” would be a humorless polemic. But what distinguishes the Reverend from the whole crop of latter-day alarmists (for example, the food police) is the humor and humanity he brings to his evangelical message.

I first encountered the Reverend on the streets of Austin during SXSW. He and his joyous band led a gospel-style procession up Congress Avenue, singing out to everyone, “Stop shopping! Stop shopping!” Like the Pied Piper, he soon had a delighted throng following him, for the choir was truly rocking and the lyrics were hilarious indictments of our own materialism. He led a crowd up to a Starbucks and preached against the sins of this ubiquitous company, and for all of us to make better choices with our dollars.

This humor and appeal to our better nature is on display in the new documentary, “What Would Jesus Buy.” This film, which screened at SilverDocs, follows the Reverend and his choir around the country at the height of Xmas shopping madness. Produced by Morgan Spurlock, it’s a funny and occasionally horrific look at the excesses of 21st century America. We have too much stuff and spend more than we have to buy the latest products pitched to us.

Where the doc comes alive is when we see Reverend Billy and his wife, Savitri D, struggle with their mission. Are they really making a difference? The Reverend answers affirmatively, if they can just change one life. And they do, by blessing an infant outside a Target – a really touching moment.

This sets up the final confrontation with the forces of the “shopacolypse” as Reverend Billy goes into the belly of the Beast (or Mouse) to spread his good news.

The packed house at SilverDocs loved it, especially when the Reverend and the choir appeared in the wings and began to sing a couple of new songs.  They’re trying to get distribution for the movie.

Nobody likes being preached to, whether it’s religion or politics. But Reverend Billy has managed to communicate his message through humor and satire. And it’s a message that stays with you because the Reverend doesn’t try to make us feel guilty, he tries to make us good.

The Mini-Retirement: Costs and Benefits

palm tree, Santa Monica, CA
In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, author Timothy Ferriss discusses the idea of taking a “mini-retirement” while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. His point is that we Americans have it all wrong. We work hard through our youth to save up for a retirement in old age. That seems backwards to him – we should have our fun now, while we still can.

This is something I’ve always believed in. “You have the rest of your life to work,” I’ve counseled others who have considered taking a few months away from cubicle land. We’re fortunate to live in this historically unique time and place where jobs are plentiful. You’re not going to starve and there will be work for you when you come back, at least if you’re lucky enough to be a college graduate in America.

However, mini-retirement has costs and benefits that need to be considered. In my own life, I’ve tried to alternate my creative pursuits (writing) and my career (web person). I’ve taken several mini-retirements so that I could write. Here are the costs and the benefits:

August 1991 – December 1992: I leave my nascent career as an Information Assistant in Washington, DC, and move home to Florida. I work as a temp while I write a novel. I’m completely broke, live with my parents and yet am really happy.

  • Cost: I’m “behind” some of my friends who are becoming successful in their careers.
  • Benefit: I write a novel, my most important life goal.

July – October 1996: The Internet has just begun to take off. I’ve created my first web site, so that I can publish my fiction. I leave my library job behind and take several months off to travel and write. I also think there has to be a way for me to find a job doing this new web stuff.

  • Cost: None. I don’t make any money for three months but I get a new and much better job as an Internet Content Consultant.
  • Benefit: I work on my writing and edit the script of an independent film, Carrots and Onions. Reading someone else’s screenplay convinces me that screenwriting is something I can do. Perhaps more importantly, with my web job I’ve switched fields. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a career not just a job.

December 2001 – May 2002: A few months after 9/11, it’s a terrible time for a mini-retirement. My plan, formalated earlier in the year, of taking a couple months off to travel and work on a screenplay stretches into a half-year of intermittent freelance work.

  • Cost: My finances suffer a major blow from the months of semi-paid freelance work. And when I finally find a new job, it pays less than my old job. My friends are buying homes, piling up $$ in their 401Ks, having kids. And spending lots of time in the office.
  • Benefit: Though it’s tough to see as I look at my bloated credit card balance, the work and connections made during this time will pay off later. I finish my script, Mount Pleasant, which in 2006 will win the Film DC screenplay competition. And, with plenty of time on my hands, I become part of the local film community and meet people I will work with in the 48 Hour Film Project (2003, 2006) and DC Shorts. I also get into photography, a hobby that will bring me much joy.

Mini-retirements are not without cost. However, they’ve added a richness of experience to my life that is truly priceless.