Tuesday, February 26, 2013

If you've ever wanted to write an episode of the Twilight Zone, this is for you!

The Rod Serling Short Script Competition is accepting entries:
Entries are now being accepted for the Rod Serling Conference's Short Feature Scriptwriting competition. The conference is scheduled for November 2013 in Los Angeles.

The script competition is open to non-produced or non-optioned writers only. The deadline for entries is Monday, April 15, 2013.

First Place: $250
Second Place: $150
Third Place: $100

The Top 5 will be read by Carol Serling.

For complete rules and submissions guidelines, click here.

Serling taught at Ithaca College from 1967 until his death in 1975. Ithaca College is also home to the Rod Serling Archives consisting of television scripts, movie screenplays, stage play scripts, films, published works by Serling, unproduced scripts, and secondary materials. 
Per the official rules, entries should be "in the same genre and spirit that would have been suitable to conform with episodes for either The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery.  More specifically this means displaying traits of either a horror or a science fiction genre, while exhibiting strong traditional or contemporary social themes."  To help out, they kindly provide a sample Night Gallery script, Class of '99.

I was also thrilled to learn that the Rod Serling Conference will be in L.A. this year.  Hopefully the Brother and I can score tickets.

Updated 4/16/13: The deadline for entries has been extended to April 30.  And I for one am glad to hear it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Just because I don't believe in karma doesn't mean I don't know it when I see it

Just posted this on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, but thought it deserved to be immortalized on my beloved little blog that no one reads:
Am I the only one who thinks it's hi-freaking-larious that Hollywood invites Michelle Obama of all non-legendary industry people to present Best Pic...and she has to give it to a film about a guy who busts his ass & risks his life to save endangered American Embassy workers in the Middle East? Argo is a great film, but it just had to win just for this!
Well played, karma.  Much more of this and I may actually have to believe in you.

Friday, February 22, 2013

AND WE'RE OFF!!! Short Story Challenge of 2013 is up and running!

The emails have arrived!  I am in heat (group) number 22 and here is our assignment:

Genre: Romance
Subject: Baking
Character: A repairman or repairwoman

We have until March 2 to submit our short stories of no more than 2,500 words in order to make it to the next round, where we will have a new assignment of fewer words and less time.  Followed by the final of yet another assignment and even less time, but first things first.  Let's get on this assignment.

There are 32 entrants in group 22 and only the Top Five will advance to the next round.  And despite the genre (not a favorite), I can work with this.  Because strangely enough this plays into a crime story with cooking elements that's been on my back burner recently.  And then there's this old cake recipe with a kinda creepy but awesomely moist ingredient...not to mention Grandma Loomis recipes (nobody could cook like that woman)...but I digress...

This is going to be a boatload of fun.  Huge honking thanks to NYC Midnight for sponsoring this and best of luck to my fellow short story writers!

So much fun!!!

Self-Publishing webinar

Last Monday NaNoWriMo hosted "So You Want to Self-Publish", a webinar with successful self-published authors Sarra Cannon and Hugh Howey, along with Amanda Wilson of KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).  To say it provided a wealth of information and education about self-publishing would be the understatement of the year.  If you have any interest in or curiosity about self-publishing, the webinar, now available online, is well worth 90 minutes of your time.

Self-publishing (or vanity publishing) used to be considered largely the domain of writers who couldn't actually get published by a legitimate publishing house and therefore would pay to have their books produced.  In addition to the stigma it was also very costly.  In addition to the cost of actually publishing the book, authors would generally be required to buy a specific (large) number of books, many of which would end up unsold and undistributed.

In the past few years, as mentioned in the webinar, that stigma has definitely fallen away.

The panel discusses a number of issues including different types of formats (digital, hard copies and audio versions), editorial services, pricing, cover art and promotion.

Note: During the live webinar the sound/video sync was off by a couple of seconds, which wasn't much of an issue.  In the recorded version, it's waaaay off, so you might want to just use the audio if they don't get it fixed.  You'll still get all the invaluable info we got during the live version.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Screening: Sunset Boulevard at the Alex Theatre

The classic Sunset Boulevard was screened Saturday night at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale as part of a tribute to director Billy Wilder.

Sunset Boulevard (Paramount, 1950)
Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson
Directed by Billy Wilder
Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Writing (Story & Screenplay), Best Music/Score and Best Art/Set Direction (Black & White)
Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Holden), Best Actress (Swanson), Best Supporting Actor (von Stroheim), Best Supporting Actress (Olson), Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography (Black & White)

Joe Gillis (Holden) is a failed screenwriter on the verge of having his car repossessed and his Hollywood dreams dashed.  While trying to evade the repo men, a blown tire sends him into the driveway of a seemingly deserted old Hollywood mansion that turns out to be occupied by forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond (Swanson) and her devoted butler Max (von Stroheim).

Norma Desmond was once one of the greatest stars in Hollywood, but those days were ended by sound.  But while the world has moved on, time has stood still for Norma.  Her home is still decorated in the fashion of her Hollywood heyday and is a shrine to Norma Desmond, movie star, littered with countless pictures of Norma in her heyday and a screening room where only her old films are shown.  She even retains the exotic, expensive car purchased during her glory days - a leopard upholstered 1929 Issota-Fraschini.

Norma is under the delusion that fans eagerly await her return to the screen and she plots her comeback with a film version of Salome that she has written herself.  When she discovers that Joe is a screenwriter she ropes him into reading the self-indulgent, horrifically written script, which she plans on sending to her former director, Cecil B. DeMille.  Broke and in debt, Joe leads Norma into hiring him to polish the script for her.  But he has no idea what he's getting into, as Norma becomes increasingly controlling and infatuated with him, while keeping him financially dependent on her.  As the months pass, Norma's desperate desire to reclaim her stardom pushes her further away from reality.  When Joe falls for a beautiful young aspiring screenwriter (Olson) while working on a script with her behind Norma's back, deadly jealousy sends the former star completely over the edge.

Sunset Boulevard is merciless in its portrayal of the cruelty Hollywood can inflict on those desperate for its approval.  When Norma shows up on DeMille's set to discuss Salome, one of his crew comments, "Norma Desmond?  I thought she was dead."  Another cracks, "She must be a million years old."  They don't mean to be cruel, but the comments reinforce the reality that Norma's days in the spotlight are long gone.  DeMille, while fond of Norma, doesn't have the heart to tell her that Salome - still an awful script - is never going to happen, especially not with her in the youthful title role.  And in a particularly cruel twist, it turns out that the phone calls coming from Paramount - which Norma believes to be DeMille's attempts to set up the project - turn out to be from another producer on the lot who spotted the unusual Issota-Fraschini and wants to rent it for a Bing Crosby movie.

Norma is 100% movie star, in every aspect of her life, even after her stardom has long passed.  Her whole life is a performance.  She is incapable of moving on without the adoration of "those wonderful people out there in the dark" and it is her undoing.  It doesn't help that the devoted Max (who in a particularly disturbing scene, is revealed to not only be a former director of Norma's who originally discovered her, but also her first husband) plays along with her delusion in an attempt to protect her fragile psyche.  It is Max who writes the fan letters that keep alive Norma's dreams of returning to the screen and Max who refuses confirm the real reason for the calls from Paramount.  And in the end, after Norma has completely broken with reality, it is Max who directs her down the staircase as news cameras roll, culminating in the famous line, "All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup."  But it is her comments a few moments earlier: "This is my life...there's nothing else...," that tell you everything you need to know about Norma Desmond and why she was unequipped to deal with life outside the Hollywood spotlight.

Some Sunset Boulevard facts and trivia:
  • The original opening scene had Joe Gillis in the morgue sharing the strange tale of his demise with his fellow corpses, but it flopped with test audiences and was replaced with Gillis floating in the pool.  The Sunset Boulevard DVD includes the "Morgue Prologue" script pages, along with corresponding footage.  The clips are silent because the sound elements have been lost.
  • Gloria Swanson almost passed on the film because Wilder wanted her to do a screen test.  Luckily she was eventually persuaded to test by George Cukor, who had recommended her to Wilder for the role.
  • The exterior of Norma's residence was a real house, not located on the titular street, but on the corner of S. Irving Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard, about six miles east of where the house's movie address (10086 Sunset Boulevard) would have placed it.  The house did not have a swimming pool, so one was installed for the film.  The mansion also appeared in Rebel Without a Cause.  In typical Los Angeles style, the house was eventually torn down and an office building now sits on the site.  Interiors were shot on a sound stage.
  • Joe's residence, the Alto Nido apartments, was also a real location and the apartments are still there, located at 1851 N. Ivar Street in Hollywood.  It "opened in 1930 as Hollywood's Premiere Apartment Hotel primarily for actors".  I briefly considered checking it out when I was apartment hunting and thinking about staying in Hollywood, but they don't allow pets.
  • Because of its scathing treatment of Hollywood, the film had the working title "Can of Beans" during production to avoid detection of its true intention.
  • Cecil B. DeMille, who appears as himself, was in the process of filming Samson and Delilah when his scenes for Sunset Boulevard were shot on his set on Paramount's Stage 18.  DeMille's compensation for his appearance included a new Cadillac.
  • The Oscar losses were to All About Eve (Picture), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Director, All About Eve), Jose Ferrer (Actor, Cyrano de Bergerac), Judy Holliday (Actress, Born Yesterday), George Sanders (Supporting Actor, All About Eve), Josephine Hull (Supporting Actress, Harvey), King Solomon's Mines (Editing) and The Third Man (Cinematography).
  • Brackett, Wilder and Marshman also won the Writers Guild Award for Best Written American Drama.
  • Other actresses considered for the role of Norma Desmond included Greta Garbo, Mae West, Pola Negri (whose own film career had been ruined by talkies due to her heavy Polish accent), Norma Shearer and somewhat surprisingly, Mary Pickford.  Actors considered for Joe included Montgomery Clift (who was signed but dropped out shortly before shooting was to begin), Fred MacMurray, Marlon Brando and Gene Kelly.
  • Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who appears as herself at the end of the film, was originally an actress.  Her career began in 1917, during the silent film era.
  • Sunset Boulevard has a staggering 98% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Karl Silvera, a former makeup artist who worked on Sunset Boulevard, was the guest and despite being ninety-five years old, is still very mentally sharp and had some lovely comments about his experiences working with Wilder and the cast.  I could have listened to him all night.  He was a very gracious gentleman and I'll bet he has some amazing Hollywood stories.

The film was preceded by a Warner Bros. short, A Star is Bored, in which janitor Daffy Duck, jealous of Bug Bunny's film success, ends up serving as Bugs' unfortunate stunt double in a stab at attaining stardom.
    Sunset Boulevard on imdb  - Billy Wilder on imdb - William Holden on imdb - Gloria Swanson on imdbGloria Swanson Tribute Site - Erich von Stroheim on imdb - Nancy Olson on imdb -
    Sunset Boulevard on Rotten Tomatoes - Sunset Boulevard film locations

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    New Short Story Challenge

    This is the first I've heard of this one, so I can't vouch for it, but it looks interesting, so I think I'll give it a shot.  From their website:
    The 7th Annual Short Story Challenge is a creative writing competition open to writers around the world.  There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (February 22-March 2, 2013), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment (see examples of past assignments here).  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (April 11-14) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose a top 25 from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 17-18).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected!
    The competition is sponsored by NYC Midnight, an organization that describes itself as "dedicated to discovering and promoting a new wave of talented storytellers". 

    Deadline for entry is February 21.

    Wednesday, February 6, 2013

    Looking for Richard...no more

    The title of this post is taken from one of my all-time favorite films, Al Pacino's awesome 1996 documentary Looking for Richard.  The film dealt mainly with how actors approach Shakespeare by interspersing rehearsals of a Pacino-led cast performing Richard III with interviews featuring British and American actors.  Another major aspect of the movie is the struggle to make Shakespeare's work, especially his historic plays, relevant to a modern American audience, most of whom have not been educated to understand and appreciate the Bard or British history that doesn't involve us declaring our independence from them. 

    In doing so the film gives a lot of background about what had preceded the action in the play (The Wars of the Roses, during which Richard's family, the House of York, took the British throne from the House of Lancaster), the intricate and frequently vicious relationships between the members of the royal family and their court, and how Richard schemed to dispose of his brothers (King Edward and George, Duke of Clarence) and his two young nephews - all rightful heirs to the throne before him - so that he could become king.  It was fascinating and the film at least accomplished its goal of making the play easier to understand, even though there were huge chunks of it that weren't even addressed.

    A few months ago what was believed to be Richard's long-lost grave was found under a car park in England, and the other day it was announced that a DNA match had positively identified the remains as those of Richard III.

    And of course, this being 2013 and all, this popped up within hours of the news that the former king had been found:

     Twitter.  Quite possibly the greatest invention ever.

    For more info: The Richard III Society.

    Monday, February 4, 2013

    Your feel-good story of the day: The voice of Winnie the Pooh calls sick kids in hospitals

    From TLC's Ultimate Guide to Winnie the Pooh:

    Lending Their Voices

    Cummings doesn't just use his practiced Pooh and Tigger voices for the big and small screen -- he also lends his voice to the Make-a-Wish-Foundation when he calls sick children in hospitals.
    "One child that I called was dying of cancer," he says. "Pooh called her, and she started to giggle. Her mother was in tears, just crying. She said that was the first time her daughter had smiled in six months."
    Cummings recalls another child whom he spoke to, a little boy with autism: "He asked me to do all the voices, even small parts that I had done -- extraneous characters. Then his mother, crying, got on the phone and said, 'He doesn't speak.' I said, 'He's been speaking for over an hour.' And she said, 'No, my son doesn't speak -- he's never spoken this much before.' I videotaped this for his doctor."

    Props to Jim Cummings, the current voice of Pooh, and the Make a Wish Foundation for this.