Day or Night when neither is apparent

questionmarkIn a scene where there is absolutely no way of telling whether it is day or night — say, when a character is inside a meat locker in the bowels of an underground nuclear bunker and has nothing but a Zippo to see by — should one write…

  • or,

This is assuming it is daytime above, and realizing that there is no problem shooting the scene in the daytime.

– cbrown

There’s no universal consensus, but I vote for the former. Even if you’re not seeing the sun or the moon, there’s generally a “daytime” or a “nighttime” vibe. The crew of a space station, for example, needs to sleep at some point. Call that night.

Incidentally, don’t have the alien attack then. Kind of cliche, in my humble opinion.

About a boot


Several readers, presumably Canadian readers, have written in to complain that they do not say “a boot” for “about,” and that I have my head up my ass.

So let me clarify.

“A boot” is a comedic exaggeration, the same way Europeans trying to sound American end up channeling John Wayne or De Niro.

Very few Canadians confuse their adverbs and footwear. It’s altogether possible that your “ow” sounds are created deeper in your mouths, just like Americans. But based on my experience casting two television shows with professional actors who have training in “sounding American,” there is a notable difference in words like “out,” “about,” and “house.” So much so that I’ll rewrite dialogue to avoid those words if possible.

Here’s where you need to climb off my ass.

  1. Just because I say something is different, doesn’t mean I’m saying it’s wrong. There’s nothing “right” about the various American accents. But if a character is supposed to be from a specific place in the U.S., his accent should reflect that.

  2. Yes, Canada is a big country. Vancouver doesn’t sound exactly like Toronto. But Vancouver doesn’t sound exactly like Seattle, either, and they’re a lot closer.

  3. Just because you can’t hear your accent, doesn’t mean you don’t have one. This more than anything infuriates me.

I grew up in the American Midwest. That’s my accent. I can’t really hear it, partly because American newscasters are trained to emulate this accent. You can hear a sample of it here. I sound pretty much like Kansas One, except that I’m older (35) and my voice is deeper.

Click here to listen to a speaker from Toronto. About a third of way into the recording, she says, “You have that in, what, Michigan? That’s part of what’s weird about being in Canada.”

The “about” is what I’m talking about.

For “sorry,” try this recording, also from Ontario: “Sarah was sentimental, so this made her feel sorry for the beautiful bird.” Compare the same sentence in the Southern California recording.

Just so it’s said: I love Canada. You’ve got national health care, seasons, and gay marriage. Your film crews are friendly, and in Toronto, they feed a hot meal (a “substantial”) three hours after call. So don’t take my observations as criticisms. To a lot of the world, “not sounding American” is a compliment.

Can’t stop writing

questionmarkAll I want to do is write! I write on the bus to and from work, I stayed home last night (Friday night) to write. I hate it and I love it and if I couldn’t write I would probably be in a mental institute. So what’s the problem?

It’s really difficult to strike a balance between this writing addiction and my social life. I even went so far to tell my boyfriend that when I write it is comparable to a junkie shooting up, so he better stay away from me when I am trying to get my fix. I’ve written seven feature screenplays and I’m 23 years old. I can’t stop even though sometimes I feel like I’m possessed by some sort of writing hobgoblin.

My question to you is does this insanity subside a little when you are a professional writer? Have you experienced the write or die phenomenon or am I some sort of freak? I’ve heard about feeding your passion but sometimes it feels like my passion is feeding on me! Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself extremely fortunate.

– Lu

Obviously, I’m not a psychiatrist. Even if I were, it would be improper to diagnose your condition based on an email. But I will anyway.

You have hypergraphia.

It’s an actual, real thing: the overwhelming urge to write. Alice Weaver Flaherty wrote a whole book on it, The Midnight Disease, which is fascinating reading for any writer, because it investigates the uncomfortable intersection between genius and just-plain-crazy. (Note again: I am not a psychiatrist, so I can freely use the term “crazy.”)

To many screenwriters who struggle to get words on paper, what Lu describes sounds like more of a blessing than a curse. Who wouldn’t want to have written seven screenplays at 23? But keep in mind that just because Lu is writing a lot, doesn’t mean she’s writing well. (If she had written in to complain, “I just can’t stop winning awards for my writing,” we could all feel free shunning her.)

The key terms in her email that let us know what she’s encountering is not altogether positive are “mental institute,” “junkie,” and “possessed by [a] hobgoblin.”

Yes, I’ve gone through periods where I can’t put the pen down. My brain gets locked on an idea, and I have to keep scribbling, often into the wee hours of the night. But it’s a now-and-then thing, not a debilitating condition.

While Flaherty leaves open the question of exactly what causes hypergraphia, my strong hunch is that it’s a form of focussed mania. You’re dealing with the buzz of energy by putting pen to paper — and for a while, it seems great. But the pendulum very often swings the other way to depression, which has its obvious negatives.

My advice to you, Lu, is to do a little life assessment. Block out significant hours — and whole days — where you’re not allowed to write, or even think about writing. See how it goes. My suspicion is that you’ll be climbing the walls, and may decide to see an Actual Mental Health Professional for further guidance. The goal isn’t to get you to stop writing, but to control it, rather than it controlling you.

On accents

We’re in the middle of casting the two lead roles for Ops. As I predicted, the audition scenes have now become gibberish to me. The only advantage to having them so fully etched in my brain is that when an actor makes an interesting choice for a line reading, I suddenly snap back and pay attention.

The two roles are written as Americans, but Jordan and I are both more than willing to change the backstories to accommodate Britons, Australians or other nationalities. After all, almost every country has soldiers. So in addition to hiring on New York and Los Angeles casting agents, Fox was generous enough to bring on casting directors in Sydney and London. We’re getting in new tapes every few days.

Unfortunately, the overseas casting agents aren’t taking us at our word. Almost every actor is trying an American accent.

Almost every attempt fails.

Here’s the thing: If you’re an Australian actor, you can probably suppress your give-away twang, just like most Canadians can — with a lot of effort — distinguish between “about” and “a boot.” But just because you don’t sound Australian, doesn’t mean you necessarily sound American. Often, this lack of accent is worse. We can hear that something’s not quite right, but we don’t know what it is. And while we’re wondering what’s wrong, we’ve lost track of your performance.

Now, obviously, there are some cases where an international actor will simply have to try for a specific American accent, just as an American actor may need to hit a certain British dialect. But if a producer or director tells you to use your natural accent, trust him. It’s not because you suck. It’s because you’re better when you can use every part of who you are.

As a side note, two actors we met with yesterday were Americans whom I’ve only seen play British. James Marsters and Alexis Denisof both come from the Buffy/Angel universe. It was jarring hearing them speak, because I kept expecting the same voices I’d heard for eight seasons or so. But even more interesting was recognizing the actors’ own cadences that were the same even without the accent; on a fundamental level, Spike sounds like James Marsters.

To me, it’s further proof that actors shouldn’t dwell so much on accents, but rather focus on giving the words meaning.

About the Store

Over in the right-hand column, you’ll see a link for the Store. The link has been there for a couple of weeks now, but I neglected to mention it — originally because I didn’t want to seem gross and commercial, and later because I forgot. But if you’re reading this site strictly through the Feeds, you wouldn’t even know it’s there.

So, hey. There’s a Store.

No, I’m not selling bent-brad t-shirts. Rather, the Store is a buncha Amazon links to the stuff I’ve written: the DVDs of the various movies, along with soundtracks and the original books. While some people actually make a living off of Amazon (and Google) referral fees, I certainly don’t expect to make, well, anything. Rather, the joy of the Amazon Associates system is tracking who clicked through to what, and trying to figure out why somebody bought both the Big Fish DVD and XXX2: State of the Union.