Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This anecdote is for my mom

Currently, my folks are in Europe so she probably won't see this for awhile, but I thought it was a funny little story about my mom's favorite Beatle. This tale comes courtesy of TV writer Jane Espenson and her very helpful, sometimes amusing blog.

And I know I could just email it to her directly, but why not share with anyone else who might be out there perusing the blogs?

Tuesday, May 20th



I don't usually do this. I like to limit this blog to writing advice. But I cannot resist this. So please, enjoy this personal tale of hilarity that (I'm hoping) will somehow reduce itself to a writing lesson at the end.

Get this. Remember how I was just in Vancouver? Well, instead of checking luggage, I had a box of clothes FedExed up there and then back down here when I left. It avoids the hassles of baggage claim and I totally recommend this plan. When you're ready to head home, you just scoop your unlaundered clothes into a box and ship it off, neat as you please.

Except that they do some sort of operation at the border in which the shipping labels are removed and sometimes switched. Fun!

This means that when a box arrived at my home yesterday, it didn't contain my clothes. It contained someone else's clothes. Luckily, this person was savvier than I about the hazards of international shipping labels, and had included a piece of paper with his name and (business) address. I have the property of a "Mr. R. Starkey." Those of you who know stuff about stuff are now freaking out. A little checking re: the address and the business name has verified: I have Ringo Starr's clothes. Okay, now everyone can freak out. Please notice that according to any system of logic, this makes me the fifth Beatle.

Steps are being taken to fix the problem. Don't worry, I'm not going to keep the clothes. I'm not even going to look at them, in fact, and I'm hoping Ringo is exercising similar restraint when it comes to my (if you recall, unlaundered) items.

So, how is this a writing lesson? Well, doesn't it make you feel a little better about the inciting incident in a lot of comedies?

UPDATE: I just took Ringo's clothes to Ringo's house. Turns out that wasn't a business address after all, but his actual home address. Holy cow. I met his charming British assistant who gave me a signed Ringo photo and was very happy to have the box of clothes, but who did not have my box of clothes. So they're not with Ringo after all. Who knows what other celebrity is pawing through my stuff -- I hope it's Shatner, don't you? Anyway, it's been a fine adventure and Ringo Starr has star-shaped stone inlays in his driveway. Not tacky like it sounds, actually very nice, very tasty.

For more on Ringo, check out his website.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

FaceBook In Reality BBC'sThe Wall

Okay, folks, this is what scares me about Facebook.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Oh, that old nostalgia

After waiting nearly two decades for a movie that I thought was probably never going to happen, I finally saw it yesterday.


It’s pretty good.

It’s not great. It’s not brilliant. It’s got some flaws, but for the most part it’s pretty fun.

I have to admit that I was expecting a better script. I mean, every screenwriter in the business worth his salt took a crack at it. From Lawrence Kasdan who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, to M. Night Shylamaladingdong to Frank Darabont and then David Koepp. I mean, even playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard took a crack at it. I remember reading a draft that was floating around years ago that had him and his son and Marion in it (granted, that script was not good and I’m glad they didn’t make that one…).

What I love about the Indy movies is the unabashed love of the old fashioned style storytelling, the throwback to the 1940s and 1950s. I mean, the movie takes place in 1957, but there were times it actually felt like it was made in 1957 (except for some of that really expensive CGI stuff). And I dug the first fifteen minutes of it, partly because of his visit to Area 51 and the Nevada Atomic testing site (made even more creepy by the recent research I’ve been doing) but also because it was a great action sequence.

And on a sidenote, can I just say that even though Cate Blanchett flirts with being a cliche as an evil Russian I would watch her do anything. Seriously, I'd watch her read a phone book on film.

At its heart, the movie is about the characters, which is great (and really, even though Indy has become an icon, he has never become a caricature, especially as played by Harrison Ford). And I love the stunts. I love me some good old-fashioned slugfests on films, especially involving moving vehicles, sword fights, bullwhips, c’mon…you don’t see that all that much anymore.

Which is why the movie feels just a tad…well…archaic.

I mean, I love it. It’s great.

But if I want to feel nostalgic and feel like a kid again, I’ll pop Raiders of the Lost Ark into my DVD player and watch that. It’s a much better movie and will do the trick just as well.

But really, will I see Kingdom of the Crystal Skull again?

What, are you kidding?

Of course.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


You will be mine, Dr. Jones...

Oh yes, you will be.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't Think Twice the title of the new ten-minute play, birthed last night and mostly complete at 3 am.

And no, it's not about Bob Dylan...

It's about two sisters, one of them from LA who has come to her older sister's front yard in the Puget Sound area, to tell her that their dad is dead and give her his old pocket watch. They haven't spoken to each other in ten years after a falling out so there's some reconciliation there.

But this play was actually the second play written of the evening.

The first one had roughly the same characters (though they weren't sisters) and was trying to really deal with the stupid prompt more head on. The stupid prompt, remind you is "History's b*tch--the problem with being so d*mn modern". Yeah, I struggled with that and honestly, still have no idea what that even means.

Anyone? Tell me, I'd like to know...

So the play I handed in really doesn't relate too much to that stupid prompt at all. Somewhere in the evening I thought, it's more important to me to have a good play for two actors to perform than worry about sticking to any "theme".

Why did I completely toss out a whole other play (which was actually a different story?)

One word.


There wasn't any in that first play.

I mean, there was some good dialogue and it was about this modern woman with her modern technology and she was out camping with this other woman who believes in the simple life. And the characters were developed. It flowed well. And there were some funny lines. At least, I thought they were funny. It was good.

But still, it had no conflict. Okay, it might have had the hint of some conflict, but not enough for an actual play.

And while I certainly could have taken that play and rewritten and fully developed it more, the actual story I had was pretty weak. So I chunked the whole idea, kept the characters and the location, sort of, and made them sisters. But I focused intently on what their objectives were and what the conflict was.

And suddenly I had something more resembling dramatic action. You know, like in a play.

Some writers think that you can get away without conflict, especially in a ten minute play. I would debate that because I think most great plays have some form of conflict. Even the ones playing with language and style and structure. Audiences don't go see plays just to watch characters talk pretty language or move around on stage. They want to see characters pursuing a goal and have obstacles and conflict. Actors want to play their objectives and not giving them some inherent in the writing just makes them work harder. So why not make it easy on the actors and audience?

So now I've handed off the play to the director and actors and will see what happens tonight. Either it works or it doesn't. The audience is the true test of any play.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Here I Go Again...Again...

So again, I could be watching the fourth Indiana Jones movie, but instead I'm writing a play for the Double Shot 24 hour play festival.

It's a quarter to 11:00 pm and I'm staring at my prompt. I have to write a 10 minute play for 2 female actors. The prompt?

Not so great.

It's "History's b**ch--the problem with being so d*mn modern".

Well, someone likes to use the harsh language, don't they?

But what does it mean?

I've spent the past hour trying to decode this thought instead of writing my play...

The clock is ticking...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You call him Dr. Jones, doll!

Indiana Jones punches his way into theaters today!

I like to think of it as...bullwhip day!

Sadly, due to a too busy schedule (and the ever decreasing ability to stay up late), I will not be able to see this exciting action movie that fans have been waiting twenty years to see…

Cue violins now.

The only action I'm seeing today involves my ass on a chair sitting at my keyboard, typing...

Cue Indiana Jones music as we see Dennis typing frantically at the keyboard, the iconic fedora on his head, his bullwhip resting on the table nearby...

Eh, just doesn't quite work, does it?

Why so darn busy? Why am I not seeing it till later this weekend? I keep asking that myself.

Here’s what I’m doing:

The Double Shot Theater Festival!

(yes, another freakin’ 24 hour play festival and no, I don’t know why I feel the necessity to do put myself through the torture of writing a play in an evening).

The shows are this Friday and Saturday, 7 pm and 9 pm at the Norton Clapp Theater at Jones Hall on the University of Puget Sound Campus (that’s Tacoma…c’mon, its not that far from Seattle…really!). I’ll be writing for the Saturday night shows, which means I’ll be watching the Friday night ones and taking notes before receiving my “assignment” to go off and write a 10 minute play in the span of an evening.

Tickets are only 10 bucks and benefit the NPA new play reading series.

And yes, if you want to know, I do have a bullwhip…

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indiana Jones 4 - Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Trailer 2

Okay, so I found it. Here it is. Watch it again and again, just like me...

Only a few more days...

If you don't already know, there is a new video of the Indiana Jones movie trailer now posted on the Indiana Jones website.

On a sidenote (and because I'm a total geek) it occurs to me that the work done on a movie website, like the Indiana Jones site, is very similar to the type of work a production dramaturg does on a theatrical show. There is relevant history to the time period and brief notes about the show, etc. All in an effort to orient those who aren't quite sure what they're seeing...

This is, of course, more necessary for a show written by Chekhov or Moliere.

I mean, seriously, is there anyone on the planet who doesn't know about Indiana Jones?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Readings (or How I Learned to Stopped Worrying and Love the Audience)

Next Monday night please join me in Portland at the Portland Theatre Works as they present a reading of my newest full-length play THE ALBATROSS in their FreshWorks series.

By the way, that is what an albatross looks like (Photo courtesy of National Geographic, of course!)

If you’re in the area, check it out. It starts at 7 pm in the Theatre Noir at Theatre! Theatre! The reading should last about an hour and half and there will be a brief discussion with me afterwards. As this is the first public reading of this play (in fact, the first reading ever) I am going to be very curious as to everyone’s thoughts and opinions (Do you like it? Do you hate it? Tell me what you know, you mysterious audience, you!).

What is this new play THE ALBATROSS you say?

Actually, that probably wasn’t you, but rather one of the many voices in my head…

Here’s the synopsis:

David is an award-winning poet and teacher at a small private university. He has a great academic job and a golfing buddy in his colleague Mark, a recent divorcee. But underneath his polished lectures about “life as an artist”, he hides a secret pain, the suicide of his wife five years ago, a pain which is numbed through alcohol. He is violently shaken out of this numbness by Sofia, one of his eccentric students. A reactionary response to one of her poems begins a chain of events that will eventually cause David to drown under the watery weight of the past. He becomes a mentor to Sofia, recognizing her amazing talent yet also wary of it. There’s something else about her that he won’t talk about it, can’t talk about, and it’s this denial that will eventually cause his downfall.

Here’s the short form synopsis as quoted from my darling wife:

It’s the anti-Oleanna.

I love that!

Here are a couple thoughts about readings. There are many types of readings and many reasons for having them. Playwrights want them for their own reasons, directors have their own agendas, and certainly theater companies hold readings for other reasons, as well (sometimes its to develop a play, sometimes to get donors to give money, sometimes just for fun, who knows…) I don’t know the statistics, but I’m pretty certain that on any given day in this country, there are more play readings of new plays than productions. So the odds of you getting a reading with your new play are pretty good.

But my theory (and really one of my pet peeves) is that every reading should have a purpose.

If it’s to showcase the work, then great. If it’s to develop it, then do it with that goal. If it’s simply to hear actors say the lines and who cares what the audience thinks so you can find out what the heck you actually wrote, then, again, more power to you.

For me, when I have a reading, it’s usually developmental. Depending on how much rehearsal goes into the thing will depend on where I focus my attention. I’m looking at more than the script (I can look at the words on the page at home). I’m gonna pay attention to the rhythms the actors create from my words, if they got certain nuances, or if there are lines that are just problematic. Generally, though, I focus a lot of attention on the audience. I usually sit in the back and watch for a few behavioral things…(in the poker world we call them “tells”). Things like…oh, the obvious ones like laughing, oohing, gasping, yawning or coughing, but also if they’re leaning forward or backward, fidgeting, have puzzled faces or are just frankly asleep. No amount of discussion about characters or structure or the “arc” of the play will give as much information as whether or not the audience is actually interested in the story.

Because that’s what a public reading is for. The audience. Everything about a play changes once an audience starts getting involved. Everything.

And that’s the beauty of theater. And why it’s so freakin’ hard to write for the stage.

Also, my other general philosophy about public readings is to come in with some specific questions, usually three to five. No more than that. I mean, seriously, the audience just sat through your play and gave you feedback while watching it. They’ve been generous enough with their time. Ask a few things, but don’t grill them. Find out specifically what you want to know and get out.

Besides, most likely you already have some instincts about what you think is working and what isn’t. The audience will either confirm or deny it. Or maybe confuse you.

Oh, and one other important thing—don’t be defensive. Just listen. It costs you nothing to receive feedback, so absorb it. Even if you get some hard statements about the play. Take them in, evaluate them, and adjust if it works with your vision.

I’m already thinking about changes that could be made to my script and I will be spending the weekend going over my important questions.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Indy dances the Cannes Cannes!

No huge hollywood film has been to Cannes since the critics slaughtered The Da Vinci Code. Will Indy prevail against the evil critics?

Does it really matter?

I mean, seriously, even if the movie sucks (and hey, it might but I'll still feel giddy like a schoolboy when I go see it), it will still make more money its opening weekend than the GDP of Somalia*.

But Variety is calling it Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Critical Knives.

* I really don't know the GDP of Somalia but it sounds good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I am a Shakespeare tragedy


You are a hopeless romantic. Everything in your life is very dramatic, but you know that ultimately love will conquer all.

I don't know if this quiz is very accurate.

I always thought I was Hamlet or Taming of the Shrew.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Swell Season-You Ain't Goin' Nowhere-Wiltern 11/10/07

This is the Bob Dylan cover they did for the movie I'm Not There. This is the song I wish they'd played last week.

The Swell Season-Fogtown (Michelle Shocked)-Wiltern 11/10/07

I tried to post this before--this is one of the songs that The Swell Season played last week.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Time Enough to Dream

I am knee deep in the planning and research phase for my show in the fall, 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT.

The research phase is relatively easy. It’s just a matter of collecting information. I got books and research going on the atomic bomb, atomic testings, Oppenheimer, the Manhattan project, Kronos, Hesiod, Greek myths, masks, puppets, blues music, folk music, death, time, funerals, rituals, and theories about the end of the world. See? Easy to collect information. Sometimes you can have too much information.

The planning is much more difficult. Planning means making choices and as we all know, making choices is hard but its what making art is all about. Art is about what the artist decides to keep in the frame.

Somewhere in the early process, an artist needs to daydream. It’s hard to find time for that. Do you schedule it on your calendar? Most people think daydreaming is a bad thing. When we’re a kid sitting in algebra class, looking out the window and imagining other worlds (or just fantasizing about playing for the Yankees), we get yelled at by our teachers for not paying attention.

We’re told that dreamers aren’t doers.

Well, that’s all a bunch a crap.

You need to dream before you can do.

It's one of the best ways to get to your inner truth that lies in your subconscious. That's where the gold is. That's where YOU as an artist live. Otherwise you're just scratching at the surface. Playing it safe.

Some of my best work has come out of those times when my mind is left to wander. Times when I’m so bored by whatever I’m doing that my mind has just got to entertain itself somehow. I think this skill was cultivated in me at an early age when our family would drive four hours from Reno to San Jose to visit relatives for the weekend and then drive back again on Sunday night. This was before iPods and DVD players in the backseat. Sometimes I would listen to my Walkman (yes, I had a real Sony walkman with the old cassette tapes, that’s how freakin’ old I am…) and I let my mind wander, seeing images of characters and worlds act out stories in my mind’s eye. In a way it was like I was making mini-movies in my head.

Needless to say, I was not a very social child.


The point is that artists need their imagination. As Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Smart guy.

Take ten minutes today and go find a secret place to daydream. Don’t think.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Talent Means Nothing if You Don't Show Up to Work

So I got this strange message the other day on my voicemail:

“Hi, Dennis, are you there? Where are you? I, uh, well, I’m, y’know, haven’t been around for a bit, but…Well, (god I hate messages), but I’m, uh, just calling to see where you’re at…I looked for you at you computer, but you weren’t there which is too bad because I’ve got this really great idea I want to tell you about for a play. I went to the usual places, like the coffee shop, bookstore and even the golf course. You know I hate sending email, but…well, let me know when you’ll be around…or something…great. Hope to see you soon. You sure you’re not there…? No. Okay. Bye.”

At first I was a bit confused because the voice sounded really familiar to me but I couldn’t really place it.

It wasn’t my mom…or any of my friends…but…

Then I remembered…

It was the Muse

And man I hate not being around when she calls.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Make Art" Says the Irish Folksinger

Did you ever go to a concert and were disappointed because the musician/band just didn’t sound as good as they do on the CD?

Yeah, that so didn’t happen last night when we went to go see The Swell Season at The Moore Theater.

(The Swell Season is an Irish band fronted by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the actor/musicians who starred as Guy and Girl in the movie ONCE. If you haven’t seen that movie yet, you should totally go out and rent it. Their song, “Falling Slowly” won the Academy Award for Best Song. Not bad for some scrappy Irish folks making a movie on the fringe.)

Some people just have a presence on stage that is not always easily captured in any fixed medium.

It’s sorta like when you tell someone a story or a joke and then say, “I guess you had to be there…”

(Unless you’re a crappy storyteller, then that’s just an excuse.)

As a performer, Glen has immediate presence and connection with the audience. As does Marketa.

Maybe it has something to do with trusting your self. Or with trusting your material. Maybe its confidence.

Maybe it's indefinable.

Of course, this idea of presence is not just something related to music, but also to theater. Joseph Chaikin wrote a whole book about it (which everyone in theater should read). Some actors have immense presence and charisma while others are practically invisible. It’s not just talent or the fact that they are a star. It’s something else. It's awareness of the present moment. It's joy. It's focus and conentration.

It’s why when you videotape a theatrical show, it’s just not as good as the live version.

Oh, and on a personal note…

Last weekend I found out some disheartening news from my mom. Turns out all this time I’ve been thinking I was part Irish, but I’m not in the least bit Irish. My redheaded, firecracker of a grandmother is part Welsh. Not Irish.

That’s just not as much fun. You can’t call yourself “one of the fightin’ Welsh” or say that you’ve got “the luck of the Welsh”.

I’m still going to keep on celebrating me St. Patty’s Day, though!