Saturday, October 31, 2009


Last night I saw "This is It" in New York City.  The audience turnout for the movie was sluggish.  I expected to have to stand in line to get a ticket or fight for a seat, but the theater was less than half filled.  The ticket taker said it was because of the World Series (with the Yankees keeping New Yorkers close to their TVs), or because the weather is still warm or because it's Halloween.  No matter what the reason he looked disappointed.  So did I.

Maybe moviegoers think it's too soon to see Michael Jackson up on the big screen rehearsing hours before his death.  Maybe we need a break from all the media coverage and hype.  Maybe we're expecting to see the worst projected up there on the screen.

It's just the opposite.

This behind-the-scenes documentary is fascinating and not what I expected to see.  I imagined the movie to be overly produced, overly edited, commercial and morbid.

It was none of that.

"This is It" shows MJ (as his collaborators called him) as the artist, not the celebrity.  We get to see the man behind the curtain and get a glimpse of his creative process, which is amazing to watch.  Jackson is decisive in details (and not just to hear himself speak.  His suggestions are on the money.) He pays close attention to everything from background video in the arena, to the lighting, to every note of music.  This isn't some drug-crazed icon who shows up to rehearsal for a sound check and leaves everything else to his promoters to figure out.  MJ is hands-on and knows everyone's job better than they do.  So don't be fooled.  He expects the best for his audience.

What I loved most is that this movie allows us to see Michael Jackson perform in full shot and without many edits.  The producers and editors didn't try to cover anything up or cut away just to distract us.  Michael Jackson commands that rehearsal stage and the screen.  He sings and moves with such grace that it's startling.  How can this be the same guy who had to be put under every night to sleep?  Here, MJ is lucid, doesn't miss a step, doesn't seem winded or tired.  He communicates directly and politely with his crew and is aware of everything around him.

We've all seen stars on drugs who can't function when performing... Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Elvis.  They tremble, sweat, seem out of sync with their bodies and brain and talent.  Remember how Elvis looked just before he died on his concert film?  He looked like a man taking his last breathes.

Not Michael Jackson.  He seems in control.  He doesn't sweat and we see him dance without a cut away.  He never stops for water or to towel dry.  I got the impression that while most of us were jeering and sneering about him the last ten years, he was practicing and preparing for this comeback.

We see footage of the young dancers just watching him rehearse in absolute awe as he adds new moves to "Billie Jean".  They give him their full attention not because he demands it -- like a prima donna would -- but because his talent can't be ignored. It's as if he's showing these kids that, yeah, I may be 50, but this ain't gonna be your father's "Billie Jean".

One of the Jackson brothers said a while ago that Michael had studied Gene Kelly movies and lifted Kelly's idea of wearing white socks with black shoes because it brought attention to his feet.  Michael went further and added the sparkles.  We never took our eyes off those feet again.

But it wasn't only the glove, or the sparkles, or the white socks that captivated us.  It was what was inside those shoes.  His magical gift to dance like no other.  In this movie, we see how he becomes one with the music as if it's directly plugged in to him like an amp and flowing through his body.

"This is It" is not a morbid movie, or a freak show, or two hours of just watching a reason not to do drugs -- it's a glimpse at being Michael Jackson at a time when not too many people were supposed to be watching him (the rehearsal footage was shot for his personal library).

Let's face it.  We've all wanted to dance like Michael Jackson at some time in our lives, but fortunately without ever having to be in his shoes.

RIP, Michael.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I was just notified that my new short play "Extreme Green" will get a public performance by the Chicago Dramatists in Chicago on November 7th.  It's the play I worked on over the summer. 

Now let me explain, I have been writing screenplays forever (since I was a teen) and it's such a hard business to crack with constant ups and downs, encouragement, then rejections, deals, then no deals, options, expired options, and on and on.  I'm still writing screenplays, but they take millions of dollars to produce so it's not easy to sell one.

Last year I decided to follow another long-time love -- writing for the theater -- for the stage.  I always enjoyed seeing plays in New York and elsewhere or reading them in school. 

My favorite cool store in Manhattan is the Drama Book Shop on W. 40th Street.  Here is their link   It's awesome!  If you love reading plays like I do or great books about theater, film and TV, visit this shop or buy from them online.  They deserve and need our support as writers.  Anyway, I wrote my first short play "NetFits" last year.  It was selected by the American Globe Theater in NYC and performed at their 15th Annual 15-Minute Play Festival.  They chose to do it on my birthday, which seemed like a really good omen to keep writing plays. The play and the night of the performance went great and it was truly one of my best birthdays ever because I was surrounded by friends and family.  It was a chance to see my efforts come to life on stage, for my written words to find a voice through the actors, and it was exciting to hear an audience react to my work.

The theater bug bit me big time.  

So I wrote my second play Extreme Green about the local food movement.  It's a comedy with some social relevance, I hope.  And this too will be performed in the great city of Chicago!  And I'll get to visit family and friends there too which will be worth the trip in itself.

I have long advised writers here to expand your sights beyond the one fixed goal you have.  If you want to write a book, write a play too.  If you write a blog, do an audio podcast or write a short article.  If you're only into screenwriting, maybe change genres or write a shorter script (for a comedy or cable show).  Stretch, reach and never give up.  Knock on all doors. 

Dreams come true when the time is right and in surprising new ways.  If you're in Chicago on Nov. 7th I hope to see you in the audience!

Until next time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I'm reading a book called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson.  It's an easy read that might help you as a writer.  Ms. Madson teaches improv, but says those same skills acquired for acting can also be used for all means of creativity.

Have you ever found yourself paralyzed with fear at tackling a project because you think it has to be perfect from the start?  Well, we've all been there and it's scary.  It's hard to sit down to write a new script, play or novel when we feel like it will take so much hard work and revisions just to get it correct for our own eyes, never mind for a reader's critical eyes.  

Ms. Madson recommends that we sit down to write "average" work.  Now, you may say, WHUT?  How is that going to get me closer to being produced or published if I write average work?  The point is that sitting down to write average work will free you to do your best work.  It's like in school when the teacher said "This quiz won't count against your final grade."  We generally relaxed and scored higher than if we thought it had counted.  Why?  Pressure, stress, worry and performance anxiety can kill creativity.  It's all mind games.  Use mind games to your advantage.

I also like that Ms. Madson advises to change your scenery to help motivate yourself.   Are you bored with writing in your usual work space?  When I was a teenager, I used to love to rearrange my bedroom furniture every six months.  I would clean out my closets, my dresser drawers, dust, vacuum and put my bed on a different side of the room.  It was the coolest feeling to walk into my bedroom and have it look like a new place.  Try it with writing -- if you usually write at your desk -- try writing at the kitchen table.  If you write at Starbucks, try the library in town.  Sometimes trying to create in a whole new environment will free you.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I finished my second short play over the summer.  Now I'm getting it out to theater companies and short play festivals around the country.  Most artistic directors allow for electronic submissions.  Bless their hearts.  Do you have any idea how much a struggling playwright/screenwriter saves on postage, ink, paper and shoes by being permitted to submit work electronically?  You don't want to know, but trust me, it's a lot.

I sent out six submissions within an hour with this technology.  Remember the old snail mail days?  Writing, editing, printing, copying, packaging, labeling, mailing, and waiting for the response.  My Lord, how did we ever survive that process?  I used to run to the mail box for my rejections (I didn't know at the time they were rejections.  Writers are like blind dates -- we go into it always hoping for the best -- but usually wind up disappointed.)

Anyway, hats off to all the trees we're saving too by not sending out packages of paper anymore.

Do people read these electronic submissions?  Well, that's another posting.  I think they do.  I personally prefer a hard copy of something to read.  So I just contradicted the above.  I still love books and printed screenplays when it comes to my personal reading habits... but I'm moving slowly toward changing that.

I haven't read an e-book yet, but I may in the future.  It's just that I already carry around enough gadgets with me... cell phone, iPhone, iPod... plus my laptop and desktop computer at home.  I can't keep track of much more digital reading at the moment.

But Christmas is coming.  I might ask for one of those Kindle or Sony thingies to download all my new books on for 2010. 

Or maybe not. 

Some habits die hard.

Until next time.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


We always hear to show don't tell in our screenplays and writing.  Show, don't tell.  How do we do that exactly?  One way to avoid this is not to tell us the emotion your character is feeling.  Don't write "He looked nervous when he told her he was leaving her."  Instead, write "His mouth became dry.  He fidgeted under the table,  looking everywhere but in her eyes."  This shows us how the character is acting instead of just telling us.

Hemingway advised to write to the point.  To take out all the unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.  He once told a story in six words.  FOR SALE:  BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.  Imagine that image in a movie and what it would show us... if the shoes were up for sale at a Flea Market or at a Yard Sale at a woman's house. 

Elmore Leonard says don't spend too much time describing your characters either -- like what they're wearing down to their underwear, or what they're driving including make, model, and serial number, or every morsel of what they're eating.  You can mention some but more should be visualized by the reader.  They should be able to know what the character looks like from the dialogue, his tone of voice, from the words they choose, or a simple gesture, like "She removed her white hat." 

We can use these tips in all forms of our writing... from plays, to scripts to novels to Twitter.  Keep it simple.  Keep it visual.  Keep it active.  Keep the reader's eyes moving on the page.

Enjoy your weekend!