Karen E. Quinones Miller

“When someone tells me “no,” it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.”
Karen E. Quinones Miller
          Some projects are harder to get through the keyhole than others.  When an agent, producer, actor, director, whoever — even the random reader/gatekeeper at some obscure contest,  offers up the dreaded “PASS” I go back to Ms. Miller’s universal thought and remind myself that each individual “Yes” is built on a mountain of “No’s.”no-1513027_1280
         When you have something you are passionate about, don’t give up.  Maybe it needs tweaking (nothing’s perfect, mind) but that means doing an overhaul not scrapping the entire thing.  My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh is job hunting.  A mountain of “no” has given her pause.  But now she is re-focusing her targets and about to get out there again.  That’s what we as emerging writers need to constantly do.
         Overhaul a project that is not resonating.  If you are not getting the meetings, fix your pitch.  If you are not getting the job, find out why.  It is a fairly easy thing to ask for an informational meeting to get an objective opinion of how you’re presentation works or does not.  There are even consultants who offer services to help you prepare for a dry run.  The Writers Store has a very reasonable ($49) prep session/pitch clinic with very nice consultants to provide constructive criticism.  The point is, “no” is not “never” it’s just, “not here, not now.”

 

Deep breath.  Put the “no” on the mountain.  Now try again with someone else.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from one emerging screenwriter

Crystal Fish is the script supervisor for my next short film. She is a lovely, intelligent, highly focused young woman with a strange obsession. I mean that literally. For her Thanksgiving holiday Crystal has forsaken family obligations of pumpkin pie and unboxing winter clothes. Instead she is binge-watching Netflix’s Stranger Things  on a continuous loop.

Netflix has officially overtaken HBO as my go-to channel. Yes, it is a strange new world when the home of Game of Thrones, Veep and John Oliver is no longer the first button I push when I can’t sleep at three o’clock in the morning, but there it is. The reason is Crystal’s humbling little show called Stranger Things. I have written about the joys of binge watching and how easy it is these days over all devices, but this. I bow to the clever writing. I quiver at the way the underlying adult psychodrama captivates me while I’m watching a story starring children. Stranger Things is about the search for a missing 12-year-old boy who disappears under the watchful eye of a government research facility in a small Midwestern town. The boy’s family and friends team up to find him and discover mysterious and supernatural freaky happenings at the government facility. This nostalgic series set in the 1980s uses child protagonists as stand-ins for the grown up target audience whose own adolescence was during that era.

The cast is stellar from newcomers like Millie Bobby Brown as an escapee from the facility with Carrie-like telekinetic powers to 1980s OG Winona Ryder as the missing boy’s mother. thThe spookiness reminds me of The X-files while the pre-teen adventure/mystery is not unlike The Goonies. What a combination. This is not your teenager’s binge. The science fiction show is all grown up and ready to rumble. Each episode layers in the idea of fear and trust and government shenanigans (sound familiar) and pulls you deeper into the strange conspiracy and its literal monster. It’s not scary like a horror, but grounded in a realism that makes sense in our changing and uncertain world of unknown dangers.  The web is abuzz with all kinds of theories and prognostications for season 2.  Emerging writers please note: when forty-something fanboys and girls actually cut their workout time in half to argue with strangers online over whether a badass preteen bald girl with telekinetic powers will destroy your fictional town in  Indiana, you know you have a hit.

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Everyone I know of voting age and registration is casting their ballot in 2016.  The phrase, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain” has never been more apt.  But this Douglas Adams quotes is the right punctuation to a very, very long election.

Douglas Adams
“The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Regardless of how you feel about the candidates.  Regardless of how you feel about the issues.  Regardless of how busty your life is.  A democracy runs on the voice of people, so why silence yourself?  No excuses, just go vote.  And yeah, whoever is elected is not a perfect choice, but they want so maybe (just maybe) they will do a good one.

Follow your passion. The rest will attend to itself. If I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s possible. And it’s your turn. So go for it. It’s never too late to become what you always wanted to be in the first place.
  –  J. Michael Straczynski
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Not only inspirational, but true.  It’s your turn.  And mine.  Now.  Because it is never too late.
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If you don’t know the Changeling screenwriter and Babylon 5 creator check out this discussion from The New York Film Academy…

Dear Gayle–

Between the 2016 Presidential election, Hurricanes Matthew & Nicole and the inexplicable success of Issa Rae with HBO’s Insecure I realize you are so busy assessing the damage that you may not have had time to see the new movie of your favorite book of 2015, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. I saw that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a shocking splat at 44%. What gives?

–E.G.

Dear E.G.,

Your observation is spot on. I do spend time contemplating how it is far more likely for an emerging screenwriter to be groped by Donald Trump than it is to become an internet cult sensation and handed a premium cable series as is the case for Ms. Rae. (Right time, right place, right message, right demographic. It ain’t rocket science, it’s lightning in a bottle). In between my seasonal preserve canning and frequent trips to the Wine Barn, I did manage to catch a showing of what I had hoped would be my favorite film of the year. In fact I don’t even know why anyone is talking about e-mails or tax loopholes – blah, blah, blah – Emily Blunt is terrific. Unfortunately, the film is not. I don’t think I am overstepping my bounds to say that director Tate Taylor (The Help) and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) should be put into their own basket of deplorables for the disservice they did to such luxuriant mommy porn-ready source material.

The problem with The Girl on the Train is its partner in suburban chic chick-lit with “Girl” in the title – Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s electric 2012 mystery thriller. (Yes, it was my favorite novel that year). Both books center on the disappearances of beautifully bored icy blonde wives in good-from-afar marriages. As the pages turn and multiple narrators reveal what it is like to be inside these too perfect to be true lives, it is a reminder to the reader that the American dream of suburban bliss can become a nightmare. Especially if you are married to a bitch.

What makes most stories about middle class malaise work is the underlying social commentary. The grass isn’t always greener. We live that now. Upside down mortgages. Unaffordable health care. Student Loan interest rates that prevent a dream trip to Tuscany. Check out the people you went to high school with on Facebook. All those smiling vacation photos of happy families, you know at least one of them is self-medicating. The message in both novels is clear – what lies beneath the facade of Heaven is 3,500 square feet of Hell. And what better way to unleash hell than psychological suspense?

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The comparison ends there.  Both films are faithful to their sources.  However, where Gone Girl gets it right is the underlying context of women’s role in society. The illusion of who girls want to be when they grow up. As satire it is a biting indictment of the root of sociopathy in suburbia. Most women are not Cool Girl. Even Cool Girl is not cool. She’s twisted. Seriously – Amazing Amy is fucked up. And I mean that in the best possible way.

It is exactly what The Girl on the Train did wrong. The films can be described with adjectives like treachery, psychotic and murderous. All desirable for a thriller, but a good sociopath needs more than a few plot twists turned on unreliable narration. This movie doesn’t offer a surprising plot twist. It barely throws in a red herring suspect with the therapist, who we know is not guilty from the jump – so what was the point? A good thriller would have framed him like Flynn did Desi in Gone Girl to either keep us guessing or see who is truly twisted and how.

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arrows-151635_1280When my little friend Dave was a child, he went hiking with his family and saw what he swears is Bigfoot. After spending weeks searching the newspapers and watching TV for any information to no avail, he came to the conclusion that the government is hiding the ten foot tall man-beast in the redwoods of northern California. Since then, Dave has become a self-proclaimed expert in conspiracy theories. In both life and on screen. His ideal vacation spot is Area 51. He studies The DaVinci Code like it’s the Zapruder film. Bless his heart.

In our writers group he’s working on a non-linear script. He likes to shake things up. My little friend Dave is great at giving notes to shake up scripts. He can pick scenes apart and re-order them to deconstruct the plot and reveal character. His (amazing) note to me is blowing my mind. My first draft of an indie feature was written as a logical, character-driven, straight forward drama. I pitched it as Romeo & Juliet with a twist. It’s a nice little script about a shooting, if there can be something nice about getting shot, but it’s nothing that will set the world ablaze. Which is not good for an emerging screenwriter. Dave’s solution to my nice little dilemma is to deconstruct the way the audience sees the story by telling it in reverse chronology. In short: I need to shake things up.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016. I had come home at about 8 pm and when I walked in the door I found at least two dozen dead fruit flies on the floor below my front window. The window was open, but there is no hole in the screen. So where did the flies come from and why are they dead?  It was seriously some American Horror Story A+ level freaky shit.  I was so focused on that I forgot to even turn the television on.  After I triple bleached and disinfected my home, I took a nuclear grade Silkwood shower to bleach and disinfect myself.  Finally, I had calmed down enough to settle into the last moments of prime time.  Turning on the TV I saw one of my new favorite actors, Rami Malek from Mr. Robot making an acceptance speech and I realized this is the Emmys, and it was almost over.  Oops.  I missed it.  Then I thought, “What else is on?”  As a viewer, fair enough, but as an emerging television writer, to not care about the TV industry’s big do is so wrong, right?

TV by the numbers cites the viewership for the 68th annual prime time Emmy Awards at 11.3 million.  Down from last year’s 11.7 million and a far cry from 2013’s 17.6 million (I think host  Neil Patrick Harris had a lot to do with that one).  So I am not the only viewer with my finger on the remote.  The reasons are way too obvi – #1 Football.  Who cares about rich celebrities and talented creative types in fancy dress when the Packers are playing the Vikings?  #2 It’s the Emmys.  The night where the TV academy salutes its brightest shiny objects while the rest of us stretch out on the sofa contemplating returning to our underpaid, overworked jobs.  It has no value for a viewer not invested in the nominees.  Sure, we love Julia Louis-Dreyfus and are happy to see her win (again) for HBO’s fabulous and funny VEEP but she is not really the President and cannot really improve our lot in life with a witty and heartfelt acceptance speech.  The “celebrities, they have families just like us” trope doesn’t cut it when you have to fight with the unemployment office for your check.

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tv-627876_1280Welcome to the digital revolution. Yeah, I know we have been in the digital revolution for some time. Cable and satellite TV have been overthrown by the likes of Roku and AppleTV. Only half of the people I know still have a land line telephone. You know you’re old when your child refuses to believe telephones use to have wires that plugged into the wall. “That’s what those plugs are for, baby.” But the major gut busting change is streaming movies and television shows on all of your devices: TV, computer, tablet, mobile… Think of it. No longer do we have to rush home for appointment viewing. We can watch the latest Game of Thrones episode in line at the DMV. In America, our forefathers and mothers fought world wars and domestic terror for the right to vote for our elected representatives, to marry the person of our choice, and to skip commercials. No, I’m not crying, I just have something in my eye. Read More →

I am the first to admit that I am not over my ex. He broke up with me because he is an immature waste of space who is too stupid to see that I was the best thing about his whole ridiculous existence. But I may be biased. Actually, he said I didn’t support him enough – whatever that means. I know I’m better off without him. Who needs a three bedroom tract house in Chatsworth, spending weekends checking the pH in the pool and buying pizza rolls in bulk at Costco? Besides, if we married I would have had to change my name to “Mrs. Auto Parts Store Assistant Manager” and that’s too long to fit on a business card.

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I prefer my air-conditioned cave at the intersection of Independent Career Gal and Hot Chick Who Can Do Better. Not really, but I make it work. When you lose something you have come to rely on it’s hard to move on. You have to make it work. Somehow. It’s natural to go through the stages. You blame yourself for not being able to continue. You blame them for not compromising. You hate them. You love them. You hate that you love them. And you look for something to replace the pain. I feel the same way about my break up with Final Draft.

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happy-1085352_1920Lili Loofbourow’s review of the HBO comedy Vice Principals in The Week brings up a point emerging screenwriters need to think about.  Assholes.  Anti-heroes are commonly without valor.  The skilled writer/actor/director combo is able to give this branded a-hole enough rope to re-brand and bring the audience around.  Think Walter White, Dexter Morgan or Tony Soprano.  Even if your character dies at the end, the audience tuned in each week for the next installment of motherfuckery. For a comedy there’s less death, but more public shaming like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm.  We secretly admire Sue Sylvester’s fearless cruelty in Glee, but she can’t be the lead.  No, for a lead to be an asshole it’s definitively a 10 in degree of difficulty. So should it be attempted by someone new to the game?

A-holes are anti-heroes, but all anti-heroes are not a-holes.  We watch characters who are awful people because they are interesting.  The anti-hero is someone who has a huge learning curve from rotten to saved by love or rotten to dead.  Interesting story and good acting will sell that every time.  A character with no redeeming moral or social value has nowhere to go.

With its casual racism, misogyny, and mean-spiritedness I would normally not give Vice Principals the time of day.  But the polarizing effect of these two major fucking douchebags makes me think there is a big takeaway for writers.  The premise is two high school vice principals are put out when neither of them is promoted to the job of principal in favor of a thoroughly qualified outsider.  Nice enough, right?  But when you throw in the specifics: They are in South Carolina and the outsider from Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); they are men and she is a woman; they are white and she is black; they are er– educated enough and she has a doctorate.  Enough for  comedy gold, but in the first few episodes these writers take the easy swings with offensive and insulting stereotypes… and whiff.

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