Sunday, October 30, 2005

Kids are cute

Let me clarify. MY kids are cute. I don't really think most other kids are cute. Unless they're well behaved. I find well-behaved kids to be much cuter than poorly behaved children. And when I say 'much cuter,' I mean that ill-behaved children are not cute at all.

But, to be specific, my 4 year old middle child said something that cracked me up today.

Driving home from church today, we passed some cows in a field (yes, we live in a fairly rural area, and no, it doesn't bother me). Anyway, the conversation went something like this:

Middle Child (MC): Daddy, cows!
TerminalMFA (TMFA): I know, I see them.
MC: Why does that one have a hump on its back?
TMFA: That's a male cow, sweetie. A bull.
(Silence from back seat).
MC: So he delivers the mail to all the other cows?

Took me a second to figure out the whole male/mail thing, which of course seems fairly obvious in print. But I laughed for several minutes. I love my kids.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Students and a Film Update

Teaching screenwriting is fun for me. I love talking about writing, about how to do it, about what I know and what I've learned. I love showing examples of great writing. Today, however, was not a fun day.

We did a writing exercise in class today, something I've done several times before with good results. The students have to write a script scene from a comic book scene. The purpose is to give them some practice in describing effectively, capturing mood along with straight action.

And man, this group is not doing well. One student wrote dialogue with generic actions in parentheses under the spoken words. Um, hello, didn't we cover format for a week or two? What exactly are you writing? He seemed totally confused.

Another student, who admittedly has a disability, couldn't grasp it at all. WTF? This isn't rocket science. Doing it WELL takes real skill and talent. Doing it AT ALL takes, well, quite a few less brain cells. Have you seen some of the crap that gets produced? We're not talking about philosophers and Mensa members here. Some of them are brilliant, and some are trained monkeys (on their good days).

I'm just grousing, but I'm surprised at the amazingly poor level of storytelling skills many of my students have coming in to my classes. I don't expect them to have a superior grasp, and I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone knows their stuff right at the start. But these kids see movies all the time. You'd think they'd understand it a little, since they actually want to write or make them.

And can we talk responsibility level? They were supposed to turn in their detailed script synopsis over a week ago. On the due date, I got roughly half of them turned in. Several of them still haven't submitted anything. At 5 points a day, that's a costly level of irresponsbility, don't you think?

I don't expect them to be geniuses. Not by a long stretch. My standards have gotten pretty low over the last year. I'm just really disappointed in this particular crop of students.

And the film update. We've been continuing to cut. We are down to 95 minutes now, and that makes me pretty happy, because the first rough/assembly cut was two-and-a-half hours! A lot of good material is gone, but I think we are down the best stufff that tells the story (i.e., not the best stuff overall -- some hilarious material is now in the DVD extras timeline in Final Cut Pro -- but the best stuff that actually contributes to telling the story).

I need to toughen my hide up, though. Every time someone offers criticism, I start to get all -- how do I describe it. I don't know. Lousy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I take it very personally, which is understandable because I've been working on this for several years, if you could writing the script and trying to raise money (and, you know, you have to count those things). And there's a lot on the line, not the least of which is that my tenure here depends on my creative work, which -- since I got here -- is only this film.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

getting caught up

so you're probably thinking, where the hell is terminalmfa?

(this question presupposes that anyone actually reads my blog, but indulge me a bit).

well, i was busy with the film, and then last week i was out of town at a 'creative symposium' -- a terrific invitation-only event, where i was challenged creatively and really re-energized. and i made some great contacts for the future.

so i'm in the office. my email is down and i'm waiting on the I.T. folks to come by and fix it. i don't have any appointments. so i might as well blog.

i am about a week behind on deciding on textbooks for next semester. i only have two classes (yay!) and only one of them has a text. but i could not decide on it. well, i finally did, late yesterday afternoon, and got that turned in. but it made me wonder why the hell we have to decide on texts in october!? ok, large university, lots of faculty, lots of book orders, it takes time to process it all. i get that. what i don't get is that, in at least one of my classes each semester since i've been here, books were not yet on the shelves when classes started. so i dragged my feet a little this semester. obviously the bookstore isn't ina rush to place my orders anyway. and we're not talking back-ordered books. in my screenwriting class this semester, i used three scripts published in shooting script format from newmarket press. you can find these in barnes & noble and other good bookstores. so why can't our bookstore get them in on time? only the shadow knows...

anyway, so my tenure review meeting for this year got moved up to next month. actually, it was always next month, but my dept. chair thought it would be in january and told me that. so i spent one day this week prepping my tenure credentials notebook. since i had to create the thing ex nihilo last year, it was already pretty much 'there' and just needed updating. it surprised me that i was able to finish it in an afternoon. there are a couple of pieces still to be added/rewritten (hey, that's what i should be working on right now!). but in general, it's pretty much done and waiting only on some letters from current and former students and colleagues that i want to include. you know, a bunch of people singing my praises. yee ha.

the biggest thing on my mind to date is that, in the aftermath of my experience at that symposium, i'm really not sure what i want to write next. i was all set to begin a page-one rewrite of a fairly high-concept script i wrote a couple of years ago -- something where i didn't execute it that well and knew i could make it a LOT better. then two things happened: (1) someone i met at the symposium was pitching the exact same concept as a sitcom to a network this week. and i heard his pitch, and it was MUCh better than my script. and (2) i felt really challenged by the symposium to think about what i want to do with my work -- what i want to accomplish. i have always wanted my work to have a 'significance' and i don't want to get stuck in high concept world or silly comedy land. the film i shot this summer is an out-and-out comedy, but it does TRY to have a social significance. i wonder if it will come across, though. and i think comedy is easier for me (though hard to execute) because it keeps me from trying to think seriously about some issues.

anyway, that's what's been going on.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

sundance and beyond

with the sundance cut out the door, we watched the rough cut all the way through with a small-ish audience, to get a fresh view of it.

man, what a disappointment.

some of it was good. some of it mediocre. some of it was agonizingly slow. so i immediately sent an email to several people to whom i had sent dvd's of the rough cut, apologizing in advance for the slow sections. which was silly. one of the actors, who is also a good friend, called and told me not to apologize in advance. he's right, of course, but i was worried people would think i thought this was a great cut. this is a very neurotic point of view, i admit.

so i immediately made a page of notes, and Editor did as well. made me feel better knowing i was doing something to rectify the film's failings.

but i was also thinking, 'dang, blew my chances at sundance by sending them a crap cut.'

but then other people who had seen the rough cut called and emailed me to tell me that it was good, and funny. not perfect, obviously. but not bad. so i'm feeling better.

we made some major cuts on a few areas that needed work. and now we need to watch the thing all the way through and see if those changes 'worked.'

i really have no sense of how well it's working. on the funny stuff, i laugh in anticipation or have ceased to laugh altogether because i've seen it so often that it's just not spontaneously funny anymore. the editor has shown it repeatedly to friends, and has consistently gotten good reports and lots of laughs. so i feel better about that, and about the reactions of other people who have weighed in.

but we have deadlines coming up for other festivals this month, and i really want to send out the best rough cut i can send.

i have no pithy way to end this post.