Let’s Make A Movie

Let’s Make A Movie

“Ricordati che è un film comico.”*Frederico Fellini

 

To say that the last year has been a weird one would be a huge understatement. On the creative front, I’m keeping up where I can. If I can carve out some time to write, I will.

I’ve always talked about making a movie, and in the last couple of weeks I’ve taken the legitimate first steps toward doing it. As part of my USC M.F.A. application I had to submit a 10-page sample of work. It didn’t have to be in any particular form, but because I applied to their School of Cinematic Arts, I wanted to push myself and write a screenplay, something which I had never done before.

I took fragments of writing that I’ve been working on for some time, and through some process that seemed like divination, conjured up a story. FUTURE PERFECT, an idea that was meant to be a book, has now become the first 10-pages of a screenplay.

You can download it by clicking any of the links below.

What’s next? First, write more of course, but more important would be to see what I could do with these short scenes in a 3-dimensional way. The whole process has been very informative.

So, here’s throwing it out to the Universe. Let’s make a movie.

DOWNLOAD | 10-page-Writing-Sample

DOWNLOAD | 10-page-Writing-Sample

DOWNLOAD | 10-page-Writing-Sample

DOWNLOAD | 10-page-Writing-Sample


*“Remember, this is a comedy.

Modern Logic

Modern Logic

fiction – 

I’m searching for a ghost that I’m afraid to see.

I used to look for it by driving familiar streets and boulevards late at night, each one imbued with its own collection of myths. I was fond of the one where we drove to the ocean and listened to oldies on the radio. I miss that one.

I was attempting, forcing maybe, the reconstruction of a trace of an image as simple as the one where we’re in the park in the afternoon and the lady in the wheelchair near the tree gets upset with us for smoking on the swings.

The effort of forcing a memory though is not good practice, and attempting to use willpower to draw silhouettes on the present scene misses out on the subtleties experienced through undivided attention.

I’m talking about ghosts, but not in the way that we usually talk about ghosts.

They exist beneath the polished surface of the material world and are often locked within the layered problems of memory. Their projection can be triggered by even the most casual movements in time.

Moments at which the present narrative and a memory become entangled and together form a new and original experiment. Ghosts then play over our surroundings, like holograms or movies.

The blue fabric chair in the corner, you on it, reading your Japan travel guide in the afternoon light. The lamp with the paper shade, casting a shadow over the small orange skull with a half burned wick on top. The French doors open and the air moving through the room and the sound of the leaves rustling outside.

The night we slept on the couch, when your husband was out of town.

I go back to old places late at night, in the city, on its edges. Sometimes as far as the suburbs if I’m looking to stretch the feeling. On highways and freeways, connecting the electric metropolis of organized chaos when I stitch together a narrative in the dark.

I change the radio dial and get off the 10 somewhere and go to 7-11 for a pack of cigarettes and the drive to the place on Broadway where we would meet each other late at night for a drink, but I don’t find any trace of you.

I draw on a napkin and then fold it and put it in my pocket.

One day, I sat in the patio of the empty café, listening for the sound of your black ballerina flats moving in my direction. I remember those same flats moving across a checkerboard floor, your shoulders back, chin tilted slightly up with just a hint of arrogance. Like a perfect picture dancer caught in time. How beautiful you looked.

All you needed was a rose to match your red lipstick and this image channels Wim Wenders and his classic Polaroids of Perris, Texas.

How do you search through a labyrinth? What are the strategies and why should I trust them?

What can I do to forget you?

The Museum

The Museum

fiction –

I believe that there are physical places in this world that are able to mine the ghosts that exist deep inside ourselves. That are able to pull back the layers and reveal an undiscovered country. A place which exists in our bones. In our marrow. In our soul.

There is a lonely bar on the edge of this country, with a spherical red light casting its shadow on the green felt of a pool table, and an old jukebox in the corner plays all of our favorite songs, a couple, in love, eternally slow dancing next to it, and that’s when it gets real bad. Or maybe real good.

Like a mirror, these places reflect the raw ingredients of emotion and draw out an artifact of a memory. Play it like a movie projected onto the three-dimensional space in front of us. A mythology built, like a fire, from the combustible mix of history (the remembered) and forgetting (the forgotten).

The characters in these myths, the specters in these memories, emerge from physical relationships between objects which together weave something like a dream. And on the edge of this dream exists a perfectly good nightmare, ready to be picked like a ripe fruit.

Observing and cataloging examples of these places, a time-tested method, allows a natural understanding to develop. This process lets us build the scaffolding, a precision tool, for the work, an artistic product.

Through the heavy lifting of memory, a thoroughly difficult task, we come to see that they, these places, don’t necessarily have to be objectively horrible to have ghosts. They don’t have to be war zones or crises rooms in hospitals or encampments of the forgotten and the dejected on the fringes of cities. The far away and the unknown and the unknowable.

Neighborhoods which fight to resist the avalanche of time and change are the first examples which come to mind, but even they can be tinted with anxieties which alter an organic emergence. Anxieties which doom a natural curiosity.

More examples follow: late afternoon walks down tree lined streets, fingers crossed behind backs; early morning commutes, full of small battles for quick moving ground; reading the Obituaries in the California section of the Sunday Times, a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.

But these images fail under careful scrutiny. Why? They are static and sidestep a more granular reflection and analysis.

They lack a narrative development, a sort of patient nothingness, required in order to create real ghosts, and that takes time. So, like in a bad film, craft is used in our memories as a substitute for feeling.

This keeps the horror at a distance, and we are protected once again. Standing at the line demarcating bullshit and the truth. An infinite firewall that we can never see through.

But if they are not these places, then what are? Where do they exist? Where do we find them?

I don’t know, and I’m not sure, but I can tell you that searching for evidence and presenting it as truth is bad logic, because truth can be a slippery thing.

What I find interesting, and what is unexpected – what we’re less prepared to deal with if prepared at all – is when horror isn’t actually seen as horror at all, but at first as something beautiful.

When the birth of chaos comes from order. When the ghosts are found sitting right in front of us in the garden, bathed in the warm happy glow of daylight.

We rarely expect to see horror and ghosts in beautiful things, in beautiful places, so we are ill prepared for their presence when they rear their ugly head.

Brother

Brother

fiction

I’m walking down 8th and Olive in the hot afternoon and I stop at the corner of the street, waiting for the light to change, and when it does I look both ways and step off the curb. A girl in a red skirt and a flower in her hair passes swiftly by, and when I step onto the curb again I feel the phone in my back pocket begin to vibrate.    

I answer.

“Hey little bro,” he says to me, and then, “hang on. Hang on just a sec.”

I walk into the old hotel and toward the elevator doors and step inside before they close.

I wait in silence for what seems like a small eternity, surrounded by three mirrored walls trimmed with red velvet, and then the doors open and I walk out toward the doorway, still on hold, the blue sky and the tops of buildings cut out in a rectangle. I step through the door and the sound of traffic comes back within earshot and a car honks and the breeze on the roof is punctuated by the accent of a slow beat from the speakers near the pool.

He comes back on the line.

“Hey, sorry about that. So, what did you want to talk about?”

I think carefully for a moment before answering. “I don’t know,” I say, “Everything. Nothing.”

There’s a silence on the other end.

“Well, I don’t know what you really had in mind by calling earlier, but thanks,” he says.

“Not a problem”, I say.

“Have you talked to the parents?” he asks me.

“Yeah, I call Dad or he’ll call me when he gets the chance. It’s not scheduled or anything. Just when he can or when I can.”

“Good, he says,” sternly. There is a skepticism in his tone.

“What about you?” I ask him.

“What about me what?” He replies.

“Have you talked to the parents?”

“Everyday,” he says, without hesitation, and then continues, “I call the house at 8:30 every night. Just to check in, you know.”

“Mm-hmm,” I sound out.

I hear someone talking to him in the background.

“So, what did you want to talk to me about really?” he asks, present again.

“What’s the rush?” I ask him. “I thought we had we had some time. You never answer when I call.”

“There’s no rush,” he says, ”I just have to get through the next chunk of work so that I can move on from it, you know. There’s this project that my group is working on, so gotta’ talk to the team and triple check work and write reports and rinse and repeat to make it all happen again tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that I guess,” I say.

“Funny,” he says, dryly, but still aware of the joke.

“So what about you funny guy?” He asks this seriously, and I imagine him with his forearms on the edge of his desk, hands crossed in front of him. He takes a moment in the space between the next question. “What have you been doing?”

“To be honest with you,” I say, “what I’ve been doing feels like a whole bunch of bullshit.”

He doesn’t say anything after I say this, as if waiting for me to say more, so I continue.

“I guess I thought that by doing this, I would be doing exactly what I wanted to do, which is to make art and be out in the world and meet people. To live that dream I guess, but it’s a big task, and right now I feel like I’m drowning.”

I can hear him breathe on the other side.

“The more I get into it,” I add, “the more that I do it, the more that it feels like I left a career for something fickle and vain.”

“It’s all transitory,” he says. “I wouldn’t worry too much about the fickleness of it little brother. We’re all just passengers, passing through.”

“About vanity though” he adds, “I don’t really know what to tell you. It can get you a lot, for sure, if you put in the work, but it can be a drain on someone like you.”

“I don’t think I understand where I want to be right now, so I have to ask myself if I was wrong.

“Mm-hmm,” he says.

“What’s the point, you know?” I tell him.

“You have you to stop digging your own grave,” he says.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“You have to stop with all of this what’s the point bullshit,” he says, “that’s the real bullshit that you should be worried about Julian.”

“Well then, what the fuck am I supposed to talk to you about then?”

“Calm down,” he says, “Look. I don’t want to press you on this, just keep that in mind, but I’m not selling it to you as advice either. Just something to consider.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I know.”

“See,” he says, “you say that, but I don’t think that you actually know Julian. And even how you said it gave me the impression that you don’t actually believe that you know either.”

“So now you care?” I tell him, and then neither of us says a word.

“The grass is always greener on the other side,” he says, “And unfortunately, the only people that can convince us of anything are ourselves.”

I clear my throat a little.

“True conviction,” he adds.

“I just don’t want flail and wander about my life and do everything halfway and then leave it for later,” I say.

“Then don’t leave it for later,” he says.

“I’m trying,” I tell him.

“There’s a huge problem with that though,” he says, “trying.”

“There is no try in this game Julian,” he says, “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this. There is no time for the good old College try.”

I listen.

“Life itself is simply too important,” he continues, “but you know that and I don’t need to remind you of that.”

“That can be another conversation,” I say.

“Sure,” he says, and then, “just think about it first please. Don’t just wing it.”

“I just want to ride into the sunset,” I say.

He eases up and I can see him shaping a smile on the other side.

“Be serious,” he says.

“I just don’t know what I’m doing,” I say. “And I don’t know why I’m doing it and I feel like I’m wasting my time.”

He lets out a big sigh on the other end of the line.

“Look,” he says, “I have to go, but it was good talking to you brother. All I’m going to tell you is that you’re smart, you’re good looking, and you got the drive, but I don’t think you’re using your brain in the way that it should be used. You’re wasting it everyday.”

“You have an OK head on your shoulders,” he tells me, “but it needs to be better. You need to be better Julian.”

“Yeah,” I say, “thanks.”

“You got a lot of potential kid, but you’re wasting your time in that city.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say.

“Next time you call me,” he says, “please have whatever you’re going to tell me ready, if not, no offense little brother, but don’t waste my time.”

I don’t say anything.

“Just keep that in mind, please,” he says.

“Alright duder,” I say, “I’ll talk you later. Love you man.”

“Love you too little bro,” he says, and then he hangs up.

The Biggest Little City in the West

The Biggest Little City in the West

essay 

Laughlin

How and when this happened, I don’t know, but as we walked through the casino floor on Saturday night, I had a revelation – this is how America see’s itself. Not in the glitz and shine of places like New York, LA, or Vegas, but in the roughness that this land still holds onto. That it can’t seem to shake. You can see it in the eyes of the people sitting behind slot machines, standing in elevators, serving you food at a restaurant.

Bordering on the edge of obscurity, yet still bound – stitched together might describe the situation more accurately – by the deep current of capitalism which feeds the machine. Helps it grow, regardless of circumstance, and breathes a sense of order into the most minimal of resources. And people come from far and wide to see.

It plays the hand that it’s dealt, and even though it’s not pretty, it still tries.

It’s founder, Don Laughlin, owned an early piece of the Vegas pie – the 101 club in the sixties – and one day, while taking a survey of this region, looked down from his airplane and saw this, where the mighty Colorado river separates Nevada from Arizona, and the potential for so much more. He bought and gathered and built and the neighboring town of Bullhead City, AZ grew with the industry from new casinos along the rivers edge. A thing was started and what was once nothing became something.

On a night like this, old Cholos from Gardena – still in love with their hynas, still down for cruising Whittier Blvd – two step to Ice Cube as if that feeling had never disappeared, just went away for a while. Someone with a Raiders jersey talks to someone else in a white T-shirt and a Dodgers hat in front of a bucket of beer. This is the extension of Saturday night backyard parties. A tall and thin blonde lady – almost too tall and too thin – dances between a man wearing a basketball jersey and a fedora, and her much shorter brunette friend.

Watching all of this unfold is like watching a tightrope walker make a journey between two buildings. You hold your breathe and hope that he doesn’t fall, yet a secret part of you, kept well hidden until moments like these, hopes that he does.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I first got here, but I was open to the strangeness of a new and off the radar sort of experience, after all who goes to Laughlin to look for culture? But I’m glad that I found it, glad that it exists. Glad that someone said, Fuck that over there, and this is mine and made something out of it.

It’s weird and barren and sits at the base of a large valley, surrounded by a martian range of jagged rock, but it exists. People agreed to take the time to make it happen.

And now I’m here.

Saturday afternoon was spent wandering through old Casinos and some important things came to me. First, why are people here? And second, why am I here?

A pool at a friends hotel, where we went to cool down, was filled with families – black and white and brown – each under their umbrellas and with varied collections of drinks and snacks and music for their experience.

We stretched in the sun and laid out, getting the color that we deem necessary in our search for better health.

After this, a buffet that had a sliver of every culture represented and two margaritas per person was our destination. I walked into it with a can of Coors Light in my right hand and waited behind a red rope to be seated and no one batted an eye.

The margaritas got to us a little too quickly, so back in the room, we slept until dark and then made our way down the riverwalk and through hotels, now bursting at the seams with lights, to a club at The Golden Nugget. This moment is when things began to make sense. It’s one-hundred degrees at ten o’ clock at night.

On Sunday morning, we rented a wave runner from Malow’s on the Boulder City side of the river, and zipped around for a bit until we headed downriver to another stretch of hotels.

Nat drove and kept it steady and we watched the structures change from large planned environments to orderly  well-kept houses to mansions to nothing, back to wild again. On the water, everything that happened here had a purpose, and it was because of this. This river turned a guess into a question and that question into an answer.

I had a conversation with someone at the buffet table, and he asked me if I thought that these people – the ones who started this place, the ones who still live here, the ones that want to live here – pitched their tents too early? I thought about this while chewing through a piece of tough steak and then replied, absolutely, but what do I know? I am on a high horse and I come from a big city.

From the point of view of the wave runner, there were the visible remnants of half completed dreams on either side of the water, but there were also examples of those who finished and who now live with the simple task of enjoying what they have and taking pride in it. Even if it was hard, there was no giving up.

At a beach stop, outside of a hotel called the Avi, about 20 miles from where we started, we parked the on a shore filled with people hanging out under their canopies, as if it were any other Sunday at the park. Music in Spanish came out at full volume from one somewhere in the shade, and we headed toward the building, out of the sun.

In the food court, like any court in any mall, standing in line for Panda Express, we had a conversation with an older black lady who moved here from LA when she retired in 1999. We never asked her name directly, but she handed it to us freely, with no hesitation, in a story about her grandkids and how they keep in touch with her and how she enjoys watching them grow together.

We asked about her family and she told us names and ages and events. Grandma Pearl. She told us that she loved people, young and old, and that she’s glad that her grandkids are doing so much better than she imagined and that her children are educated and visit Mom when they get the chance. She told us about how you couldn’t have nice things in the part of the city where they all grew up and that this place, minus the heat, is better.

Before she went off to her Sunday Bingo game, she offered to pay for our food and we knew that she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we thanked her and obliged the courtesy. At the register, Grandma Pearl told the girl behind it that she still needed to bring those See’s candies for her. Kelly smiled and said Thank you.

We ate slowly and talked a little and when we were done, while we were figuring out what our next move was going to be, Natalie opened her fortune and read aloud some words about Charisma, and then I opened mine and it said something along the lines of, Work harder for the things that you want. I kept that in mind.

Driving home later, through the desert during the peak of a blazing Sunday afternoon, searching what looks to be an almost endless highway beaming into the horizon, I think about how I’m just about to hit my stride.

Grandma

Grandma

fiction –

Song, Artist, Album, Year

Song: Any Color You Like

Artist: Pink Floyd

Album: Dark Side of The Moon

Year: 1973

Grandma

Grandma is buried in Rose Hills, far East of Downtown, a beautiful and rolling piece of land from which you can see the entire LA basin stretched between Palos Verdes and the San Gabriel Mountains. There is a peacefulness in this place, a gentle calm, overlooking everything. We would park near the top of the hill on afternoons during High School and then climb the old water tower and watch the sun set and the city in the distance illuminate the dark.

Grandma was born in a small Texas town in the early 20’s and came West not long after that, in her adolescence, to treat her tuberculosis. Doctors told my great-grandparents that she had only a forty percent chance of survival, so she spent three years in isolation at Olive View Sanitarium in the 30’s in order to recuperate. She was quarantined that entire time, so the crucial moment between fourteen and seventeen was spent without a physical connection to her family.

I remember I used to ask her about how the city was like during the 40’s and the 50’s, and she would tell me stories about how her and her friends would go to Downtown, to Broadway, to the old Dance Halls and Theaters, and stay up later than they were supposed to.

She told me about how she met Grandpa while they were both tenants of an apartment complex on Vermont. Her, working during the day as a secretary, and him, behind the switchboard on the night shifts at a radio station.

They could only see each other in passing, so they left letters under one another’s doors in order to talk. To communicate.

They grew together in this way, and she wrote once I will always be thinking of you, even in dreams. ”That’s all that it took for your Grandpa,” she told me, “to know I was his.”

“He was a good man,” she would say, “he built this house,” and then she would point down to the floor in the kitchen where we sat. She would tell me that he was loving and affectionate and cared deeply for his three boys. I remember her looking at me and saying,” You would have loved him, he was such a good man,” and then taking an almond cookie from the plate, the same cookies that my friend Maggie Chien had introduced me to in middle school.

I remember sitting in my Grandmothers kitchen and talking to her about these things. And then sometimes we would just sit and listen to the sounds of the birds and the windchimes outside and then she would call her little dog, “Tiny! Tiny!,” she would say, and the little Pomeranian would jingle on over with his small head tilted to the side and his tongue sticking out from between his crooked teeth. The protector of her heart in the quiet moments.

I think about these things as I ride East on the 60 and down the 605 and then exit and make my way toward the cemetery. I come here less frequently now, but somehow it’s always on my mind.

I miss her, I think. I really do.

When I arrive, I turn the engine off and untie my bag from the rack and then make my way through the maze of headstones from different times and move in the direction of my Grandparents.