The Man With the Pointy Hat

The Man With the Pointy Hat

"In the current storyline, there's a lot that I don't agree with, and I made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance . . . As an executive producer as well as a writer, I've sometimes had to insist that my writers make changes that they did not want to make, often loudly so. They were sure I was wrong. Mostly I was right. Sometimes I was wrong. But whoever sits in the editor's chair, or the executive producer's chair, wears the pointy hat of authority, and as Dave Sim once noted, you can't argue with a pointy hat.

"So at the end of the day, all one can do is try to do the best one can with the notes one is given, and try to execute them in a professional way -- because who knows, the other guy may be right . . . ."

— J. Michael Straczynski

“To A Skyfarer”

..-. — .-. .. .-. .- —

Morning clouds in disarray

Bright and cold, this is your day

Ten points off the rising sun

Tell me why I feel this way?

Tell me what you’ve been and done

Silhouette in solid space

Future’s half-forgotten face

Stillness grudgingly withdrawn

Far off engines mutter dawn

Slow to wake and slow to thaw

You’d become my paragon

Hope that time could not withdraw

Gone too long, returned too soon

Stowed and moored by afternoon

Scrambling spotters, busy clerks

‘Til this evening’s fireworks

Dancing through the final song

Rubbing hair and other perks

Heart ungimbaled, stomach wrong

Ship returning, fortunes won

Voyage ended, and begun

Windy City: “To A Skyfarer”

Previously posted is a poem for the third draft of my feature screenplay “Windy City.” Draft two borrows from a song by VNV Nation, but I thought it best to write something of my own as a backup. Here are the lyrics as they appear in situ:

A gust carries some equipment away and tugs at the cable. There is a loud SNAP. The workman turns his lamp away from the locks, toward the cable and finds -- a slowly lengthening CRACK.

WORKMAN

CABLEFALL! CABLEFALL!

The cable SNAPS. Half of it CRASHES across the trolley tracks, wiping them away like chalk marks. The other half SLAMS back into the building. The upper floor windows EXPLODE, raining big chunks of plastic on the old workman and his crew.

WORKMAN

DOWN! EVERYONE DOWN!

INT. HOTEL - LOBBY - EARLY MORNING

A low, distant BOOM. The power flickers. Nadine and her sister Ashur are crammed onto a cot in the dark lobby with the other refugees. The building GROANS in the wind. Ashur is too frightened to sleep. Nadine begins to stroke her hair.

NADINE

(sings)

Morning clouds in disarray/

Bright and cold, this is your day/

Ten points off the rising sun/

Tell me why I feel this way?

Tell me what you've been and done/

Silhouette in solid space/

Future's half-forgotten face/

Stillness grudgingly withdrawn/

Far off engines mutter dawn/

Slow to wake and slow to thaw/

You'd become my paragon/

Hope that time could not withdraw/

Gone too long, returned too soon/

Stowed and moored by afternoon/

Scrambling spotters, busy clerks/

'Til this evening's fireworks/

Dancing through the final song/

Rubbing hair and other perks/

Heart ungimbaled, stomach wrong/

Ship returning, fortunes won/

Voyage ended, and begun/

Ashur sleeps.

“Windy City” Enters Its First Screenwriting Competition

My first feature screenplay, “Windy City,” has been entered into the 2007 ASA International Screenplay Competition. The quarterfinalists will be announced by February 28, 2008, with the semifinalists coming out April 30 and the final winners being announced at the awards ceremony at the end of September, 2008.

As much as I dread (and typically fail) at self-promotion, it’s nice to be back on the contest scene. Æsop’s Council of Mice was my last animated film to play the film festival circuit, following the relative success of my award-winning debut Marboxian. Owing mainly to financial difficulties, I wasn’t able to do much with Mice, and I’ve had to focus on making a living since.

It’s been mentioned a few times here, but maybe it’s time to introduce the thing. Windy City is a classic city mouse/country mouse story written by someone who’s been both. It has airships and fantastic cities, natural and manmade disasters, and a whole laundry list of other exciting things. But that’s not why you’ll fall in love with it. The real movie is about a boy from the valley and a senator’s daughter from the city — Dan Assurbani and Nineve Sherrib — and how their lives meet and grow more and more complicated.

Windy City started life as a treatment six or seven years ago. At about this time last year, I dusted it off and set about cleaning it up. Somehow the treatment became a full first draft by April, and I had some friends with a bit of theatre experience over to do a cold readthrough. I sat on the lessons I learned from hearing it out loud, and the remaining issues I had with it, picked at it for the next few months as life got complicated again, and finally — in four days at a friend’s house in coastal Maine — burned through to a second draft in late August.

It’s been an interesting year. Wish Windy City luck.

Notes on the Matewan “Massacre”

From a description in Christopher M. Finan’s “From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America”

The Matewan “Massacre” would make an interesting, if challenging film. Starts out with a classic Western-style showdown. Escalates to open warfare.

“Passengers on the Norfolk and Western trains went through the battle zone crouching on the floors of the cars while glass crashed overhead.”

  • Sid Hattfield (28). Police chief, former miner. Shot Albert C. & Lee Felts. Gunned down on courthouse steps.
  • Albert C. Felts. Shot mayor Cabbell Testerman. PI for Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, deputized in neighboring town. Hired to evict fired miners.
  • Cabbell Testerman. Mayor & town druggist. Authorized the arrest of the detectives for carrying arms within town limits.
  • Miners. Payed in company scripp. Fired when they joined unions.
  • Baldwin-Felts Agency Detectives. Seven killed by miners in initial gunfight, rest fled across river.
  • President Warren G. Harding. Sent in Federal Troops.

OUTSIDE

  • Rev. John Haynes Holmes. Eloquently denounced the violence on both sides.
  • The ACLU. Only a few years old. Spoke out against the underlying causes.
  • The courts. Widely abused injunctions to suppress meaningful picketing. Used sedition laws unevenly to ban violent pro-union publications while allowing employer publications to advocate violence openly.

“Need” in Screenwriting

A device I find useful when facing screenwriter’s block is to focus on what each character needs in a scene.

There is a school of screenwriting that would have us believe that all scenes are defined by what the characters want, but I disagree. I’ve spent many enjoyable moments with friends not particularly needing or wanting anything, and that’s what screenwriting basically is — voyeurism. Overemphasis on need-driven scenemaking destroys spontaneity and overloads the script with tension.

Compare the following problem scene from the first and second draft of “Windy City.”

First draft:

EXT. ESTER'S FLAT - NIGHT

DAN

Why didn't you stop?

NINEVE

Well it's not that I didn't like

dance, it was just the girls there.

But, being a senator's daughter,

you've got to have a certain amount

of...

She pauses at the doorknob, folds her arm formally behind her.

NINEVE

(cont.)

Poise. Charm. And most

importantly --

They enter.

INT. ESTER'S FLAT, CONT.

PAUL

...There's just NO WAY!

Nineve and Dan are startled. The adults stands around the kitchen table. Sherrib and Tigres look bitter, Ester and Gyllian defiant. Paul is angry. We've never seen Paul angry.

SAUL

(from the corner)

I can stay, whatever good THAT'LL

do...

TIGRES

Saul...

PAUL

(to Dan and Nineve)

They cut off our funding this

afternoon, the senate. We can't

afford to stay.

DAN

They can... just... do that?

SHERRIB

(to Nineve)

They cut room and board stipends.

Most of us don't use them, but the

valley delegates need them.

NINEVE

...Because they live at the hotel?

SHERRIB

Right.

PAUL

They called a special session this

afternoon. While we were out

watching the airship with everyone

else.

GYLLIAN

Little sneaks.

SAUL

All this money, you'd think I could

buy some brains...

TIGRES

(quietly)

Stop it.

PAUL

Mrs. Hadden has agreed to let us

stay here. Saul's staying on

at the hotel. Hana, Hale and

Tudaya have already made plans to

go back.

ESTER

You'll have to sweep up the dust

and flower petals, but it'll be

nice to have someone living in

the spare rooms again.

DAN

We don't have to go home?

PAUL

(surprised)

No, not yet. Not us anyway.

Second draft:

INT. SENATE - HIGH HALLWAY, CONT.

DAN

Then why didn't you stop?

NINEVE

Well it's not that I didn't like

dance, it was just the girls there.

But, being a senator's daughter,

you've got to have a certain amount

of . . .

Nineve stops at the end of the hallway, folding her arm formally behind her.

NINEVE

(cont.)

Poise. Charm. And most

importantly --

INT. SENATE - LIGHT TOWER, CONT.

PAUL

(angrily)

Well I DIDN'T!

Nineve and Dan start. Paul looks ANGRY -- we've never seen Paul angry. Sherrib, Saul and Tigres are with him, along with the other three valley delegates -- HANA, HALE and TUDIYA -- surrounded by telegraphs and windows.

TUDIYA

You're taking this far too

personally, Assurbani. No one was

expecting us to succeed.

SAUL

I'm sorry, Paul. I ran down there

as soon as I heard about it, but

there wasn't much I could do.

PAUL

You could've done something! Talk,

waste time. . . ANYTHING!

SAUL

When pop's money doesn't solve the

problem, I'm pretty useless. You

know that.

TIGRES

Stop it.

PAUL

Why didn't you at least -- ?

TIGRES

Stop it both of you! Ester?

ESTER

Paul and Dan can stay as long as

they need to with me. I have more

than enough room. We need to put

this in the proper frame of mind.

It's a setback, surely, but only

that.

ASSURBANI

Ester's right. Ester's always

right. We're still operative.

We've got to look for a way ahead.

HALE

You're wasting your time! Honestly,

I appreciate all that you've done

for us, Senator Sherrib. . .

PAUL

We still have funds for the hotel

through Friday. You can at least

help out until then.

HANA

Paul, let it go. It's done.

TUDIYA

No one was expecting us to succeed.

PAUL

Well I was! Dan, Nineve, come in.

They are still standing in the doorway.

PAUL

(cont.)

They voted to cut off our funding,

the Senate. The money they give us

for the hotel. Saul can afford to

stay. Dan, you and I are invited to

stay with Ester. Hana and Hale want

to go back tomorrow. Tudiya, you

can stay for a couple weeks, can't

you?

TUDIYA

I'm afraid I'll be going back as

well.

PAUL

(to Dan)

So our party is somewhat diminished.

DAN

But we don't have to go back?

PAUL

No. Not yet.

SHERRIB

They very quietly called a special

session this afternoon to vote on it.

NINEVE

How did they get enough people?

SHERRIB

Don't know. Everyone who's a

reliable vote for Chairman Khorsa

was there. I think they've been

planning this for a while.

PAUL

We were out watching the airship

with everyone else.

Is the scene better? Who knows, but I’m happier with it. It satisfies my need.

(In case you’re interested, I’m of the Jim Cameron school of screenwriting: “Just describe the movie.”)