Monday, February 25, 2008

An Alan Smithee Award

Now that the Oscars are over (dubbed the "least-watched awards show in history" by some wags who should know), Roderick Jaynes can go back into obscurity -- until the Coen Brothers need to pull him out of the closet and dust him off.

Jaynes was nominated for an Oscar for "Film Editing" for his work on "No Country for Old Men," the powerhouse that ruled the Night of Little Naked Gold Men. It wasn't his first time up for the award. Ten years ago, he was also nominated for his work on "Fargo."

Jaynes has had an enviable career. Not only has he worked extensively with some of the most original and exciting filmmaking visionaries of our time AND been recognized by the venerable Academy for his expertise, but Entertainment Weekly named him as one of the 50 Smartest People in Hollywood in 2007.

(And before you scoff at the phrase "smart people in Hollywood" as an oxymoron, ask yourself what other profession pays its principals millions of dollars for a few days of work. Based on that criterion, physicists appear to have the intelligence of yogurt for their chosen profession. It's all a matter of priorities.)

So while it appears that Jaynes is riding high, enjoying everything that life can offer: steady work, recognition, an interesting career working with interesting people -- you'll never find him out and about enjoying his good fortune. In fact, if he had won the Oscar Sunday night, he wouldn't even have made his way down the slippery slope of the stage to accept the honor.

Jaynes, you see, doesn't exist. (Check out other Oscar nominees who were similarly Not There in Stephen Saito's excellent article.)

It used to be when a movie was so destroyed in the final cut that the director wanted to put as much distance between himself and the product, the director's name would be removed from the credits, and "Alan Smithee" would get the credit. It was better than saying "Directed by Mr. X."

One would think, however, that when one did GREAT work, it would be worth putting your own name on it in case someone felt compelled to hand you a golden statue of a naked man to commemorate your achievement.

It appears that some people actually still care more about doing quality work than they do about the glitz and glamour that clutter up the pop culture landscape. They adhere to the adage that "There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't mind who gets the credit."

Maybe I should just put Roderick Jaynes' name on the next screenplay I start shopping around. I wonder if his agent (or the Coens) would mind. 'Cause I'm pretty sure he wouldn't complain.

Flu Thoughts

Last week, I was working on deadline to finish a screenplay in time for a regularly scheduled group who had very generously agreed to read and review it. I was working on a tight schedule, trying to get a workable draft done when -- the Flu hit.

So, for three days, I sat on the couch with my eyes closed (because every time I opened them, the room spun, and that wasn't as much fun as it might sound). It was awful. In addition to the pressure in my head from the Ick Bug, I could hear the ticking of the clock as time ebbed away and the deadline loomed closer... and closer...

It's not like I was lacking inspiration. I had all the beats of the story worked out. I knew exactly what happened next. I just had to write it. And I sat with my laptop on my knees, feeling exceedingly sorry for myself.

In the midst of the Ick Bug's visit, I had a speaking engagement last Monday night that -- somehow -- I got through. I think it went well. I was prepared for it, but I'm not delusional. I know that I wasn't on top of my game. The flu does that to you.

The upshot is: the flu symptoms subsided, the room stopped spinning, I opened my eyes again, and got back to work. I finished the screenplay on time and it's GOOD. I'm extremely happy with it. So happy, in fact, that I'm going to stick with the story for awhile and work it into a book. I sent it off on Friday for the readers to rend to shreds.

A few comments on readers' groups... Every writer's dream is that readers will tell you how brilliant your work is, how fascinated they were with the story and the characters, and how they wouldn't change a thing. This dream, of course, never becomes reality.

The trick is to know you've done everything you possibly can to be true to your original vision, and to be open to any comments that may come along that would make that vision stronger or help you better execute it. It's also important to remember that writers feel honor-bound to make changes to other people's work. It's like the unwritten Writer's Creed: Read. Critique. Alter.

It was a welcome rush to finish the project on Friday. All weekend, I rode high on the excitement that always accompanies completing a major undertaking.

And now that the flu has fled and "The End" has been written, we return to our normally scheduled program: watching kids and working on Other People's Projects.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And God Said "HA!"

In Next , Nic Cage plays Cris Johnson, a man gifted with precognitive abilities to see a few minutes into his own future. However, he warns us, simply looking at the future is enough to change it.

I can go him one better. Sometimes simply stating the present is enough to alter it.

In my February Already?! post, I discussed the current situation at the Hendrickson house. It was nearly idyllic: Robert was happy to watch our 5 year old daughter and the 2 year old son of a friend of ours in order to provide me with lengthy, uninterrupted daily writing time to work on my current screenplay project.

Robert has been doing so well. February 2 marked the 12 year anniversary of his surgery to remove a brain tumor. As of January 31, he had gone three full years without seizing.

But if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. A breakthrough seizure inflicted itself on our happy family on Tuesday night during supper. While we're not exactly back to Square One, we are certainly forced to regroup and come up with Plan B.

My writing time is now much more hard-won. And my worry about my husband's well-being has returned. But it just goes to show that the only thing constant is change. And it makes me appreciate my Happy Place all the more -- if I could just get there more often.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

February Already?!

The year is not going according to my original plan, but in some ways its progressing far ahead of schedule.

Though I "got" the big writing gig last fall for my Important Client, in December and January, it became increasingly clear to us all that they lacked the same clarity of vision for Phases II and III of their project that they had for Phase I.

So, while I had intended to be working like crazy, day and night, from now through the end of April, it now appears that I will be waiting until the end of April for them to agree on their goals and the content they want covered. Where there is no vision, the people perish.

Which leaves me in a writing Limbo. The client wants to retain my services to finish the project once their sub-committee can reach an agreement on things like required content and approved resources. And they have not yet changed their planned roll-out date of the project from January of 2009. So, at some point this year, I will be doing the aforementioned working-like-crazy. Just not now.

I'm using my unexpected time off to work on a new screenplay. It's almost like being on a glorious extended vacation.

I actually do feel a bit guilty for being able to sequester myself away in my studio and just write all day. I haven't been able to indulge my creative side like this in years. And the new script has developed into a wonderfully inspiring obsession. I can't stop talking about, researching, or working on it. Nor do I want to. It's the most fun I've had writing in a long, long time.

Uber-husband Robert is extremely supportive. He watches Cassandra during the day so I can be alone to work. He says he considers me his lottery ticket. Ha! And he enjoys the time he's spending with our daughter.

So -- though things may not always go according to plan, sometimes they go far, far better...