J.J. Abrams got a $55+ million deal

Actually, it’s two deals: one for TV at Warners, and another for film at Paramount. Though I’ve never met the guy, I’m very happy for him. It honestly couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. Not only has he consistently created great material in the past, he clearly has great work ahead of him.

And yet…

I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

Right now, he has three TV shows on the air: Lost, What About Brian, and Six Degrees. He’s prepping the next Star Trek movie, and is supposed to be producing other, smaller movies on top of that.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be spending this entire week working on a two-minute section of The Movie. Oh, and I have a lunch with my TV agent about a show I probably won’t do because I don’t have time. Because, you see, I operate on Mortal Time.

Godspeed, Mr. Abrams. I look forward to your work, and pray that your stretching the boundaries of the time-space continuum don’t have any grave repercussions. (But as mutual fans of science-fiction, we both know that’s unlikely.)

Fingers crossed.


About halfway through shooting The Movie, the propmaster asked, “Hey, where are your glasses?” I had taken them off to check my email, and left them sitting on the dining room table. It’s part of his job to recognize continuity issues, so it’s natural he noticed something was off.

But it was only his comment that made me realize: Holy shit. I wear glasses.

The truth is, I’ve had glasses since high school, but I’ve never considered myself a glasses-wearer. I’m near-sighted, with mild astigmatism. Originally, the glasses were only for driving at night and watching movies on the big screen. After college, I found myself wearing them for watching TV. Then, several years ago, I started wearing them for all driving, day and night. But I work at home, so I don’t drive much. And TV hours are limited, particularly with the baby. Most days, you’d only find me in glasses for ninety minutes, tops.

Then came The Movie.

Whereas a writer only has to look at the words on the screen, a director has to look at actual things: people, props, stupid bamboo plants that keep getting moved into the shot to conceal light stands. In having to look at all of these things at various distances, I found myself wearing my glasses 12 hours a day.

The crew naturally assumed I was a person who wore glasses full-time, so any moment where I had them off was an anomaly. Thus Greg Props’s question. Thus my dismay: Without realizing it, I’ve become a (nearly) full-time four-eyes.

I’ve got nothing against glasses, really. They work. But they kind of suck for a director. When we were filming out in Malibu, they kept getting streaked with sweat and sunscreen. When looking through the camera lens, one has to take them off, adjusting the diopter to find focus, which screws it up for the operator. Mostly, they just get in the way. I have magnetic clip-on sunglasses which work okay, but honestly look stupid. The alternative — carrying around prescription sunglasses — just isn’t going to happen.

Contact lenses aren’t a terrific solution for me, partly because my eyes freak out at the mildest irritation, and partly because my reading vision is better without them.

All of which serves as introduction to the real topic at hand: laser eye surgery.

My uncorrected vision is good enough that I’ve put off LASIK for years, assuming (correctly, as it turns out) that it would get better and cheaper. But in putting it off, I’ve also gotten older, which means that correcting my distance vision will put me in reading glasses sooner. Maybe immediately. (This isn’t particularly a laser thing; it’s a time thing. As you hit your 40’s, your eyes lose the ability to focus clearly at short distances. Fixing one’s nearsightedness often hastens the need for reading glasses.)

Is losing my distance glasses worth adding reading glasses? Maybe. And considering I’ll eventually need reading glasses anyway, it might be time.

One possible alternative to the either-or scenario is monovision. That’s a terrible word for it, because it conjures up images of Colonel Klink, patch-wearing pirates and the foreign policy of George W. Bush. A better term would probably be “split vision” or “asymmetrical vision.” Basically, they correct one eye for distance, and the other for reading.

The literature touts it as the “best of both worlds,” but clearly it’s a compromise — your distance vision isn’t as good as it could be, nor is your reading vision. But good enough is often the best solution.

I’m test-driving it now, wearing one contact in my right eye (my dominant eye). So far, it’s pretty good. My distance vision is much sharper. The challenge is reading. I can focus with either eye separately, but together, things tend to be a bit blurry, as if the right and left are fighting about who should be in charge. From what I’ve read, your brain eventually figures out how to make sense of it.

For now, I’m enjoying my monovision experiment. But it’s brought up another issue: sunglasses. I didn’t have any non-prescription sunglasses, so I had to borrow a pair.

I guess you never really get away from glasses.

Spec, or write it for the producer?

questionmarkI recently went out to about 10 companies with a comedy pitch. I had some good response, although no sale, as I somewhat expected as a new writer. But it was a great experience to pitch it, meet new people, etc.

One of the producers I pitched to loved the overall concept but had issues with my execution of it. He wants to develop it with me as a script.

On the one hand, I can see the value of having an experienced exec’s insight. Plus he was very excited about the idea and got it on a thematic level.

On the other, I am so sick of developing this idea which I’ve been working on for months and really want to start writing it now. (Even though it didn’t sell, I still think i can execute it well enough to sell.) I’m worried the producer’s ideas for plot changes were pretty major, and I may not agree with all of them. Plus I’d have to cater to his views in order for him to bring it to the studio. My inclination is to just go ahead and spec it, then show it again to him and everyone else. But I’m wondering what you think. I’d hate to pass up a good opportunity.

Los Angeles, CA

I don’t know the producer, so I can’t speak to his taste. But I think your instincts are right.

Look at it this way: Say you write the script and it still doesn’t sell. At least if you wrote the script the way you wanted, you’d always have something you believed in. But if you wrote it to the producer’s vision and it didn’t sell, you’d be stuck with a script that’s not really what you wanted in the first place.

So I say, spec it and take it to the producer first. If he still wants it his way, you can decide whether it’s worth the work to try it. He may even option it. But whatever happens, you’ll always have your version in the vault.

NPR interview postponed

Daryl G. Nickens, who edited Doing It for Money, passed away over the weekend. So the interview scheduled for this afternoon — which was supposed to be Daryl, Chris Brancato and myself — has been pushed back to some unspecified date. I’ll let you know when I know.

Daryl worked mostly in television, with a career going back decades. I never met him, but my sympathies go out to his family and friends for the loss.

Who’s that mumbling screenwriter on NPR?

Barring some sort of Actual News Event, I’ll be one of the guests on Airtalk this Tuesday, July 11th at 11:30 a.m. (At least, that’s the time for Los Angeles listeners.)

Host Judy Muller will be talking with Chris Brancato and me about the book Doing It for Money: The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing and Surviving in Hollywood, in which I have an essay. (And which I recently blogged about.) The book’s editor, Daryl G. Nickens, will also be on hand.

So, tune in and witness how inarticulate I am when I don’t have a keyboard in front of me.

Because really, he should drive a Chrysler LeBaron

questionmarkMy question concerns referencing branded objects in a screenplay. I’ve read that including name-brand references should be avoided in screenplays because you would need legal clearance in order to feature them.

That being said, what if my character drives a Chrysler LeBaron? Can’t I say he drives a beat-up Chrysler LeBaron? And not just as a description, but if it was mentioned in the dialogue as well.

Understandably, name brand references wouldn’t make or break my script, but I feel it adds a nice level of depth and detail to my characters if you know they like Gucci shoes and not fancy Italian boots.

I guess my question is, what are the do’s and don’ts of brand name references?

— Aaron Murphy

In a screenplay, you can do anything. You can have Ronald McDonald shank Elmo with a sharpened Barbie over a pack of Marlboros.

The trouble comes when you’re moving from the printed word to the projected image. The corporations who hold these trademarks and copyrights don’t look kindly on other people profiting off them, even if the usage is not necessarily disparaging.

So, when you set out to make a movie, someone is generally assigned the chore of getting permission to use other people’s copyrights and trademarks. These “permission slips” are called clearances. During the summer of 1993, while I was interning at Universal, this was my job. I helped do clearances for The War and Reality Bites, mostly working on props and set decoration.

How do you get permission? You ask.

A large part of the job is figuring out who to ask. In 1993, the Internet didn’t exist in anything approximating its current form, so my fingers got very fast at dialing New York information (212-555-1212) to track down corporate offices.

Once you get the right person on the phone (or email), you explain what the movie is, why you’re asking, and if they could sign and fax back the attached clearance form. As I mentioned in an earlier article, Nolo Press’s book Getting Permission has templates for clearance forms, and a lot of information about how to handle everything from artwork to music. You can also see a generic version of what we used for The Movie here: .pdf or .doc.

My assistant Chad handled the majority of the clearances for The Movie, mostly artwork and books featured as props. It’s tedious work, but not particularly brain-draining. (In fact, I wrote my first screenplay while doing clearances.)

How do you know what needs to be cleared, and what you can just get away with using/saying?

I fall back on my standard advice: as a writer, just do what’s best for the script. If that’s Gucci shoes and Chrysler LeBarons, knock yourself out. Don’t worry about phantom problems. Rather, focus on writing the best screenplay you can.

Down the road, when your great script gets ready to become a great movie, there will be producers and other clever people to help you stress out over clearances.