MyAmbivalence

I’ve had a MySpace profile for a long time, but never really did anything with it.

At the time I registered, I remember thinking that MySpace felt like a lame Friendster knock-off. But as we all know, MySpace is now the Google of social networking, a billion dollar eye-magnet. The difference is, I like Google, and I kind of despise MySpace. Yet the reasons why I dislike it are largely why it’s been so successful.

Visit any random profile on MySpace, and you’re instantly beamed back to the Bad Old Days of web design, with flashing graphics, unreadable text and — worse — random songs that start playing unbidden. It’s not that the underlying template is ugly. It’s blah but inoffensive. The ugliness comes from how easily an individual user can modify it, cramming it with non-scrolling backgrounds and multiple video streams.

(The fact that MySpace can handle the load is testament to some serious hardware and deep pockets.)

Because most people have terrible design sense, most profiles look pretty terrible — but they look exactly how the user wants them to look. This element of self-expression is a large part of why teens and tweens and twentysomethings love their MySpace.

And that’s probably the crux of why I don’t like MySpace: I’m too damn old.

It pains me to admit that, because I’ve always prided myself on being able to understand the social culture of younger generations. I was never part of the rave/club scene, but I could appreciate it in a non-judgmental way. Hell, I wrote a movie about it. Similarly, I never felt the burning need to pierce anything or text message all my friends, but it was always clear to me why someone would think it was essential.

If I revert to the 15-year old version of myself, it’s easy to imagine why I’d love MySpace. In high school, I remember talking to friends on three-way calling for hours every night. Add typing and graphics, and these phone calls would become a sort of social video game: Popularity Pac-Man.

Or perhaps the better analogy is my other high school mainstay, Dungeons & Dragons. Just like you could equip your character with the perfect mace for smiting kobolds, on MySpace you can fine-tune the virtual you with better photos, better favorites, and better friends. You can try on new identities, and focus on different attributes.

Basically, you can keep rolling for 18’s.

Back in high school, my friend Jason’s dad would often wander in during a marathon D&D session and ask, “Who’s winning?” We’d roll our eyes and groan. He just didn’t get it: You play D&D, but you don’t win it.

While I understand MySpace on a technical, social and cultural level, part of me wonders — worries — if I haven’t already become Jason’s dad. I can appreciate MySpace, but I don’t love it.

Which means I really don’t get it at all.

And maybe that’s okay. There are a great many things in life which I don’t fundamentally “get,” yet wholeheartedly accept as valid: electromagnetism, quantum theory, the GDP, Adam Sandler comedies.

That’s why I still have my little beachfront. You’re welcome to visit. Just be careful not to trip over my ambivalence on the way in.

Update 2011: I killed nixed MySpace page several years ago.


Things that get caught in the spam filter

The new version of WordPress has Akismet spam filtering, which does a remarkably good job weeding out spam comments. Occasionally, it flags something that is so tantalizing that it really should be shared with the world:

Dear sirs.
It is my pleasure to inform you that I have written a sexual screenwriting ,(It is about a widow that she desirs to have a sex with her neighbour’s son and finally she successes..).
If you deal this kind of screenwriting please contact to me or introduce sites & agencies that deal sexual screenwriting or how I can sell my screenwriting. I am waiting for your kind anwer.

I don’t know where to begin.


La escritura profesional y el auge de los amateurs

Daniel Castro has the first part of my essay, “Professional Writing and the Age of the Amateur,” translated into Spanish at his site. He volunteered, and I wasn’t going to say no.

Decidí que mi conferencia de esta noche no fuera estrictamente sobre la escritura de guiones sino sobre escritura en general. Todos los que estáis en esta sala sois escritores. Podéis escribir guiones o trabajos de documentación. Desde luego, todos escribís correos electrónicos. Todos sois escritores profesionales en algún campo.

It’s strange reading one’s words in another language. My Spanish is good enough that I have no trouble understanding it, but if I were to attempt to do the translation myself, it would be embarrassing for all concerned. So, many thanks to Daniel.

Creative Commons LicenseBy the way, this essay and most of the material on this site (other than the scripts) are covered by a Creative Commons license, which allows you to use this information for non-commercial purposes as long as (a) you give me credit, and (b) you agree to share your derivative works in the same manner. So if you feel like translating anything you see here in Polish or Mongolian (ahem), by all means feel free. I’d just appreciate a link back to the original version.


Of course grammar matters

questionmarkThere is a question I’d like to ask. Regarding grammar on screenplays, how important is it to film companies, producers, studios, etc. I was under the impression, grammar can’t be filmed, so ? Your thoughts.

— Frederick

I’m generally of the school that there are no dumb questions, but I think your question is dumb enough to merit front-page attention. It’s also functionally ungrammatical, which gives it a nice bonus for irony.

Of course grammar matters.

It’s bizarre and saddening that aspiring screenwriters will agonize about the perfect margins and the proper number of brads (two), without ever considering whether a question mark might be appropriate at the end of a question. Or inappropriate at the end of a vaguely declarative statement.

True, grammar can’t be filmed. But scripts are read by people, not cameras. And people deserve the best writing you can muster. That means matching your subjects and verbs, watching your tenses, and practicing careful punctuation.

Bear in mind: as grammarians go, I’m pretty lenient. English is not Latin, and many of the so-called mistakes are really just the opinions of stubborn jerks.

But wrong is wrong. And yes, it matters.

Your question was originally posted in the comments section of another entry. A helpful reader pointed you to my lengthy missive on professionalism, which unfortunately did not meet your needs:

It didn’t answer the question. It made a vague reference to presentation and professionalism. Which means, studios, producers will assume it’s great. This is really an annoying question because it puts people on the spot about their education, grammar is at all time low in America and no one wants to discuss it. I hope I’m not dropping a bomb here.[…] He was aiming for inspiration. Inspiration isn’t an answer.

If I ever start a line of subtly demoralizing t-shirts, I now have my first slogan: “Inspiration isn’t an answer.”


10 things I hate about me

Kevin Arbouet tagged me to answer 10 questions about mistakes and bad practices.

Taken the wrong way, the whole exercise could be kind of negative and bleak. But one (hopefully) learns from one’s errors, so it’s in that spirit that I further the meme.

1) WHAT’S THE WORST THING YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN?

With hindsight being 20/20, probably Fantasy Island. My concept was probably interesting only to people familiar with the show. (Short version: Roark dies on page 13, and shit goes haywire.) There were too many characters, and it was all too arbitrary. Years later, “Lost” did everything I was trying to do, and so much better.

2) WHAT’S THE WORST LINE YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN?

From Demonology: “Somewhere between fuck me and fuck you — there’s the problem.” I held onto that dumb line for far too long, until the exec finally called me on it.

3) WHAT’S THE WORST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER GIVEN?

To my former assistant, Rawson: “I don’t think anyone is clamoring to see Vince Vaughn playing dodgeball.”

4) WHAT’S THE ONE TIME YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD HAVE SPOKEN UP BUT YOU DIDN’T?

I did a rewrite of a movie for a pretty big producer. In the original script, the sister of the protagonist was a flight attendant. I changed her into a pilot, just because I thought it was more interesting. The producer insisted that I change it back, because, “That’s absurd. I’ve never seen a female pilot. I just don’t believe it.”

I know a female commercial airline pilot; I had recently been on a flight with a female pilot; four seconds of Googling could give me the exact statistics that I needed to prove that female pilots are not the Yetis of aviation. But I said fuck it, it’s not worth fighting about and changed it back. I regret not making my point, though it wouldn’t have really amounted to anything meaningful.

5) WHAT’S THE WORST PITCH MEETING YOU’VE EVER HAD?

Just this year, I pitched my take on Black Monday to Paramount. I had this bad feeling going in, sort of like when you think you might be catching a cold. Except this wasn’t a case of the sniffles, but rather some kind of aphasia. I couldn’t get three words together. It was awful.

David Hayter is writing it now. God bless him.

6) WHO’S THE ONE PERSON YOU’D NEVER WORK WITH AGAIN AND AREN’T AFRAID TO NAME?

Don Murphy. Runner up: Bernard Rose.

7) WHAT’S THE WORST SCRIPT IDEA YOU’VE EVER HAD?

Highlanders. Early in my career, I was up for writing one of the sequels. I probably spent a solid week working on my take, without ever once stopping to think, “Seriously, Highlanders?”

8) WHAT’S THE WORST THING ABOUT YOU BEING ON SET?

After a certain point, I have a hard time masking my boredom. Every other person on set has a job to keep him or her busy. My job is to watch rehearsals, then stare at the monitor during each take, silently whispering the dialogue I wrote. During the 95% of the time we’re not rehearsing or shooting, I get incredibly restless.

Come to think of it, the script supervisor has largely the same job (and lack thereof). I could probably never be a script supervisor.

9) WHAT’S YOUR WORST WORKING HABIT?

Particularly when I’m re-writing a script, I suffer from what my friend John Gatins refers to as the line-painter dilemma. Here’s the short version:

A guy is hired to paint the yellow line down the middle of a country road. The first day, he paints five miles. His supervisor is impressed. The second day, he only paints two miles. His supervisor thinks, “Well, maybe he had a bad day.” But the third day, the guy only paints half a mile. The supervisor asks the guy what’s wrong — why is he getting so much less done?

“Well,” the guy says, “I have to keep walking back to the paint can.”

The screenwriting equivalent, of course, is that at the start of each day’s work, one’s instinct is to go back to page one and read-slash-revise up to where you left off. Which is a very counter-productive habit.

10) WHAT’S THE WORST MISTAKE YOU’VE EVER MADE?

I could have bought Muhammad Ali’s old house. My real estate agent got me in to see it, and I loved it. I went back to see it twice, once with my contractor, to figure out exactly how I’d redo it. But I chickened out at the price. Now, of course, it’s worth three times that. I drive by it twice a week when taking my dog to swimming lessons. And every time, I think, damn. That should have been my house.

Not that my current house isn’t perfectly fine. It’s great. But it’s not epic-great. It’s not a house that I’d happily die in. That’s the Muhammad Ali house, my San Simeon.

Looking back, almost all the things I regret are non-actions — chances I didn’t take. I actually got a tattoo to help me remember that.