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Sunday, April 30, 2006

April Flowers

April Flowers

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Coachella Day 1 - podcast

A brief, live interview with Steve Zavattero calling us live from the Coachella Music & Arts Festival as Depeche Mode takes the stage. Live.

photo by attack cat

Click HERE to listen.

To subscribe to ALL rabbit + crow audio & video podcasts paste
into "Subscribe" under your iTunes "Advanced" menu

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Tim Squyres and Crouching Tiger

I'm enjoying going back into the old files, finding all those old articles, journal entries, suicide notes. Oh, I have so much I want to share with you! Oh, you are so very, very lucky!

So yesterday's trauma - multiple attacks by Cheop the Cat - got me thinking about tigers and crouching and Ang Lee's fine spiritual-meditation-with-sword-fighting, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000).

Just before the U.S. release of the movie, in the winter of 2000, I talked with editor Tim Squyres about the film. Squyres has partnered with Ang Lee on every one of the director's films except "Brokeback Mountain".

Our discussion first appeared in EditorsNet, which continues to be a great source of information for motion picture editors.


The Tao and The 10,000 Takes: Tim Squyres
Edits "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

by Neal Romanek

Tim Squyres edited Ang Lee's first feature, "Pushing Hands". Since then the two men have collaborated on a total of seven films. Their latest is "Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon". The grand scope and exhilarating action of this taoist epic, shot in China and edited in New York, might seem impossibly divergent from the sensibilities of Ang Lee's "Eat Drink Man Woman" or "The Ice Storm", but the collaboration between Tim Squyres and Ang Lee seems to be as versatile as it has been long-lasting.

Squyres talked with Neal Romanek about his process, the challenges of an American's editing Mandarin dialog, and the puzzle of assembling scenes from overwhelming numbers of takes sent from a location on the other side of the world.

NR: What kind of influence has Ang Lee had on you as an editor?

TS: I’ve grown up as an editor, editing his films, and he’s grown up as a direct
or having me edit his films. As far as features go, that’s really been the bulk of my career. It’s been interesting to see from one film to the next, early on especially, how it was a matter of really developing and growing and learning. And the footage was so much better from film to film as he got better and as his budgets got bigger and his actors got better. It was really nice to get better and better material to work with. The first film--and even the "Wedding Banquet", to some extent--was at least half about avoiding the problems. And it was only with "Eat Drink Man Woman" where the the job became bringing out and refining the good stuff, rather than avoiding the bad stuff.

NR: For "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was there any change in the way you work together?

TS: I had to adapt it a little bit. "Crouching Tiger" was shot somewhat differently--many more takes than usual and a very short schedule. Between the assembly and locking picture we only had seven weeks, which is quite tight, so there were some steps that we usually go through that we condensed a little bit. Normally we don’t work on the weekends. But during those seven weeks we worked at least one day every weekend.

NR: What kind of planning was there in terms of cutting the action scenes? Did Ang let you know what he was going to do?

TS: No, not at all. There's two types of action scenes in the film. There are fight scenes and there are chase scenes. And sometimes within a scene some sections are fights and some sections are chases. A chase scene is much less choreographed. You have a bunch of shots and there is maybe an order intended, but you can rearrange a chase scene generally. With a fight scene it's much harder. The way that these fights are choreographed, it's really very tightly planned. You can sometimes omit sections, but it’s really planned to go together a certain way. Now the problem on this film was I didn’t know what that way was. We had some communication problems with the set, them being so many time zones away and language problems. I was getting the notes very, very late, and there was not much in the way of explaining the choreography to me. Sometimes they would shoot in sequence, and sometimes they wouldn’t, and sometimes I had indications about what order the shots were supposed to go in, and more often I didn’t. So it was really kind of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s an intellectual exercise rather than an artistic exercise, in a way--just trying to figure out what the choreography was supposed to be, especially when sometimes some of the pieces were missing.

NR: Did you ever have any situation where Ang looked at the scene and said "No, that wasn’t what I meant at all."?

TS: No, I figured them all out. There were some places where I left some things out intentionally. I changed some things around a little bit, because things didn’t look good. With martial arts, that’s ultimately what makes you decide whether to keep it in or take it out--whether it looks good. So there were some things that I had removed because I didn’t think they were up to the same standards as the rest of it. And we generally agreed on all of that.

NR: What was the most challenging sequence to cut?

TS: The most challenging part of cutting the film was cutting the dialog scenes. When Ang came back from China from the shoot, and we started working together, the first thing we did was the fight scenes. And we did that because of all the effects work that had to be done on those scenes, all the wire removal. Normally we would cut in sequence, but in this case, because of the scheduling problems and because of all the effects work we isolated the fight scenes. That was a couple weeks, and then the last five weeks we really just spent on story. Story-wise there were a number of things that had to be moved around and changed and rewritten and shorten and deleted. And that really took more time. It was more difficult, in a way. The action scenes I had fairly close before Ang ever came back from China. They certainly take a long time to put together. Some of the fight scenes had more than 200 set-ups. And many, many takes of a lot of these set ups. I mean, you’d have a scene with 700 or 800 takes--(laughing) which is not what I’m used to. I would get a tape full of dailies with 400 takes on it.

NR: Wow.

TS: And all of them are six, eight seconds. It takes a long time to wade through a scene like that, to just wade through all the dailies, figure out the sequence of events, figure out for every one which one is best. But then the scene goes together pretty quickly.

NR: So what is it about the dialog scenes that makes them more challenging?

TS: Well, one thing that makes it challenging is that I don’t speak Mandarin.

NR: What is that like? What do you cut on when you’re not necessarily listening to the dialog as a cue?

TS: I am listening to the dialog. You know on a film like "Eat Drink Man Woman", which is in Mandarin also, I had a good English version of the script. I know a fair amount of Mandarin vocabulary. I have no concept of Mandarin grammar at all. I know individual words here and there and usually, sentence by sentence, I can tell what’s being said. What I can’t tell is things about inflection. To a certain extent, the emotional meaning of things is often held in the little details of a performance that I can hear in English, and I can’t hear it in Mandarin, and there’s no point in pretending I can. I’ve heard a lot of Mandarin. I know what it’s supposed to sound like. It’s a complicated language. There are all of these different tones, different ways of accenting each syllable that affect the meaning and I’m familiar with the sound of that. And if an actor messes up a line, if they know they messed up the line, I know they messed up the line also, because if there’s any kind of hesitation or break in the rhythm or something, I’ll always catch that. If they just mispronounce a syllable or say the wrong word and just keep barreling on like it was no problem, I might not catch that. But a performance is about a lot of things besides that, and I just do my best. I pick based on the variables that I have access to. And once Ang comes in, we go back and look at the alternates, but we actually don’t change very much more. When I work in English, we change some takes from what I picked. When we work in Mandarin, maybe we change a little bit more, but not much.

NR: Did Ang ever completely surprise you?

TS: You know, one thing that surprised me was we have these choreographed fight scenes, with many, many, many takes, many set ups. But there were some dialog scenes with a lot of takes, and there was rarely anything like a master. It was an interesting way of shooting and blocking the scenes. He really went piece by piece and moved people around in the room. In a dialog scene with two people in a room talking, it was very normal to have fifteen set ups.

NR: So Ang doesn’t shoot a lot of regular coverage.

TS: Yeah, and more so in this movie than any one he’s done before. He really kind of broke it up. He was limited in the scenes with Michelle Yeoh because she injured her knee fairly early in the shoot, and she couldn’t really walk. Pretty much she would be in one position, then at some point in the scene, walk across the room and sit down and pour the tea. That was about as much movement as she could do. So the scenes with her are a little more static just because she was physically limited from moving around, but even so he rarely parked her in one place. There are really only two scenes where she just stays in one place, and I wonder if she had been able to walk if they would have done things differently.

NR: The music’s very important in the movie. How much did you keep music in mind? Are you aware of what the music is going to be doing while you’re cutting?

TS: Yes. I think about music a lot. Normally I do a pretty thorough sound edit. Even during the assembly, we put in sound effects. On this film I wasn’t able to do as much of that, partly because a martial arts fight scene they shoot all MOS. In order to make any kind of plausible sound I’d have to build up everything from scratch, which means voices which I didn't have and foley and weapons hits and all that. It would be a huge amount of work that then would get torn to pieces the first time we started cutting into the scene, and you have to do all of it to make the scene realistic enough to have it worth being in there. So we quickly decided that we weren't going to do that and we were going to rely on music during the picture edit for those scenes. And you know the heavy drums that we use on two of the fights?

NR: Yes. Yes.

TS: In the first big fight between the two women--and then they fight again at the end of the film--those were some Japanese drums that I really liked, that I had actually used before for other things, and it just seemed to me that it would work really well. I assembled the scene without music, but very, very early on I put the drums in and it really helped those scenes a lot. We screened the assembly with those drums in and we never considered other directions to go. That just seemed obviously so right. I was also the music editor on the film. I cut the music in ProTools and the film on Avid. We had a pretty elaborate temp score. That was really one of the ways that we communicated emotionally with our composer, Tang Dun. For the most part--not entirely--but for the most part, he chose what he was doing based on discussions we had that were based on music I had put in.

NR: What kind of temp music did you put in?

TS: Things from other soundtracks. Some Chinese traditional music. I had a lot of things to choose from and we tried out a lot of things. But I think it is very important to work out your musical ideas during the picture edit. I think it’s a real mistake to leave it till later because then you have this new element that you haven’t really integrated into your conceptual idea of how the film is. Not that you ever want to have your composer feel limited by the music, but if you can work with the music a lot in the picture edit, it really helps you to understand how your music is working with the film, so that then you don’t suddenly get this new music to put into the mix and have it change your idea of what the scene is about. Emotionally, it’s good to already have that kind of figured out and make that part of the picture edit process rather than leaving it till later.


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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cheop the Cat Alert

Cheop the Cat is drunk with power! He stampedes back and forth across the apartment! He harasses the other cats! He threatens our very lives! He will not let us sleep! And there is no end to the amount of food he can eat!

Oh, he is gigantic and frightening! Oh, no one is safe! Oh, send help at once!

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Friday, April 28, 2006

River's Edge

River's Edge

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Childhood Diary

September. 1st, 1984

The first real entry in a journal I’ve been meaning to start for at least the past several years.
It is near midnight and I am quite tired, having gotten little sleep last night and the monotonous 4-hour trip to my grandmother’s here in Mogadore, Ohio, a suburb of Akron.
My grandfather is not well having had a stroke 2 years ago his health has steadily declined. Today I saw him again for the first time in a month and a half.
I approached the home he is staying in with another man and two women with considerable dread.
I don’t think I quite have the hang of this journal thing yet.
But I tried to steady myself against my fear by viewing it as a completely unique experience that, as a writer, I should embrace. All kinds of mad fears flooded my thoughts as we (my father, Aunt Eileen, and I) ascended the stairs to his room. What if he has just now died? What if he dies in our presence? These thoughts disgust me now, but nevertheless these were my feelings at the time.
We passed through the room adjacent to my grandfather Marvin’s to see an old man in a white hospital smock sitting asleep, his head lolling to one side.
When I saw the horribly thin frail creature sitting in a chair staring at the television I was shocked. It was very much like seeing a completely different person and it took me some time for me to fully feel that this was Grandfather. He has lost conservatively 20lbs (current weight 135lbs??) because he eats next to nothing. Whether he is unable or unwilling or simply uncomprehending, I don’t know. His false teeth and his glasses do not fit him because of his weight loss.
When asked by Aunt Eileen what he would like he replied, “Ice cream”. Ice cream is one of the few things he really seems to want and enjoy.
When he spoke today it was in a barely audible whisper. It was very difficult to get his attention or to keep it for very long when speaking. Dad tried to make him promise to eat something for him and it was a considerable time before he recieved any acknowledgement at all.
Grandma who had come in the same car with Dad and I did not come upstairs until after Aunt Eileen and we had spent some time with Grandfather.
As Grandma entered the room she cried and I think Grandpa might have cried a bit as well. The two of them, at that moment (as Grandma had his hand in hers) reminded me of two battered weary adventurers just trying to ride the storm out to its end.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Great Conundra

One of the great blogging conundrums - or conundra (yes, I'm still sticking with the serif font - for now) (just you wait, when my new font strikes, people will freak right out) (right out) (I promise) - is the wondering if one has any kind of life worth telling. Could my life be of interest? Why in the world would anyone want to read about me? Why? Why the hell?

The conundric part is that you don't really know if you have any kind of life worth telling, until you tell it.

And if you tell it honestly and straightforward-ish-ly, then it will probably be of interest to someone - not to everyone, but to someone. That is a praiseworthy accomplishment. The one thing that is terribly uninteresting is someone trying to be interesting. I know whereof I speak. When people enjoy my writing, it is usually in spite of my attempts to be interesting, not because of them.

So very often- almost daily - I'm not exaggerating here, almost daily - I imagine a story I might tell, a thing I might express, a film I might make and I begin to wonder if it is any good, if it's worth doing, if it's not just another deluded vision of mind - "of mine" I meant to write, but "mind" is better. I project into the future all the possibilities of failure and success, preparing, preparing - but the thing I shy from - although less and less so, to give myself some credit - is to start telling the story, to start making the film, to start expressing the expression.

I am over-attached - enamored - with my thoughts and myself . That's my great nightmare. That's the big prob. I can't bear the thought of letting go of a story, a script, a blog entry, without it being, well - "perfect" - as if the value of it was astronomically high because of its rarity, as if the idea or impulse were just the most precious thing in the world and there was little or nothing left where that came from.

But the opposite is true.

There is too much to express. Too much to say. Too much to do. And this dull-witted polishing and repolishing, thinking and rethinking, planning and replanning is just making silk purses out of sow's ears, making mountains out of molehills - or , better analogy, gilding lilies. It's a big waste of time is what it is. Not that a first draft is a best draft. But often the first impulse is the best impulse. And writing and rewriting is best done in the service of honoring and clarifying that first impulse.

This is the way I'm seeing it today.

I'm going to an interview today at a gigantic media production company. Did I say it was gigantic? It's gigantic. Gigantic.

I'm feeling ambivalent about the outcome, which should be to my benefit. I don't feel like I need to impress them, I feel unafraid of asking for exactly what I want. I'm mostly looking forward to walking around the lot and inspecting the cool facilities.

There's always a chance I may start panicking 15 minutes before I go in there. That has been known to happen before. But I am writing right now.

I didn't know what I would tell you before I started the post. Now I have some idea of what I told you. I'll go back and reread it - possibly clean up some of my passive verbs. But there's so much to do, so much fun to be had, so many crayons to use, I hope you'll forgive me if its not perfect

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fonty Threats

Once again, I'm threatening to change the font.

I have to be honest. I feel embarrassed by my serif font. I feel like if I had a good, smaller sans-serif font, like Arial, people'd start to take me more serious.

All the most popular blogs use Arial or Verdana, and sticking with this serif font - what is it? - Times New Bookman with Georgia Ding-paps, or something? - well, it looks like I just was willing to roll over and accept the font that blogger gave me without a fight.

And it's easier to read a sans-serif font, isn't it? Unless you're talking about signage from a distance - in that case, I believe, serif fonts are preferred.

Yeah, I can feel it coming. Feel it coming on. The change of font. Sans-serif, here I come.

Any day now.

While you're waiting for the great rabbit + crow serif ---> sans-serif changeover, read this enjoyable discussion at typographi.com, called "The Serif is Dying".

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Dirigible of the Imagination - podcast


Who doesn't love rigid airships?

I sure do love them.

This week's rabbit + crow podcast is the first in a 12-part series powerfully entitled ...


Our first episode features a flight aboard my very own dirigible. I bid you join me for a cozy chat high above the clouds. I will tell you all kinds things about me. All kinds of things. And you will tremble.

Dirigible Podcast

Click HERE to listen.

To subscribe to ALL rabbit + crow audio & video podcasts paste
into "Subscribe" under your iTunes "Advanced" menu


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Krayon #8

Krayon #8

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

An American Haunting

An American Haunting

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10 Words Never Used By The Queen

Yesterday was Her Majesty The Queen's 103rd birthday.

"The Queen of what?" you ask.

"Why, the QUEEN!" I answer indignantly. "The QUEEN! The Queen of all of us! Queen Elizabeth II of the Rose and Crown and Elephant and Castle of the Garter of Tudor. The QUEEN!!"

"Oh, her," scoffeth you, "She's just like you and me. She's just a human being."

No, she ain't.

I have heard Queen Elizabeth II speak. Or give speeches, at least - which is very similar to speaking. I even have seen the Royal Her in the flesh once or twice. She came down to the University of Kent at Canterbury when I was there, with her hubby in tow, and some of the rest of The Family (like that guy with the ears, who was married to that girl who died - he came) to open the university's new vertebrate vivisection wing.

It rained that day. I'd like to think it was the Queen's divine juju power that brought the rain. Or did it snow? Actually, now that I think about it ... yeah ... it snowed. Either one, I'm sure the Queen was responsible.

But, yes, I've heard The Queen speak. I've seen her speak her Christmas address. And The Queen speaks good. Not like an American, no. No, she speaks like someone from another country. THAT is how good of a speaker she is.

I think one of the things that makes The Queen such a good speaker and speeches-maker is her choice of words to use when speaking them. To prove this, I did some research. I just adore facts and figures. I arrived at some startling results, which I will share here with you, the world (although soon I hope to publish in one of the academiac journals!).

For your study:

10 Words The Queen Has NEVER Used

  1. Femidom
  2. Goyim
  3. Klingon
  4. Pentium
  5. Lobot
  6. Nucular
  7. Pizzazz
  8. Shit-hole
  9. Spliff
  10. Triceratops

And that's what separates Her Majesty from the rest of us.


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Friday, April 21, 2006

The River (1951)

First, let's just make it clear that I do love the Motion Picture Academy.

Or I love what the Academy is supposedly supposed to aspire to. That, I love.

I saw, on Wednesday, for the 2nd time in my life, Jean Renoir's coming of age story, "The River" (1951), based on the novel by Rumer Godden. Godden also wrote the novel "Black Narcissus".

The RiverMy 1st viewing of "The River" was in London, on New Year's Day, 2005, on my honeymoon. My wife and I went to the screening of a newly restored version of the film that the National Film Theatre was introducing as part of its "India Vu Par" series. I count it as one of the fine filmgoing experiences of my life - taking my new wife to that cinema Mecca beside The Thames, where I had sat alone on my visits to the UK, in the 90's and in the 80's, watching "Dr. Zhivago", watching "The Pillow Book", watching "The Last House On The Left" (or was it "The Hills Have Eyes"?), browsing before and after the tables of used books out front, or sitting by the river writing an over-romantic letter to whoever I was dating, waiting for the screening to start, or gushing to the poor girl all about a film I just saw that she couldn't care less about.

The print my wife and I saw - a print struck in England by the BFI, I think (if anyone knows for sure, please tell me) - was beautiful, the color remarkable, stunning. "The River" is famous for being one of the greatest examples of Technicolor photography ever, and after seeing that print on New Year's Day, I began to understand why.

Having seen "The River" this 2nd time, I can feel the film climbing toward the upper reaches of my favorite films list.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences film restoration program, however, is plummeting toward the lower reaches of my favorite restoration program's list.

Despite my love for the filmmaking, throughout the screening on Wednesday, a loud voice kept shouting through my head: "This looks like crap. This looks like crap. This looks like crap."

"No, it doesn't," I would reply to myself.

"Oh, yes, it does," I would reply to my reply to myself, "Utter crap ..."

Mike "Pogo" Pogorzelski, director of the Academy Film Archive, introduced "The River" saying that an attempt was made to make the film appear exactly as it would have in 1951.

To me, the print - though clearly new and utterly free of scratches and tears - looked grainy, muddy, high contrast.

So what happened?

One possibility is that I don't know what I'm talking about. But we know that this is the risk you take whenever you read the rabbit + crow blog.

The 2nd possibility is that the cinematography of "The River" is embarrassingly overrated. Critics raved about it in 1951. Critics still rave about it. Martin Scorsese raves about it. But maybe the eyes of those fanatics are color-blinded by their love of Renoir. Yes, the direction is impeccable, the shots perfectly composed, the lighting superb - but color is not something that seems remarkable to me in that movie - my opinion based solely on Wednesday night's screening. Oh, I suppose you could sit me down and explain to me - educate me to - the merits of "The River's" color photography. Yes, I could be convinced. My palate could be trained, I suppose. I may just be a philistine who doesn't appreciate good color. If that's the case, I'm willing to learn.

The 3rd possibity is that the Academy's print was sub-par - which brings up the question of whether or not the whole 2004 restoration was flawed. This restoration was a joint effort between the Academy and the British Film Institute. The original sound elements were missing, but the sound was (and very nicely too!) restored from a complete print owned by young gotham indy helmer Martin Scorsese. The original Technicolor nitrate camera negatives were still intact however, and one of the great things about black-and-white nitrate negatives is if they don't deteriorate, then they will stay in very good condition. It's all-or-nothing with nitrate. Theoretically, it should be possible to make a perfect print - like new - from these original negatives. However, we do not have Technicolor labs anymore, expert in the dye-transfer process, and so no print made today is going to look like a 1951 Technicolor print made with the original dye-transfer process. For one, dye-transfer, unlike the standard optical, photographic process - produces a print free of grain. No grain. Nope. Grain, nyet. You forget that you're looking at film. Seeing a great dye-transfer Technicolor print is like looking through a magic window into a yummy color world where flesh-tones look so real you just want to pinch the actors' cheeks. On Wednesday, if I had the urge to pinch the actors' cheeks, I would have paused, for fear of scraping myself on the sandpaper-like grain of the film.

But its graininess aside, the print's color was murky. Not "muted". I have no problem with muted. It was murky. Lots of brown. A montage of flowering trees denoting the start of spring probably elicited gasps in 1951. I'm thinking the most it got out of the crowd on Wednesday was the fleeting thought: "What gorgeous trees! I bet they would be really pretty and colorful in real life!" Technicolor uses a 3-color process, often with a 4th keytone strip of graytones to modulate the color - exactly like Photoshop's CMYK. Each element - the C, the M, the Y, and the K - is stored on its own strip of black-and-white film, then all four are, in effect, sandwiched together (sort of), to create the final image. The Academy's "The River" print looked as if someone at the lab had gone hog-wild with the black-and-white keytone strip - or as if some drug addict had sneaked in and said "Man, this color freaks me out! Turn down the color, maaaan!!!" It did give the print an "old-fashioned" look, so I guess that's one plus. You know, like when you order a special sepia-tone on your family photos to make them look all antiquey? Maybe Renoir was going for an antiquey, old-fashioned look.

Or maybe India is just an antiquey, old-fashioned looking country. That's probably it. It's India. I'm going to blame it on India. They probably didn't have as much color as we did back then because they were so poor.

So why was the NFT print so much better than the Academy's print? Better labs in England than Los Angeles? Possible. Was I seeing the film through honeymoon-colored glasses? Possible. Was the NFT's screening room much smaller than the Academy's massive Samuel Goldwyn Theater and so able to provide a more concentrated image on the screen? Very possible.

It seems only natural to compare "The River" and "Black Narcissus", two Technicolor masterpieces, based on books by Rumer Godden about sexual awakening and the mixing of cultures, both featuring Esmond Knight. I was similarly disappointed with the Academy's "Black Narcissus" print. And that hurts. Yes. Like the cobra's bite, it hurts. For I am very fond of both films. And I want them treated with reverence. Yes, reverence. Reverence.

But what I really want is to see a digital restoration of "The River" - like the recent "Singin' in the Rain" restoration. The Academy is dedicated soley to photographic restoration of films, which is a key component of preservation of the actual film materials and is vital in keeping the films around for the long, long term, and so a great digital restoration is outside their mandate. And "The River" money has been spent. That's it. No more restorations of "The River". It's had it's turn. I am told the DVD transfer of the film is very, very good however.

Okay, here's what I really, really want: a full-scale, completely working, manned with genius technicians, 3-strip Technicolor dye-transfer-only facility that makes perfect restorations of technicolor prints on some kind of perfect nitrate stock that doesn't explode. Please? It will only cost a few hundred million dollars or so, and it will make me very happy. And I think it will also make Jean Renoir very happy.


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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Baseball Crow

Baseball Crow

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Carolyn, Rob, Tony and ME

So, yeah, so Carolyn Kellogg, Tony Pierce and Rob "Attack Cat" Takata and me we got together at the Musso and Frank Grill last night. Musso and Frank's is one of the oldest and most revered of the Hollywood Blvd. restaurants of yesteryear and many famous people have eaten foods and dranken drinks there so there's that.

So I walked into the bar and this is what happened, and I swear it's all true:

NEAL: Hello, Carolyn, Tony, and Rob! Before we begin, shall I refer to you three in alphabetical order according to first name or last name?

CAROLYN: Like we give a shit.

TONY: Is this the weirdo you were talking about?

ROB: Yeah, that's him. I'm surprised he showed up. He's always flaking.

TONY: I hate people who flake. I hate this guy already.

ROB: You think you hate him now. You don't know him.

CAROLYN: I hear he killed a man.

ROB: You don't know the half of it.

CAROLYN: I don't want to know.

ROB: Did you know that he used to write a check to pay for a bus ticket?

TONY: That's impossible.

ROB: No. It can be done. He proved it could be done. That is his one and only contribution to society - proving you can write a check to pay for the bus. Provided you are in a Third World country - like England.

NEAL: Mind if I sit down?

CAROLYN, ROB and TONY look at each other.

NEAL sits before they can say anything.

NEAL: Hey, Carolyn. Listened to your interview with Jonathan Ames. Nice work.

CAROLYN: Please don't tell me that. It makes me feel dirty.

NEAL: Oh, and hi, Tony. I'm very pleased to meet you. Rob told me about your blog long ago, after he told me I needed to start a blog. He said: 'You should start your own blog. But check out Tony Pierce's busblog first, because if you just start writing whatever's in your head, a lot of people are going to throw up'. Rob is wise.

CAROLYN: (throws up)

NEAL: Oh, and, shit, on the way over here, I listened to the end of that game. And shit! Ninth inning - SMACK! GO BIG BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

TONY leaps to his feet, smashes a glass into NEAL's face.

NEAL: Oh, my eyes!! My precious eyes!!

NEAL falls to the ground. CAROLYN starts kicking.

NEAL: Oh, my groin!! My precious, precious groin!!

ROB: You and your groin! Always, always you and your goddamn groin!

CAROLYN: Let's go get that hot dog.

CAROLYN, ROB, and TONY exit, leaving NEAL writhing on the carpet.

After a moment, TONY returns, grabbing the pot of freshly brewed coffee from behind the bar. He pours it on NEAL's head.

NEAL: Aaagh. My scalp! My semi-precious scalp! O, coffee! Et tu, coffee?! Et tu?!

TONY: And that's for those Obnoxious Jesus Cartoons of yours!

TONY exits. The WAITERS call 911 in an hour or two.

It is of course possible that it didn't go down exactly that way.

Anything is possible.


It's possible that I never showed up to Musso and Frank's because of a private situation that required my attention. That is possible.

If that had happened - and I'm not saying it did or it didn't - I would really have to apologize to Rob, Tony, and Carolyn, because we spent weeks planning the thing. I don't know if I - in this hypothetical situation - would have been missed, but I - in this hypothetical situation - certainly missed seeing them. I would count myself very blessed to be given a second chance to see the three of them in the same room again.

Sometimes you get another chance, sometimes you don't.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Vacation Photos

My wife and I went on a little getaway this weekend. Here are some snapshots:

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Hollywood Obituary

As we know - or if we don't, we should wake up to the fact - Hollywood is dead.

Damn. There I go, exaggerating again. Why I am I ALWAYS EXAGGERATING??!!!!?

I draw a long, cleansing breath. I take a moment to become still and centered. And I correct myself:

As we know - or if we don't, we should wake up to the fact - Hollywood is dying.

The ship has not yet entirely upended and made for the briny deep, but don't hold out hope that it will miraculously right itself. All is not lost, but it will be soon. The patient has not yet been pronounced deceased, but he hasn't been breathing for some minutes now. The fat lady has not yet sung - but only because she has dealt with her overeating problem and has moved on to bigger and better things. The comet has not yet destroyed the dinosaurs, but ... I think you see where I'm going.

Strangely, the motion picture itself, as a form of communication, as a means of artistic expression, as a means of documenting the world, is thriving as it never has before. It is the motion picture "industry" that is dying. An "industy" implies centers of manufacturing and regulated systems of distribution - and it is these two facets of Hollywood - and the other media institutions - that are disintegrating with a steadiness that is truly unnerving.

What is blossoming now - blossoming just beautifully - is something called the NEW MOTION PICTURE. At its most primitive the NEW MOTION PICTURE is a dad posting his family vacation video on Buzznet for his family and friends and the 7 billion rest of us to see. At its most sophisticated, the NEW MOTION PICTURE lurks, like a hatchling dragon, in high-end video games.

It will be harder and harder to make millions and millions in the NEW MOTION PICTURE economy. That is terrible news for some of us. That is great news for some of us.

Just because the Hollywood system, in place for 90 years, has died, does not mean it will immediately vanish, however. Like any megalithic institution it will continue to observe the formalities and practices long after the meaning has left them. Development people will still develop, because they are hired to develop, but will not really even understand what the word means. Producers will still produce, but the process will be more like excretion than creation. Spec screenplays will be bought and sold and shopped around because that is the way it has always been done, but that process will have less and less to do with creating any kind of moving picture for any kind of audience.

Audiences may still be cajoled and lured into observing the three-act noh-theater spectaculars rolled out at regulated points in the calendar year, but even they will be observing formalities - dyeing eggs at easter, putting up trees at Christmas, without knowing or caring why.

I know that you - wise and cagey reader - will not be fooled into thinking that these last glimmers of the Hollywood dream have anything to do with real Movies (or the MOTION PICTURE, as it prefers to be called).

It's going to be a bumpy ride, Mrs. Hudson. We will all need to help each other if we are to get through this trying/thrilling transition intact. I have provided here some fodder for discussion, which I hope will help the faint-hearted to make the necessary leap and will give the NEW MOTION PICTURE author a little more encouragement to do what he knows he can do.

10 features of DYING HOLLYWOOD contrasted with 10 corresponding features of the world of the NEW MOTION PICTURE:

  1. Blockbuster stores
  2. Development, production, and distribution times relatively long
  3. Creation by committee
  4. Corporate control
  5. $1 million
  6. Creators/Producers have little or no contact with their intended audience
  7. Economy of scale
  8. Buying & selling
  9. Rewards determined by negotiation
  10. Mohammed must come to the mountain

  1. Netflix
  2. Development, production, and distribution times infinitely flexible
  3. Creation by author(s)
  4. Corporate assistance
  5. $100,000
  6. Author communicates directly with audiences
  7. Economy of need
  8. Sharing & trading
  9. Rewards determined by merit
  10. The mountain must come to Mohammed

There will be much weeping along Wilshire Blvd., much wringing of hands behind the tinted windows of the studio executive offices. In the meantime, the rest of us will be putting pictures and sound and time together and having a ball.

Don't fall into utter despair, you industry conservatives (and I mean the word in its best sense). We'll save you a place - if you think you're up to it. And you may find it reassuring to know that your day will come again. It must. The wheel never stops turning. The NEW MOTION PICTURE will itself coagulate into a system eventually. That system will have preferences and those preferences will harden into requirements, which will become necessities. And a new thing - more flexible & fast, or slow & sturdy - will rise up and overcome the NEW MOTION PICTURE before it knows what hit it.

And you will find me on the ground complaining about those damn kids and their new, incomprehensible ways, and how things were better before, and how they don't make them like they used to.

But in the meantime...

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An Old Man

Old Man + Graffiti

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Hollywood Call

Hollywood Call

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

ScriboMeme 2: To Verb or Not To

Another ScriboMeme. This one conceived by Brett at A Bucket of Love.

For those naught in the no, a ScriboMeme is a "meme" (a word which literally means "thingie") for and by Scribos (writers - primarily writers of entertainments).

Brett's fine ScriboMeme is an invitation to list the first 10 verbs in your latest screenplay, the idea being that if your opening verb list runs anything like "is, is, will be, might, protruded, is, is ..." you may need a rewrite. On the other hand, if your list is "thrusts, fondles, screeches, masticates, splatters..." you're on the right track.

I figure it is also a test of moral fiber, for who would not want to tweak the verbs, oh just a little bit, before presenting them to the public?

So here goes:

The First 10 Verbs of "Fortune and the Devil"

  1. raise
  2. rotate
  3. sharpen
  4. wind
  5. fit
  6. draw
  7. polish
  8. slide
  9. slide
  10. exits

And I better publish this post now before the urge to verb-tweak takes hold.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Quasi-writers Modo-case

One of the many dynamite perks to moderating a panel at the Scriptwriters Showcase was taking a free and freaky tour of the Universal studios backlot, which featured a walkabout around the near-sacred site of the Old Europe set, featured in such films as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) with Lon Chaney.

In fact, here is a picture of Lon Chaney as Victor Hugo's wretched anti-hero:


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What Kind Of Writer Are I?

I have taken an enjoyable little assessment/quiz at Blogthings - recommended by Shawna Benson of Shouting Into The Wind - in order to find out what kind of writer I really, really am. And having taken it, I have learned nothing new.

It's pretty damned accurate, this thing.

My results:

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.

And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.

Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...

Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Letter to a Young Screenwriter

I would like to address a few simple suggestions to a Young Screenwriter.

The Young Screenwriter in question is me.

Having just purchased Apple's new TimeTravel software, I will be TT-mailing (TimeTravel-mailing) this to myself as a Young Screenwriter, fresh out of college, just starting out. Unfortunately, this young self of mine is going to have to wait a couple more years before he has email, and it's possible this information may not arrive in time.

So it's not wasted, I also offer it to you:

Dear Young Screenwriter,

I've jotted down some things for you to consider. I have had some experience in the grand attempt to become a writer of movies. I have done it badly. But that's okay. Everyone does it badly. No one anywhere does anything as well as they think they should have. Those rare few that do are either enlightened or, more likely, imbeciles.

I urge you to study the following suggestions, which I have written down in no particular order - even though I have numbered them.

20 Suggestions To A Young Screenwriter

  1. Read. Read screenplays. Read them in screenplay format, printed on single sides of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Hold a screenplay in your hands, with brass fasteners in it, with a cover page, as often as you can. Don't be afraid of killing trees. If you're that worried about the environment, then sell your car.
  2. Help other writers - nothing cures the strangling self-obsession and despair of the writing game like trying to help another writer make his/her story the best it can be. As a wise old man once said, probably quoting another wise old man, "There is no end to what you can accomplish, if you don't care who gets the credit."
  3. Watch movies - lots of movies. Watch the movies you like again and again and again. Become an expert on your favorite movies.
  4. Find a hero and become an expert on that hero's life. If you don't know who your favorite screenwriter is, pick one.
  5. Find a secondary art that you love, other than screenwriting, and practice it whenever the hell you feel like it. I like photography and drawing. Other people enjoy disco dancing.
  6. Don't be afraid of other people's feedback. On the other hand, trust yourself utterly - 8 times out of 10 you are right about that idea.
  7. But on the other other hand, things often go better when you assume you know nothing. Just bear in mind that when William Goldman says "No one knows anything", he means you too.
  8. Write the movie that you think is the coolest movie ever - trust your own taste. Eventually, you may find out that you are a lousy sci-fi writer and brilliant at comedy. Or find out that you are a lousy screenwriter but a brilliant novelist. But you will never find this out if you keep writing what you think other people want.
  9. Love your characters - desire them, whisper to them, sneak into their bodies and walk around in them, treat them as if you were a jealous ghost obsessed with their every waking and sleeping moment
  10. Love your audience - enjoy imagining the pleasure they will get from reading your script/seeing your movie, treat them as if you were a secret admirer whose only wish is that you could see the look on their face when they read that one scene. You know the scene I mean.
  11. Write as many scripts as you can. Accumulate a varied library of your own screenwriting. One finished mediocre script is worth more than an unfinished script which will be really great when it's finished.
  12. Write as many days a week as you can.
  13. A surprising amount of writing can be done in 10 minutes. If 10 minutes is all you have, take it.
  14. Rewriting is only valuable, when know what to leave alone. It is dangerously easy to suck all the blood and breath out of a script with unjudicious rewriting.
  15. Tell your agent to fuck off once in a while.
  16. Never accept the water. If you meet with a potential fan and they offer you a water - or a coffee - while you are waiting, refuse it. Do not let them off the hook. You are not there for refreshment, you are there for work (Obviously, this does not apply if it is a lunch or dinner meeting. Refusing the water in that case makes you look like a maniac).
  17. Avoid looking like a maniac. Don't be afraid that you won't stand out as someone interesting and unique. People who are afraid that they won't stand out, usually try to do things to make themselves stand out. These people make others very nervous and are usually shunned and ignored. You want to be friends with as many people as possible. Make it easy for them.
  18. If you can't remember what you did the night before more than once a week, deal with that problem first and put the writing career on hold. You're wasting valuable time trying to serve two masters.
  19. If you want to be in the movie business in order to become rich and famous and powerful, or to get revenge on your enemies, or to make your parents proud, or to fill that horrifying emptiness in your chest, please TRY SOMETHING ELSE. If you are meant to be in the movie business, you will be lead back to it.
  20. Finally, please throw this list of suggestions away. Do it immediately.

Always yours,

- Neal

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Slow, Steady

Slow and steady...


It works.

It works good.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Videogame Win

My thanks to Aaron Ginsburg, Wade McIntyre, Sean O'Keefe, and Dave Taylor for their participation today on my panel, The Videogame Generation, at the Scriptwriters Showcase. Picking the brains of these guys for an hour and a half was a graduate seminar on writing for interactive media. My best wishes to John Scott Lewinski who, due to illness, had to bow out of the panel at the last minute.

The Scriptwriters Showcase - on its maiden voyage - has so far proved to be an overwhelming success and I can't imagine they won't do it again next year. Keep an eye out at the Final Draft and Scr(i)pt sites as I'm sure they'll let us know as soon as they do.

With my official moderating duties done, I look forward to a day of goofing off tomorrow - sitting in on panels, schmoozing, and then - at the final networking party - disco dancing like it ain't no tang, BabEe dollZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ... and so forth.


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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Scriptwriters Showc-aaaghghhh...cough...

More in-depth blogging on the Scriptwriters Showcase later this weekend. I would write you a meaty post about the fine Benderspink panel or chatting with John Cox about the John Milius draft of "Sgt. Rock", but, you see, I am moderating the panel on writing for videogames first thing in the morning, and I need to get some sleep, otherwise I'm likely to start badly hallucinating during the panel and no one wants that:

"And here on my left is Dave Taylor who is, as you can see quite plainly, a gigantic lizard. And beside him is Sean O'Keefe just back from another harrowing voyage in the North Sea - all hail Lord Osiris, may his name live forever! Yeow! The guns! Jesus God! The GUNS!!!"

No, we don't want that. No, no.

I did learn one very important thing at the Scriptwriters Showcase today, and I wanted to give a heads-up, lest anyone attending tomorrow or Sunday make the same miserable mistake I did.

A wWd of warning, friends and colleagues:

However you may decide to travel to the Sheraton Universal for the remainder of this weekend's showcasings, I must tell you - and I think it may be one of the most important factlets you are exposed to during these three days - ...

... do NOT walk up this hill!

Learn from my mistakes. Take the free Shuttle bus. I beg you.

I beg you.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Pull Forward

Pull Forward

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Scriptwriters Showcase & the Cat/Iraq Situation - podcast

This weekend is the Scriptwriters Showcase, 3 days of seminars, panels, and guest speakers at the Universal Sheraton here in Los Angeles. I will be moderating the panel called "The Videogame Generation" (hence this week's gaming theme).

Tickets are still available. It's $149 for the whole 3 days - unless you are a student, in which case it's $99 - or unless you have the SECRET DISCOUNT CODE.

The SECRET DISCOUNT CODE (courtesy of Warren Hsu Leonard at ScreenwritingLife.com:


Using the SECRET DISCOUNT CODE will get the regular admission fee down from $149 to $129. But, per Warren: "If you search around on the net, you'll likely find a code that gets it down to $99, as many organizations have offered codes in the past."

Recorded in the Fortress of Destitude, high below the Hollywood Hills, here is a fine podcast in which I discourse upon the Scriptwriters Showcase as well as - what else? - the President and the Cat Situation ...

click to listen; right-click to download
Click to listen!/Right-click to download!

To subscribe to the rabbit + crow podcasts, paste


into "Subscribe" under your iTunes "Advanced" menu. That way you'll get
the shows sent directly to you, and you'll be able to stay
a step ahead of your enemies, thus saving you the embarrassment
of having to hire private investigators and wire-tap specialists!

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Repairman's Umbrella

Repairman's Umbrella

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

No, Neal. Gary Gygax is your father....

...to which I replied:
"No. That's not true. That's impossible!"
And so then Gary Gygax said to me:
"Search your feelings, Neal. You know it to be true."
And then I squealed like a little piggy:
"Noooo! Noooo! ..."
And then coming to my senses:
"... Oh, no. Wait. Yes! Yes! Of course! That explains a lot."
Yes, Gary Gygax is my father.

Yet, he did not sleep with my mother - or so my parents insist. So how did this immaculate conception ("I.C.", for those who played on/against Catholic schools in high school sports teams) come to pass?

Demogorgon"Star Wars" (1977) - not "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope" (various years) - got a lot of us going, but if if I'm brutally honest, the greatest formative influence on my creative life - apart from Mad magazine - was probably Gary Gygax and his Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

D&D was my baptism by fire into the world of gaming. The first time I ever played this greatest role playing game of all role playing games was in a bastardized version which employed only percentile dice rolls (by rolling 2xd20's - for you civilians) and required approximately 30 attributes for each character, also determined by percentile roll.

Within a week of that first game, my father, tragically ignorant of what he was unleashing, bought me the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook". "The Monster Manual", "The Dungeon Master's Guide" quickly followed. And I was the first kid on my block to get "Deities & Demigods" and "The Fiend Folio". I was off and running, and became a Dungeon Master myself (becoming a Dungeon Master is exactly like being a producer in Hollywood - you just tell everyone you are one, then invite your friends to play your game). I engineered epic campaigns with casts of thousands, with elaborate improved rules that I'd invented, with stories of great subtlety and emotional depth and even my supporting characters (derogatorially referred to by some as "non-player characters") had elaborate and, often moving, backstories.

No stealing of the Special Mace of Healing from the band of Gnolls in a trap door-plagued tunnel complex here! No! No, my Lord!

My Dungeons & Dragons campaigns involved world-rending events, orcs with cannons, demons unleashed, an army of Drow Elves, and armadas of dragons of all conceivable colors locked in epic battle. My players weren't trying to get rich and move up to the next level - or if they were, I was stone deaf to their pleas. My players were responsible for the entire fate of the Universe(s)!

And my ambitions today are - to the chagrin of my agents/managers/wife - not much less grandiose.

But creating a world, building every part of it, breathing my own life into it, and then forcing you - as role player/audience - to endure - er, I mean INHABIT that world was my dream - and still is.

I moved on from Dungeons & Dragons and by high school I was creating my own role playing games, cribbing notes and weaponry and character attributes and matrices from all sorts of other games. My favorite - and it had a long run with my role playing friends - who, I realize in hindsight, were very indulgent with me - was a space opera/sci-fi adventure role playing game which featured - again - everything but the kitchen sink.

I called the game "GalaxStar".

I do not know why.

I do not know what a "GalaxStar" is. I did not know then, and I do not know now. But that is what I called it. I was kid, okay. A friend and I even embarked upon a comic book of the adventures that had taken place in the game play, but the steam left that idea quickly when I began to understand the majesty of girls and alcohol.

But even during my precocious and hair-raising transition into the fields of alcoholism and sex addiction, I was always trying to create a new role playing game - set in all kinds of bizarre milieu. I tried insects. I tried secret agents. I attempted a completely generic (or maybe utterly all-encompassing and universal?) gaming system which could be adapted to any scenario. I was briefly in a rock band when I was a kid. The band didn't keep me around long because I was much more interested in creating a mythology, a design, and a conceptual system for the band to dwell in than I was in making music.

Ah, wasted youth! What precious energy I spent on utterly useless creations! What a great and bounteous talent I frittered away on nothing! What a disappointment for my parents to know that I wasn't just masturbating all night behind those closed doors!

How would I ever make it up to myself? And to all those other teens whose lives I helped to ruin?

How would I ever make good?

Out of high school, I moved to Los Angeles, because that's where they made the movies ...

Wizards image

Next week Neal learns: Ralph Bakshi is his father.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rain, Rain

The reports of pouring rain were dire today.

I'm still waiting.

When's the pouring going to start?

I snapped this shot today of a couple who couldn't wait until the pouring started:

couple not in the rain

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Desk To Desk, Pt. II

photo by Neal Romanek, hosted at Buzznet.com

desks on desks on desks

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Game-writers Showcase

So, of course, all y'all are attending the Scriptwriters Showcase this weekend (April 7, 8, & 9).


At the Sheraton Hotel, Universal Studios, here in Los Angeles?

Presented by Final Draft, and Scr(i)pt Magazine?

If you haven't registered yet, go HERE, and register online. It's $149 for Full Registration, $99 if you're a student. The Scriptwriters Showcase is 3 days of panels, speakers, discussions, Q&A with dozens of writing and producing talents of a caliber well worth our extreme jealousy and ill will - well worth our downright hatred, in fact, and fine subjects for violent revenge fantasies. THAT is how good these writers are.

I will be the moderator of the panel on writing for videogames - 9:30 - 11am on Saturday, April 8. It's called "The Videogame Generation". But don't let that scare you.

The panel will include Aaron Ginsburg & Wade McIntyre ("Call of Duty 2: Big Red One"), John Scott Lewinski ("Command & Conquer"), Dave D. Taylor ("Doom", "Quake") and writer-producer Sean O'Keefe.

I am fascinated by games and game development and have been since I started to grow hair on my privates. And who isn't? I can't be the only one writer who has thought: "This by-the-numbers script I'm working on would be so much cooler as a game." I've written game treatments before. But still, I intend to make the panel my own personal Every-Question-Neal-Ever-Wanted- To-Ask-About-Writing-For-Games tutorial. But if you guys show up this weekend with own your questions...okay...I'll incorporate some of them too. In fact, if you want to email your own questions to the panel - about writing for games, not just "My girlfriend says I smell. What should I do?" - I'll be happy to pass them off as my own, and take all the credit, if they're really good and insightful.

Seriously - setting aside my native obnoxiousness - I will directly pose questions to the panel, and give you full credit if you really want it, etc. Email them - before Friday - to:

(putting "GAMES" in the Subject line = helpful)

But I hope that you'll be there in person.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

New T-Shirt - You Have My Permission

You have my permission to buy it.

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