Adventures in Screenwriting

Ever have random story ideas pop in your head, but they’re incomplete and you don’t know what to do with them? Of course you have. The notion of writing a zombie story involving sisters and/or brothers has been in my head for a while. I even had the perfect opening line: “You ate mom!”MyDeadSisterPoster1BW

But I couldn’t decide who my characters should be or who would get zombified. I’d been thinking I’d go with one of the standard horror movie tropes: the cute young sisters, but then I saw “Train to Busan” (South Korea’s surprising hit entry into the zombie genre). Two of the supporting characters are elderly sisters, In-gil and Jon-gil. In their scenes we’re shown two siblings whose relationship doesn’t seem to be that close. There’s some bickering, a little bit of chastising. But then the two women are accidentally separated during a mad dash back to the safety of the train, leaving each woman with a different group of survivors. Then you see their despair, the devastation they feel in believing the other is dead. You see how alone each woman is without her sibling. There is one moment of hope when the sisters are almost re-united, but Jong-gil falls victim to the zombies. Defeated, and angry that the actions of others caused her sister’s death, In-gil deliberately opens the door to allow the zombies in, joining her sister in death (well, in un-death – is that a word?)

Then I had my story. I decided to cast my characters as in their early 50s (approximately the actual age of me and my real sister), better to relate to them as I explored their actions and their futures, or lack thereof. This also left the script open to throwing in a menopause joke – not a hot (flash) topic in many zombie movies. I know how zombified I felt before hormone replacement therapy and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Right, ladies? If you know what I mean, raise your hands (the one not holding onto an ice pack).

Instead of a short story, I decided to turn it into a super short screenplay and entered it into the 2018 Shriekfest Horror Film Festival, the longest running horror festival in Los Angeles, founded by actress Denise Gossett (considered to be one of the most influential women in horror). I’ve submitted five other times (not in consecutive years), and placed in the finals, then the semi-finals, then finals, then semi-finals, and then finals. (I’m sensing a pattern here.) When “My Dead Sister” made the list of finalists this year, not just a semi-finalist, I was really hoping to truly break the pattern, but, alas, was not the winner. Still, I enjoyed attending the festival first weekend of October. I saw some great films (like “Amy’s in the Freezer” – a dark-humored short  – and “Echoes of Fear” – which won best supernatural horror feature). Of course there were a couple that were not so terrific, but only one I had to walk out on to prevent its lighting effects from triggering a migraine (another thing that turns me into a zombie). And I truly enjoyed meeting so many other friendly and encouraging writers, some of whom were my competition of course, but were so warm and welcoming.

Before I close, and before my real sister think I actually wished she were a zombie and therefore, you know, dead, the siblings’ relationship portrayed in the script does not reflect reality (other than a particular detail I plucked from our childhood as key to the plot). But, if she was actually dead I wish she’d be a zombie because then she’d still be around so we can hang together and drink beer. Well, I’d drink the beer and she’d eat people. But eating people is kinda gross, so, umm, anyway, love ya sis!

Catching up….

Ever feel like you’re constantly playing catch up? I certainly do, especially these past six months since I’ve gone back to grad school to study Crisis Management.

It’s left little time for writing and even less for blogging, which I’ve come to enjoy since I began “The Far Places” blog. I apologize for being absent, but we do sometimes have to sacrifice hobbies for educational opportunities and other life-changing events. I’m glad I’m going to school again: in a strange way it has helped me fight the migraines and the allure of pain killers. I have to be mentally sharp to cope with the class load (reading those hundreds of pages of textbooks; writing research paper after research paper). I don’t want to use the migraines as an excuse to not turn in an assignment on time. I don’t want my mind to be too fuzzy and doped up that it can’t comprehend what I’m reading. The forced mental exercise is helping to re-awaken my brain.

Even if school has robbed me of spare time to write new stories, my brain’s enlivened neurons are spitting out ideas. I am once again accumulating scraps of paper filled with scribbled plot concepts, creepy visions, new interpretations of old legends, warped characters, and interesting little tidbits I come across. I’ll be starting a new class in a few days, but I’m determined to get at least an outline written for a couple of short stories.

I’ll also be sure to take a break from classes here and there. After all, there are more things to do than study and more places to see besides the local library. I’m hoping to get in a nice vacation this year, and hang out with friends. Dawn_BLogNot sure I can top last year which held a family wedding and a chance to reunite with childhood friends, Lisa and Dawn, who I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years. Lisa_BlogBut I’m sure 2015 will offer something exciting…I just have to be not so busy catching up with 2014 that I miss it.

Speaking of catch up…it would seem I’ve missed a couple episodes of “Sleepy Hollow” because I’m feeling lost in tonight’s episode. How did they kill Henry? How did Frank get his soul back? DID he get his soul back? And……I’m thinking a certain writer(s) got really drunk, watched “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and then wrote this episode while hungover. Still, I must scour on-demand for more drool-worthy Tom Mison/Ichabod Crane and those missed episodes.


godzilla2014_fan_posterI don’t often get out to movie theaters for the latest blockbuster flicks. As much as I love movies, especially those in the action, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres, I’m torn between spending a few bucks for a couple hours entertainment and instead saving my money for a dream two-week vacation in some far off destination. Movies do transport us to other locations we might not otherwise be able to go (or afford to go), and to different times or realities which real travel can not. Placing my feet on the ground and seeing an exotic locale for myself is something which no movie can do.

Still, I joined a friend for a rare treat tonight to see “Godzilla” in 3D, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I do share some of the same criticisms as others: Godzilla wasn’t on screen often enough; rather the other monsters had more screen time. We didn’t get to hear his famous roar often enough (that contrabass first utilized by composer Akira Ifukube). And the first third of the movie was slow to pick up steam. But the special effects were fantastic (loved that EM-pulse attack capability by the MUTOs), and the characters (human and otherwise) pulled me into their world, made me care. I wasn’t the only one cheering and clapping at the end.

It was definitely better than the campy 1998 “Godzilla” starring Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno. I must admit, however, that I do have a certain level of fondness for that film, primarily Reno’s secret agent character and Broderick’s line (in response to Hank Azaria questioning where he’d found Reno): “Uh, he’s from France.” And who could forget the original trailer for the film? So obviously a poke-in-the-eye to the “Jurassic Park” franchise. That’s still one of my all-time favorite trailers.

Unfortunately, I did walk out of the theater with yet another migraine. I’ve been doing quite well lately with the help of acupuncture and my own determination to not let the pain interfere too much with my life. But I figure between the loud volume and all the frenetic action on screen, it was a bit much for my beleaguered brain. Sure, I could’ve chosen to get up and walk out, perhaps asked for a refund, but I wanted to see this movie, and I wasn’t going to let the pain stop me. I’ll just have to take it easy, choose my movies carefully, and hope this sensitivity doesn’t last too long.

F— the monsters (my pain). Go, go Godzilla.

Rockin’ a Migraine

ImageFeeling a bit like a zombie today thanks to a setback with the worst migraine I’ve had in two months. It’s the first time since the beginning of February that I’ve had to take a full dose of my zombie-fying medication. But I’ve refused to let the pain or the drugs stop me from accomplishing the many, many things I’ve had to do today.

I’m blaming the wine from last night’s dinner at Fondue Fred. (The fondue craze did not end in the 1970s; at least not in Berkeley.) Excellent food, but I think I should’ve substituted beer for the wine. Alcohol is a prime trigger for many migraine sufferers, but beer has never bothered me. I’ve had difficulty in the past with both white and red (white wine is the worst), but have been fine drinking a rose. Not any more. So remind me in the future: pass up the wine. Drink the beer. (No, I don’t have a hangover. I know what those feel like from my college days.)

It’s a good time to be a beer drinker with all the micro-breweries and the increasing popularity of home-brewing. I’d consider taking up the hobby myself, but I don’t have the space for it…nor the time due to my interests in writing, photography, and cross-stitch. Fortunately I have both a younger brother and a good friend who are home-brewers. (My favorite of their ales: a saison brewed by my brother, and my friend’s Angry Planet Imperial Red Ale, brewed in honor of Curiosity’s landing on Mars on August 6, 2012.) Unfortunately, I don’t live that close to either one of them.

So in the meantime I’ll have to make do with visiting a couple of my favorite local spots: Beer Revolution and The Trappist – both part of Oakland’s burgeoning brew pub scene. And another favorite: The Speakeasy over in San Francisco.

I wonder: do zombies like a good ale? Next time I hear about one of those zombie pub crawls, I’ll have to find out.

Pin the Tail on the Migraine

ImageA few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences as a chronic migraine sufferer, and how I decided to turn to alternative medicine – acupuncture – for relief. Fellow migraine sufferers will understand when I say I simply couldn’t live that way anymore, alternately beat down by pain or zombified by pain killers. December and January, for me, were pretty much a blur. I accomplished few, if any, of my goals as a writer or a photographer.  Change had to be made.

I’m happy to report that my acupuncture treatments are making quite a difference in my life. Thanks to Dr. W. Jumbe Allen of the Acupuncture and Health Center I am feeling more like myself again. I feel like I have a brain! (One that isn’t betraying me.) The ratio of days filled with the all too familiar pain, and those without, has reversed.

No, I’m not quite yet the old me. The imaginative side of my mind hasn’t fully returned. Those little sparks of ideas which should be growing into short stories or scripts still smolder, but won’t yet ignite the creative action I need in order to regain the writerly momentum I had a year ago.

But I’m not complaining. I feel so much better, both mentally and physically. I’m exercising again. I’m more productive at my day job. I can concentrate. And my mood has certainly improved. If I do need to take my prescription medication, I only need one pill, not the full dose of four (which left me pretty much useless the next day). I no longer curl up in front of the t.v. at the end of the day, defeated by my inability to get a real night’s sleep. For several weeks, I’d been unable to fall asleep in my own bed and instead slept in a chair. No more.

So I look forward to more acupuncture sessions…well, not necessarily those first seconds when the needles are being inserted. Yes, that hurts. But you get used to it, and to the new sensations running through your head every time. Like last week, when it felt as if the pain had turned into rain (a dry rain) running down the right side of my face. ImageOr, during a previous session, when I could feel the pain worming its way along my right eyebrow and down the side of my nose, seeking a refuge from the needles chasing it away. Or the strange swirling pressure around my right ear which reminded me somehow of the maelstrom scene near the end of Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End. I wonder if Dr. Allen could hear me humming the theme music?

Words about Herbs (and Elderly Felines and Zombie Aliens)

ImageIt’s been a week (three treatments) since I turned to acupuncture as a means of defeating my chronic migraines. I can’t say it’s been a miracle cure, but I do feel more alert today with more energy and enthusiasm for the tasks of daily life. Certainly this could just be one of my good days (I have a few of those in any given month), but I’m not giving up because I’ve heard from friends, co-workers, even the veterinarian, to not expect fast results. Acupuncture tends to work quickest for recent and/or acute injuries (like whiplash from a car accident). For chronic, long-term conditions, it can take many treatments before results are realized.

So I will keep trying to balance my qi. (My acupuncturist tells me I’m very out of balance. Hmmm. I think many of my friends have long known that I’m off-kilter, eh?) To that end, he’s introduced me to traditional Chinese herbs.  I can’t tell you which herbs are in this mixture – I had a migraine when he told me what they were and don’t remember – but they do make a tasty tea. A warm, tasty tea for cold rainy winter days like today.

So this drizzly morning found me with a cup of steaming herb tea in my hands as I watched over my elderly Siamese cat to see if she would have a reaction to her first chemotherapy treatment (she has Intestinal Lymphoma) and reflected upon the two of us, both suffering our own pains. She can’t voice hers, but I can tell those moments when she’s not happy. However, today turned out to be a good day for her too.  After giving me the stink eye for sticking a pill down her throat, she curled up in her favorite laundry basket and went back to sleep. Image

I would usually be doing the same thing. No, not sleeping in the laundry basket. But rather, popping my own meds and curling up to go back to sleep, wasting away my weekend. Today, I ignored the familiar pain and pressure of someone drilling a hole in my skull and pressing their big fat thumb into the right side of my brain, and instead popped a favorite movie into the DVD player, Alien (the 1979 original).

Despite having seen Alien innumerable times, I caught a line I’d not heard before (or maybe just never paid attention to). Toward the beginning of the film, after the egg alien has deposited its egg inside Kane (John Hurt) and fallen off and died, Ash (Ian Holm) is examining it. While the others are still wary about the creature, Ash says something like “I doubt it’s a zombie.” (I can’t recall the exact line.) And for the first time in a long while I felt a little spark of creativity. I found myself imagining the Alien aliens as zombie aliens. As if they aren’t already hard to kill! Now you have to kill them again!

Too bad I don’t have rights to those characters. I could’ve run with that idea.