[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
the one without the ferret
a few weeks ago, i was checking my blog-related email when i came across a subject line that intrigued me: writing for the national film challenge.
when i opened the email, i discovered it was from bill coughlan, a fellow blogger/storyteller who i had the pleasure of meeting at fray day two years ago [good lord, has it really been that long already?!]. as it turns out, bill is more than just a blogger/storyteller...he’s actually a filmmaker. well, he’s also a husband, a father and a general all-round good guy, but the part that’s most germane to the story at hand is the filmmaker thing.
at any rate, bill helps run a small independent production company, tohubohu productions, and he was writing with an intriguing – and scary – proposition for me: to write the screenplay for tohubohu’s entry into this year’s national film challenge competition.
for those of you who, like me, aren’t familiar with the national film challenge, it’s an incredibly cool concept: filmmaking teams are given just one weekend to completely write, produce, edit, and output a short film. on friday evening of the competition, each team receives an email containing a required prop, a required character, a required line of dialogue and a randomly assigned genre.
bill went on to explain that he would be producing tohubohu’s effort this year, with a local director, nello deblasio, taking the helm. however, they were missing a writer. and, apparently, they were asking me to be said writer.
anticipating my response of “hey, that is so cool, and i’m really flattered, but, i have absolutely no idea how to write a screenplay and rather than go down in flames and take you very nice people with me, i think i’ll pass,” bill made it a point to tell me that it mattered not if i had never written a script, because what really mattered was that i know how to tell a story [and lest you think i’m a wee bit full o’ myself, those were his words]. he encouraged me to think over their invitation, and to take a look at some of their previous work.
i went home and whipped up a pitcher of a rather tasty vodka-laden concoction, and thought about whether i believed in myself enough to take this on. i hadn’t been writing on a regular basis, other than departmental budgets, and felt more than a little rusty. not to mention the fact i haven't written fiction -- or told someone else's story -- since i was probably fourteen. the idea of inventing a completely fictional story was intimidating, to say the least. not to mention inventing it on such a tight timeline.
but, after about six servings of liquid courage, i decided to go for it. after all, what did i have to lose? washington is a good-sized city and if i humiliated myself and/or crashed and burned i could surely avoid seeing bill and nello, right?
when the big night arrived, i showed up at bill’s offices with absolutely no ideas, a healthy case of performance anxiety and two slices of pizza in a container that might as well have been labeled “open in case of it being 3:00 am and you still haven’t come up with any ideas.” believe me when i tell you that famous luigi’s with meatball and jalapeno is a surefire source of inspiration.
seven o’clock arrived and with it, the email containing our assignment. bill read it out loud:
required prop: funnel
required character: tj heinschwartz, rock star
required line of dialogue: “wow...can i touch it?”
and then, our assigned genre: action-adventure
and with that, i almost passed out. action-adventure?! action?! adventure?!
i was doomed. i had secretly hoped that the email would arrive and our assigned genre would be “true stories from julia’s life,” although in my heart i knew the chances were rather slim.
then, a ray of hope.
“this isn’t our team name...i’m going to email them just to be sure this isn’t a mistake. the prop, character and dialogue are the same for everyone, but this might not be our assigned genre.”
a few moments later, bill announced that, indeed, we had received the wrong email, and were now in receipt of our correct genre assignment.
words like "frying pan" and "fire" raced through my mind. the only way it could have been worse was if we had been assigned sci-fi-cowboy-musical.
once we had clarified our assignment, the brainstorming began.
well, sort of.
while bill and nello bounced around idea after idea, i became keenly aware that i was sitting there, completely mute. there were only three thoughts running through my head:
1. oh my god, i'm not saying anything. any minute, nello is going to lunge across the room and throat-punch bill for this ridiculous notion of having me be a "screenwriter."
2. next time they leave the room, i'm taking my emergency pizza and bolting.
3. i hope we can incorporate a ferret in this somehow. i think ferrets are hilarious.
then, nello threw out an idea that jolted me out of my ferret-laden catatonia. and, with that, i started typing.
i guess i had never given much thought to my "process" as a writer. and now i realize that’s because i don’t have one. i just sit down and start typing. that's pretty much my process. i sit down, i type a story, and i rarely make edits. in retrospect, i see now that this isn’t terribly conducive to the collaborative creative process.
through the course of the evening, i quickly moved from one end of the spectrum [sitting totally mute clutching a legal pad and pen] to the other [blurting out something akin to “absolutely not” in response to a proposed modification]. and i realized that my writing has always been my own, and is usually something that is part of my life. so i think i tend to feel protective of my stories...because my stories have always been pieces of me [ohmygod, it's just like that jewel album!]. the idea that the finished movie could – and would – deviate from my script, or that due to practical reasons – or creative ones – scenes wouldn’t be shot the way i had written them was a learning experience for me. and not just about writing.
the bottom line is that, after my initial wave of nausea passed, this was a terrific challenge for me, and a whole lot of fun. not to mention that seeing my words formatted as a screenplay was an unexpected rush that made me realize how much i have missed writing.
and, perhaps most importantly, i learned that a movie can be funny without a ferret.
and now i present to you tohubohu productions’ entry into this year’s national film challenge competition: homemade hero.
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