Monday, November 29, 2010

Something Happened On The Way To Paradise

I'm sure a lot of people are curious about who I am, due to current planetary constellations being in flux. So here it is.

I'm a writer. I've always been a writer. I've had to do other things to put food on the table and support my family, but that is who I am. I could no more not be a writer than not breathe.

I've been published online and off. The New York Times, Newsday, Baby Talk, Screen Talk, and others.

In 1994, after a devastating experience, I was bitten by the screenwriting bug. I've been infected ever since. Friends and family said I was crazy. I was a woman, I didn't live in LA, and I didn't know a damn thing about it. Undeterred, I bought Michael Hauge's excellent screenwriting book and taught myself. My first script was over 200 pages long, and the formatting was all wrong. But I persisted.

In 2001, my Showtime original family film, MY HORRIBLE YEAR, with Eric Stoltz (who also directed), Mimi Rogers and Karen Allen aired. It got good reviews and a Daytime Emmy nomination for Mr. Stoltz for directing.

I was on top of the world. I made plans to move to Los Angeles. However, life had a different plan in mind.

I've had my own horrible year (more like years). I've perservered through very difficult circumstances. My mother's illness, my brother's untimely death, and a rash of other unfortunate events. Through it all, I can hold my head high.

I have no manager. I have no high powered agent on speed dial.

I write every day even if it's only a sentence. I query. I send my material out. I have my hopes and dreams just like everyone else.

Did I forget to say I'm a writer?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just Hatched

No, not talking about a script. I'm talking about Michael Peter Ruales, born on July 20, 2010, 7lbs.4oz, 20 inches. I thought my baby days were over, but my youngest daughter had other plans, and Baby Mikey is the happy result.

The upshot: my entire schedule is upside down. I have to fit in writing between diaper changes and laundry and napping baby. Another plate I have to balance, as if I didn't have enough. Upheavel. Change in routine. I don't do well with changes in routine.

And from the moment I saw him--hell, from the moment I knew he was coming--I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Grand and Glorious Adventure

"We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz..." (apologies to Judy Garland, cos I don't sing as well as she does).

Ruby red slippers. Check.

Gingham dress. Check.

Pigtails. Check.

Toto in basket. Check.

Tornado approaching. Check.

Haagen Daaz Vanilla Ice Cream. Check.

Yes, boys and girlz, ladies and gents, PJ is off on an adventure. Where I'll land, nobody knows, but so long as I don't land on my head, I should be okay. Whether a Wizard (or Wizardress) will be waiting at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, I cannot say with any degree of certainty. But I'm packed, I'm loaded, and I'm going. Feast or famine, fair or foul.

I'm constantly challenging myself. More ideas. Bigger ideas. You get the picture. Since I finished THE RETURN, I'm not happy settling for the same old crapola. It has to be better. It has to be more. It's like pornography, I may not be able to explain it, but when I see it, I knows it.

Writing should be like that. An adventure. A leap of faith. A kick in the butt. If it isn't, what's the goddamn point? Just to regurgitate hackneyed character and boring dialog we've all seen and heard a thousand times before? Fuck that.

Am I tough? Damn straight. But as tough as I am, I'm even tougher on myself.

Time to change it up.

One house falling on the Wicked Witch and away we go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Falling In Love

Now that the whirlwind of the day job is finally winding down, I'm finally able to catch my breath. Life, kids, family, writing, there is always some drama or crisis to deal with. But my monthly column at is now at an end (anyone looking for a screenwriting columnist, call me), so I'll be musing much more often here (which, depending on your point of view, is a very good thing or a very very bad thing, like eating beets).

But today I'm full of love. I want to fall in love. Oh, yes I do. I'm an incurable romantic. When I'm in the mad crazy throes of it, I'm like a woman possessed. I want to feel the heat, the passion, to the point of obsession. I want to be overtaken, overwhelmed, overcome, so I think, breathe, live it down to my very core, my very soul and being, until I'm left emotionally raw, sore and battered and bruised.

I push myself until I think I can't go any further....and then push myself some more. I can't eat, can't sleep. Everything---everyone---is pushed aside until I type FADE OUT. For those 100, 110 pages, 120 pages, whatever it winds up being---I'm in a love affair, damn the torpedoes.

That's how I feel every time I start writing a script, and it's how I want to feel when I crack open another screenwriters script. None of the writers I know set out to write a shitty script. Hell, I know I don't. Spend three-six months (if not years) on a lousy script? No thanks. I'd rather cut off my head and boil it for stock.

But it's also true, like all love affairs, that some of them do end badly. I've had my heart broken time and time again. After I cry in my Diet Pepsi, I pick myself up, lick my wounds, and flit around from idea to idea and script to script...until Cupid's Arrow strikes me again and I'm off to the races. Some scripts are just flirtations. Others are one night stands. Then you have the rare ones, and I do mean rare, that leave you gasping for air the morning after. You have no idea where it came from, but you hang on for dear life. I think it was William Martell (yeah, Google him) who said words to the effect that if your script doesn't drive you crazy, it's not doing what it's supposed to do. And he's right.

In other words, if you're not in love with your script, why should I be? I'm so easy.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Waiting Game

The baby is spanking clean, smells good, ready to be taken out into the world. So as I gear up to begin another query campaign (a necessary evil which I hate more than a sinus infection, which I'm suffering with as I write this), I figured this was was as good a time as any to muse on my muse, the fabulous, vastly underrated Ted Levine.

It's become the standing joke in my household that Ted is the only man I'd leave my husband for. Besides being handsome and sexy as hell, Ted is a great actor, and I don't say that lightly. You've probably seen him in dozens of movies and not realized it was him. From his spellbinding turn as "Buffalo Bill" in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, to Starbucks in MOBY DICK, Silas Kincaid in HARLAN COUNTY WAR, and of course, Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer in MONK, Ted Levine has always been outstanding, (yes, even in stinkers like EVOLUTION). When Ted's nice he's wonderful, and when he's nasty, he's even better. No one can turn on the "creepy factor" like Ted.

So my last couple of screenplays, I've purposefully written meaty roles that I'd like to see Ted play (hey, a girl can dream). In BOBBY VALENTI, he's a hard working cop and devoted family man; in HEAVEN KNOWS, he's an oddball trust fund hippie father; in THE FUCK IT LIST, he's a sexually frustrated Dad; and in THE RETURN, he's a loving husband and father who tries, under desperate circumstances, to keep his family safe in a frightening new world order. Versatile. That's what Ted is.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Naughty Notes

When you finish a script, it's like giving birth. You're exhausted, mentally and physically, but your mind is still racing. What could be improved? What could be tossed? And of course, like any proud parent, you want to show your kid off.

I've sent my newest spec off to some fellow writers for their thoughts and comments, and I was encouraged by the early feedback. That is, I was until someone whose opinion I value told me what he didn't like about this draft. I know it has some issues, but I really didn't think it was that bad, and I still don't.

Now in the old days, I would've been crushed. When my seventh grade teacher refused to be my writing sponsor in a contest because he wouldn't believe that I'd written the short story I wanted to enter without any help, I was so devastated that I didn't write for a couple of years afterwards.

As I matured and grew as a writer, I developed a thicker skin, honed my ability to self-edit, and learned to trust my instincts and creativity. But it still hurts to be rejected, and it hurts to be told your baby is butt ugly.

One of my early attempts at screenwriting was a very down and dirty thriller set in the Florida Everglades I wrote in a burst in a week. However, the people in the writing workshop I was in at the time didn't like it and savaged it. I really took their comments to heart; in hindsight, probably too much. But what did I know? I was a virgin. I began a furious rewrite according to their notes and wrote all the heart and passion out of it. I was never able to capture that passion, not for that script. But it's funny that I've since seen the same plotline that I used, or variations of it, in subsequent films. Either I was ahead of my time or there were a lot of clueless assholes in that workshop.

Flash forward a couple of years, and I had myself some managers. They had notes on my scripts. A year, a year and a half later, I'm still rewriting my scripts. One draft would please one manager, but not the other. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and unhappy with my writing. Worst of all, I began to doubt myself creatively. If I couldn't please myself, how could I please anyone else? I mean, how bad a writer could I be, the script that Showtime had bought was virtually a first draft! While I wrote it, I didn't have a manager or an agent or a workshop to tell me where I'd gone wrong. I relied on myself, my voice and my faith.

So now when it comes to notes, I'm much more laid back. I'll digest them, absorb them, discard what doesn't reasonate with me, absorb what does and reinterpret them in a way that speaks to me emotionally. I'm not interested in hearing how other people would do it. I'm not other people. The only thing I have that sets me apart is my voice, my style. If I lose my spark, my individuality, my faith, then I might as well stop writing because I'm just regurgitating what other people think or feel.

In other words, if I can't do it my way, I'll get off the highway and take the back road. It might take me longer, but I'll get there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Yes, it's the return in more ways than one.

Since November I've been working on one script, and one script only, and this week I typed FADE OUT on the first draft. I wrote it through trauma, drama, the full time job, the holidays, you name it. A thousand times I wanted to chuck the whole fucking thing, but I persisted. This script, these characters, got into my blood as none before. I had to finish it, do or die.

When I wrote the final scene, I'm not ashamed to say I cried. First, because I was mentally and physically exhausted. Second, because of what I put through my characters through. I didn't shy away from doing "bad things to good people", my bugaboo from an earlier script that I had attempted and had to put aside after four different drafts because I couldn't pull the plug. This time, I went balls to the wall, and I did it with a grittiness and sense of purpose that I didn't know I had.

I've come to the point in my life and writing that I could easily just write the sweet stuff, and just coast by. In this script I decided to challenge myself and swing high, and those goals were met. Anything else would be gravy on top of mashed potatoes.

But of course, writing the first draft, it's just the beginning. Seconds after I typed the last scene, I began to think how it could be improved because no draft is ever perfect. Rewriting and all that jazz. I'm not going to show this script to any agent, manager, prodco until it is pitch perfect. I don't care how long it takes.

In the meantime, waiting on some other possible good things, looks like the script that is in at Hallmark is getting some juice due to the success of CRAZY HEART. I'm reminded once again that it's indeed, a wild and crazy world, and the longer we hang on for the ride, the sweeter it is.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Year

I can't believe it. It's 2010.

I also can't believe that I haven't updated the my blog since August 2009.

I do have an excuse. August was when I began the full time job doing the overnight shift for a big Internet company. My entire schedule was turned upside down. Working until 2AM every night, having to decompress until I fell into bed. It's tough. And a real grind to grind out pages.

But I'm writing every day, even if it's only a page or a sentence. Right now I'm working days on special assignment at least until February--hopefully longer if I have my druthers.

Still hoping that the cable network will come through in 2010 with a slot for my Father's Day drama. And my big resolution for the New Year (besides updating my blog more frequently) is to write scripts that will have the dogs of war salivating over (instead of me salivating on the other side of the gate). Am on page 89 of a new spec, got another one half written, got a couple of scripts percolating with co-writers. New ideas. Always new ideas. I wish I could turn my brain off sometimes, like a TV.

For example, I was going along very merrily on a spec, a family adventure...when I had this dream. A really disturbing dream of a graphic nature. I tried to put it out of my mind while I worked on my family adventure, but like a bully in 5th grade, it wouldn't go away. So I finally succumbed to the dark side. Is it any good? I dunno. But some things you have to write for the sake of writing it, just to get it out of your system, with no expectations or goals. I even decided to write it under another name, so I can really go hog wild. Let's put it this way, I can never look at a violin in quite the same way again.

So while I've been silent on the blog front, it's been anything but on the writing and home front. I'm determined to make 2010 the year---whatever year it has to be to get where I need to be in 2011. And I hope you'll be here with me.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Blake Snyder RIP

I don't think there's much more I could add to the outpouring of grief and shock over Blake's passing yesterday. He touched a lot of people, including me. I can't say that I knew Blake all that well personally, but what I do know of him professionally is this: he was always kind and generous to me with his time and expertise, he was nice, he was what we call in the biz a "great interview". His love and enthusiasm for screenwriting was infectious and certainly helped me. Blake will be sorely missed in the screenwriting community.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I Know I Know

I've been really remiss in updating my blog, and for this I apologize. June was a bad month, had a lot thrown at me between being under the weather (yet again), still trying to get my sea legs back, as it were. So let's recap what's been happening (or not).

Still waiting on a possible deal, the less said on that lest I jinx it. Shhh!

Got some requests, will anything pan out? Who knows. Boo hoo!

Have a slew of new projects cooking and coming up with new ideas. Note to self: must grow eight pairs of arms. Yow!

I'm no longer associated with The Script Department. If anyone wants notes/reads, you know where to find me. Yes ma'am!

Brought my bike to the shop for a tune-up and I try to go for rides every day (weather permitting). Yowzer!

Got a new hairdo and color, which everyone seems to like. Huzzah!

My daughter Adrienne will be coming to visit soon. Hurray!

Started a new intensive writing workshop which seems to be going well. Bravo!

Other than, doing my thing, enjoying the good weather (when we have it, which hasn't been that much). Talley-ho!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Merry Month of May

And I say "merry" with all the sarcasm I can muster. Oh, it didn't start off too badly. I did my temp stint and, as I expected, I was tossed to the wolves yet again, yet I survived. I hadn't even recovered from that ordeal when I got the mother of all kidney stone attacks. That was bad enough, and then on top of that, I got a weird sinus/allergy infection, one of the worst I've ever had. It wasn't helped due to the high pollen count in the area either. Which meant that in between fever, hacking, pain, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, I only managed to eke out a few pages on my latest spec.

I've been at this long enough, you'd think I'd know what I was doing, but I'm concerned over my lack of output. So far this year I've only completed one rewrite, and a script tweak that turned into a full blown page one rewrite for a director.

Now it's not that I lack ideas, far from it. I've begun (and this is a conservative estimate) at least 5 scripts (if not more) only to get distracted, put it aside, and start something new. By this time last year I had three new specs under my belt. I'm usually such a workaholic---I can remember years when I banged out spec after spec, spitting them out like tacks.

I'm not quite sure what it means. Look, for years I kept that pace up, I suppose it was bound to let up eventually, but I don't know if I like it. In the past, I've tried writing several scripts at once (working on one in the morning, the other in the afternoon), but it's a tough schedule to keep up. I usually found that I'd get so engrossed in one script, that it was hard to get in the groove of the second.

Well, hopefully June will be easier, both writing wise and health wise. One sickness at a time, please.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Ending The Story

I'm always going on about, when I'm reading a script, how I can tell in the first couple of pages if it's going to be any good. Let me put it this way; I have never read a script that started out bad and then suddenly became wonderful. It's like going on a blind date. As you primp, you hope, nay pray, that the guy isn't going to be loser in the first degree. And when Mr. Dreamboat spits like a dog and has the table manners of a donkey, you want to get it over with as quickly as possibly.

Nobody wants to read a crummy script, least of all me. It's hard on my eyes, I'm constantly changing my printer ribbons. Hell, my printer, just 2 years old, died on me this week. So when I crack open a script, I want to be entertained and engaged from the get go.

And the ending is just as crucial. I've read many scripts that after great foreplay, petered out and limped towards a disjointed, discombobulated ending. A good ending shouldn't be all that much work, really, if you've done your job right in the pages that came before it. It should be organic, not half-baked. If it's a twist ending, the clues should have been there all along, like THE SIXTH SENSE. The ending should not be something that makes you go hmmmm.

Take, for example, the glorious GONE WITH THE WIND. Scarlett finally comes to her senses and realizes that she's loved Rhett all along, but it's too late. He spurns her. Would the movie have become the classic it now is if Rhett had instead swept her into his arms and played fishy face? Not on your life.

Or another great movie, CASABLANCA. Yeah, I suppose Rick and Ilsa could have run away together, ending up in a tenement in Brooklyn, far away from the realities of war. On second thought, I don't think so.

A script is like a jigsaw puzzle. Page by page, you're putting it together, and when you get to page 105 or 116, the ending should write itself.

Note: I'm not a big fan of trick endings. You know the kind I mean, where the bad guy, seemingly dead, rises from the grave to wreak more havoc not once, but several times. A good ending is like a good house guest. They don't overstay their welcome, they clean up after themselves, and they remember to keep the toilet seat down.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Another Great Actor

Okay, so my love, lust and appreciation for the wonder that Ted Levine is well known, but there are other actors who are equally deserving of my admiration and respect such as the great David Straithairn.

Like Ted, you've probably seen David in dozens of movies and didn't recognize him due to his skill and dexterity in immersing himself in his roles: EIGHT MEN OUT, THE RIVER WILD, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, LA CONFIDENTIAL, and perhaps my favorite of all, SNEAKERS. Equally adept in drama and comedy, David is, like Ted, an "actor's actor". His Oscar nomination for GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK was richly deserved.

I have never seen David give a bad performance. That's the highest compliment I can pay. Plus, he's easy on the eyes, let's not forget that.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Heat Wave

We went from one extreme to the other! Biting cold, monsoons, and then over the weekend Mothe Nature popped in to say, hey, I can still toss a curve ball or two. Now we've got temps in the 80's (tomorrow 90) and here in NY, we've also got a Swine Flu outbreak. Mamma Mia!

Yes, I've been very remiss with posting of late, but I do have an excuse. I've been busy. Really busy. Feast or famine, and right now it's feast, so I have to grab it while I can because next month I could easily be flat on my butt and out on the street. Nothing I can talk about it yet, and it may never pan out, but fortune favors the bold, and lately I've been doing things that a year ago (hell, even six months ago), I wouldn't have thought of doing, much less attempted. A for effort.

And we took the first baby steps towards getting an interview with The Man, so keep your legs crossed, it looks like all systems go for August. Woo hoo!!!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

April Showers Bring Nothing But Rain

I'm really quite tired of the weather we've been having of late. Rain, rain, rain, and more rain, interspersed with a day here and there that has...more rain. And cold with a biting wind. The spring flowers are blooming, but that's about all that is. I really would like better weather, at this point I'm ready to give spring the heave ho and move along to summer.

Otherwise, writing. Hoping to hear good news from producers in LA, waiting on a manager, working on my own stuff, reading scripts and giving notes, submitted my latest Moviebytes column (you do know that I'm a monthly columnist, right?). I'm also hoping to do an interview with an actor we all know and love, but that's all I'll say on that for now.

Easter is not the happiest time of year for me for personal reasons, so I pretty much grit my teeth and just push through it. So if the weather would co-operate, that would go a looong way.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just Another Day In Paradise

Okay, so I got out of my funk rather quickly, as funks go. Nothing like a good night's sleep to give you a different perspective. I may stink, but it's my stink, and I'll keep it up until I'm sick of it. Screenwriting is like being on top of the Ferris Wheel when it gets stuck. You never know what's around the corner until you hit the speed bump and fall over the handlebars.

I got another crazy idea---yes, another one to add to my collection---but it's so damn good that I'm now I'm trying to work that into my schedule. It's not easy to switch from thriller mode to wild over the top comedy. And since I have ideas from two years ago that I still want to get to, it's clear that at some point I will have to clone myself.

Find a great idea.

Write a great script.

Re-write same great script.

They love your great script, but want more changes.

What was that great idea?

That great idea sold yesterday.

Who the fuck are you?

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Pits

Every so often, I fall into what can only be described as melancholia (okay, depression). Me, usually so chipper, so perky, so up and optimistic.

Yeah, even screenwriters get the blues.

I usually feel this way when I get a rejection that I was really hoping wouldn't be, when I'm flabbergasted over notes/comments that makes me question my creative judgement and/or talent, when I feel I haven't lived up to my ability, I question past choices and a slew of "what if's", when the writing isn't going smoothly or a hundred other things that all point to the inevitable conclusion: I suck, I have always sucked, and my two produced movies were freaks of nature.

And so I agonize and wonder if this isn't the time to chuck the screenwriting game and move on.

As Julie, my good bud, puts it, screenwriting isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, but there comes a time where you have to say, after beating your head against the wall and getting nowhere, when to give up, when enough is enough. How many times does your heart have to break before you say the hell with it.

When French women get depressed, we REALLY get depressed.

I was spoiled early on, having one of my very first scripts sell so quickly, and then get made. Everyone assumed it would be easy after the first sale. So did I. Instead, it's been just the opposite. I could go through a whole laundry list of why I haven't broken through. Poor representation. Bad timing. The writer's strike. And I've gotten close enough, tantalizingly so, to know that I'm not THAT bad. Yet it's still not enough. I honestly don't know what I'm doing wrong. And I'm tired of it.

I'm tired of running in place with holes in my sneakers. I'm tired of trying to write to a marketplace that seems to be always one step ahead of me, and I'm tired that when I do write for myself, no one seems to be on my page. I'm tired of the highs and lows; it's like being on a frigging roller coaster at Six Flags. One minute someone thinks your idea is the best thing since sliced bread and you're flying so high you need oxygen, and the next, someone tears you down as if you're a complete neophyte, and you feel lower than a slug, you're gum under someone's shoe, you're a bug on the windshield, snot in...well, I think you get the picture.

I knew it was going to be hard. But hard for this long? I dunno. Something's got to give. I feel like a rubber band, stretched to the limit.

Now aren't you happy I've unloaded? Makes you long for the days when I just posted You-Tube videos.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aw Man!

Yes, we have a new look, which I'm still on the fence about. Mom, Hubby and Kid #3 like, Cousin no like.

Been writing, been reading, been waiting. That pretty much sums it up.

Are you sick of winter? I know I am. We had flurries yesterday. The crocuses are blooming, the daffodils are getting ready for their debut, and it's freezing out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Ruby Red Headed Warbler

Now boys and girls, brush your teeth, pull up a chair and listen up. Mama's got something to say on a subject very near and dear to her.

I'm talking about voice.

No, not the way I sound on the phone, which is Starbucks on crack.

I'm referring to the writing voice. The voice that makes you unique. The voice that separates Stephen King from, let's say, a Stephenie Meyer.

Here's an observation that may shock some people: writing is easy. Yes, it is. Any chimp worth his banana can sit down at a computer and type. And with the proliferation of screenwriting software, it's really just a question of filling in the blanks.

Except for one thing: you can string the words together, but it's the way you put them together that adds up to your voice.











I've read scripts, many scripts, too many to scripts to count, scripts that sold for big moolah, that were perfectly formatted, grammatically correct, hit all the beats according to Blake Snyder, yet were duller than baby food.

A script doesn't have to be perfect to sell. It doesn't have to be perfectly structured. A script can have a plethora of flaws and foibles and still get produced.

But even for all the flaws, a script has to that intangible something that sets it apart from the pack.


If your script has a voice, it can hide a multitude of sins.

If your script doesn't have it, it's like the Emperor With No Clothes.

I'd rather have a script that says something (yet have problems), than a "perfectly formatted" script with all the life of a corpse.

And that's what Mama says.

Friday, February 27, 2009

So, What's The Story?

By Michele Wallerstein
Screenplay, Novel & Career Consultant

Every agent is waiting for you to bring them the next big saleable screenplay that will knock the business off its axis. They want you to show them that piece that will have producers and studios panting at their doors with huge offers of money and multiple deals of future movies. Agents want the best for you, because it means the best for them. I happen to believe that this relationship is a great one. It is an honest quid pro quo - if you are successful…I am successful. How bad is that?

OK, so how do you make that happen? How do you deliver the perfectly written project that will make the town sit up and take notice? It’s not as difficult as it sounds. The first thing you have to do is STOP thinking that you have to write the most unusual script of all time. This kind of thinking will destroy your chances of not only selling the script, but of keeping your agent. I’ve found that new writers often have the tendency to try to impress people by “thinking outside the box”. Well folks, the “box” is there for a reason, it works. Throughout movie history, audiences have loved certain types of films. They go to see them over and over again. When you are working to get in to the business, go with the flow. Perhaps, after you’ve established yourself as a player, you might be able to expand your horizons, but it’s not the way to get into your chosen field.

Insofar as your early spec scripts are concerned, here are some rules to live by:

No Togas. By this I mean to say period pieces. Keep your early scripts contemporary. Period pieces are extremely difficult to sell. They go in and out of favor with the studios by the minute. You never know whether you are too early or too late with your piece. They are not good as writing samples since they are too specifically time/era dependent. This means manners, customs, morals, societal relationships, styles of speech, etc… . Oh, and by the way, try to stay on this planet.

Keep it simple. Stay away from twins. Don’t make a script too complicated to produce. As soon as a development executive or producer sees this they will toss it into the “circular file”. It is too much of a pain in the neck. Try not to write a script that is so complicated that it would make the casting a horror. Another example, besides twins, is a multi-generational story of the entire cast. This means a nightmare of casting as well as costume and set changes that are a financial pain. Don’t go there. Besides, no one really wants to watch Brad Pitt or Ashton Kutcher age before their eyes.

Keep ‘em young. If you really want to kick start your writing career, try to have your early scripts feature a fairly young cast. In my mind the term “young” means any age up to 29 years old. Not one minute older. The youth market is what is the most viable today. Actually if you can write a script for 9 year old boys, you are really in good shape. The research shows that those boys will return to see the same film over and over again with different friends and family members. Recidivism is the word. Let’s not forget our little friend, Harry Potter.

Location, location, location. This is not simply a rule in real estate. This is a real consideration in movie making. A studio never has a problem putting their money in a viable movie star who can “open” a movie. That means that any movie starring a particularly huge actor is guaranteed a certain bottom line of huge dollars at the box office in its opening weekend. Foreign or multiple locations do not promise this type of money for the film and they are very expensive. It is not a hard and fast rule to keep everything set in one location but simply something to keep in mind. You always want to be realistic in your writing. Think bottom line.

The Star. Here are the rules for your main character and they are hard and fast. These points apply to all genres. Do not try to change them for any reason.

a. The Star’s character is on every page.

b. The Star’s character resolves the problem

c. The Star’s character has the most lines

d. The Star’s character gets the girl (or the guy)

e. The Star’s character is the smartest person in the cast

f. The Star’s character has the last word in the film

g. The Star’s character must grow as a person

h. The Star’s character must learn something about him/herself

Coincidences. They only complicate the plot. Coincidences never, ever resolve the problems. When you have a coincidence resolve a plot point the audience feels cheated.

Depressing/Dramas? There is a fine line between being depressing and being dramatic. You need to understand the difference in your early writing career of dramatic film writing. I love a good dramatic relationship film. I hate depressing movies that have no other saving grace but to be sad. “HUD” was a great drama starring the late Paul Newman, another great drama was the 1957 film titled “A FACE IN THE CROWD” starring Patricia Neal and Andy Griffith. These are films that must be seen by serious film writers. As an agent, some years ago a client brought in a brand new script that he had never discussed with me. He proudly handed over a large box of them, with leatherette covers with gold embossed titles. This sent a clear message that I was not to give him any notes and that he wanted them to be sent out just the way they were. The story in those scripts was about the murders of elderly, helpless people in an old age home. It was so depressing that I could barely read it. Not only couldn’t I submit this well-written script, but I had to let the client go.

Choices. Write a contemporary drama, comedy, suspense, thriller, murder/mystery, teen-comedy, romance, etc… . Keep your characters interesting and believable- make us care what happens to them. Try to write “up” to the audiences’ intellect and emotions. We want to leave the movie theater feeling like we were entertained and that we learned just a little bit about the human condition. The movie studios like this too.

Michele Wallerstein is a former Literary Agent who now works as a Screenplay and Novel Consultant. She can be reached at:



Reposted with permission by the author, this article first appeared in the Great American Pitchfest Feb Newsletter (

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Putting on the Blitz

I'm here, I'm alive...barely.

Since my last post, I've started at least three new scripts (and percolating dozens more, okay, maybe not dozens, but a lot), did a temp job which nearly killed me (no joke, you work 11 1/2 hour days and see how you hold up), compiling a list of e-mail addys (nope, can't tell you why, otherwise I'd have to kill you), wrote my monthly column, did script coverages, two interviews for the Great American Pitchfest newsletter...and all the other sundry things like laundry, baking (Mom can't live without a cake in the house).

Watched the Oscars, really wanted Mickey to win, if only to hear him say fuck on national tee vee.

Natalie Portman was adorable.

Didn't much care for the outfit that Beyonce wore. Looked like curtains you'd find in an 1860's bordello.

Jessica Biehl, hello, I've seen napkins folded better at my local pizzeria.

Loved Angelina and Brad.

Whoopi, that dress was a whoops.

Could somebody put a muzzle on Ryan Seacrest? The man is insipid.

Women with red hair should not wear red.

Tina Fey and Steve Martin should do a movie together.

Did anyone in the western world really think that SLUMDOG wouldn't win Best Picture?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Pixie Dust

Isn't that a great picture? It's of my oldest daughter, Adrienne. She looks carefree, happy, enthusiastic, excited, innocent, unafraid.

It's the way I want to feel when I'm writing. Curious about that locked door. Anxious to go down the unbeaten path. Willing to fail. Willing to try. Taking changes, even if I fall flat on my face.

That's the way I was when I first started screenwriting. I had no idea of what I was doing, so I had no expectations. It was fun, it was exhilirating. I wasn't supposed to succeed, so anything I did, well, it was for my own pure pleasure. When I sold my first script (and actually had it made), you could have knocked me over with a piledriver.

And then, you know....the bar was set. I had something to prove. I had to prove that I wasn't a "one hit wonder". And sometimes, I slogged through the writing just to plow through it, instead of for the joy, the pleasure, the love it brought me. Because I do love writing with all my heart and soul. Screenwriting, articles, blogs, grocery lists...

Last year I spent (for me) a lot of time and energy on a project that I really didn't care for. I was trying so hard to mold this idea to fit someone's box, a square peg into a round hole, if you will. And I was miserable, and I made myself even more miserable, because I didn't want to admit that I couldn't do it.

I'm now working on a project that is as uncommercial as they come. Decidedly out of the ballpark. And I don't care because I feel good about it. I want to see how far I can go with it. How far it will take me...even if I'm the only one who ever reads it. And it's okay. Yeah, it might end up being a waste of time. But so what?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

That Time Again

Must stop...looking at...Ted Levine. Must...stop...

Because I have started a new script. In fact, two. But if I stop to stare into those dreamy blue eyes, I'm lost...and if I'd rather dream about my Teddy Bear, it means I'm losing steam on the scripts.

Let's face it, writing a script takes work. Lots of it, along with discipline and passion and enthusiasm. Every time I write FADE IN, I worry. Will this premise carry me to 110 pages and beyond, numerous rewrites, including championing my vision through the long night of the Valley of No?

I'm always afraid. Afraid I won't be able to finish. Fearful that what I'm writing is crap. Scared that it's a lost cause. It's like going to a well, and each time you draw some water, you're scared shitless that one day, the well will run dry. And when that happens, what next?

My hard drive is littered with the carcasses of half-completed scripts. It's not that I don't mean not to finish them. I always start out with the best of intentions. Usually something else takes over (usually another script idea). I tell myself that I'll return to those scripts one day...and hopefully I will.

That's my problem (if you can call it that) in a nutshell. I'm always coming up new ideas. I tell ya, it's a blessing and a curse.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tips for a Better Life

1. Take a 10-30 minutes walk every day. And while you walk, smile.
2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
3. Sleep for 7 hours.
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.
5. Play more games.
6. Read more books than you did the previous year.
7. Make time to practice meditation, yoga, and prayer. They provide us with daily fuel for our busy lives.
8. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6.
9. Dream more while you are awake.
10. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
11. Drink plenty of water.
12. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
13. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip.
14. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
15. Don't have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
16. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
17. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
18. Smile and laugh more.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others.
20. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
21. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
22. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.
23. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about. Don't compare your partner with others.
24. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
25. Forgive everyone for everything.
26. What other people think of you is none of your business.
27. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
28. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
29. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
30. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
31. The best is yet to come.
32. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
33. Do the right thing!
34. Call your family often.
35. Your inner most is always happy. So be happy.
36. Each day give something good to others.
37. Don't over do. Keep your limits.

Thank you Facebook!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things I Learned From Harold and Maude (Thanks IMDB)

1. Get Together Regardless of Your Age, Race, Religion, Creed or National Origin.

2. The world's sorrow comes from people who are individualistic but allow themselves to be treated as a clone.

3. Age isn't a boundary for love.

4. "Here today, gone tomorrow, so don't get attached to things!"

5. Try something new everyday.

6. "Consistency is not a human trait."

7. "A lot of people enjoy being dead."

8. Never give up your sense of curiosity.

9. Some people will surprise you.

10. Enjoy simple things.

11. Computer dates will always attract weird people.

12. Never let your mother try to hook you up.

13. Don't Be Shy

14. If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

15. "It's best not to be too moral."

16. "Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves."

17. "The world still dearly loves a cage."

18. Always look for the new experience.

19. The curse of a government job is to be officious.

20. Don't be bothered with the mores or folkways of society.

21. Cat Stevens songs

22. Revolt every day.

23. Use creativity to get out of sticky situations.

24. If your mother is too busy being a societal women, she will ignore your pleas for attention.

25. Birth and death are all part of the life cycle.

26. Photographs will always stay young and bright, though you will age. (book)

27. Create things.

28. "It's okay, it's organic!"

29. A different definition of "public property."

30. "Go out and love some more."

31. "Everyone should be able to make some music."

32. If you want to be free, be free.

33. Don't worry, be happy.

34. You can do it better in a hearse.

35. Old people have sex. And enjoy it!

36. Live before you die.

37. It's just as easy to be happy as it is to be sad.

38. Banjo players are picky.

39. Live for today not in the past.

40. It's cool to be different.

41. Money can't buy you happiness.

42. Don't let other people rule your life.

43. You don't need a license to drive.

44. Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves.

45. If you throw something you love into the sea, you'll always know where it is.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

I am very happy to get feedback and comments on my blog, but I must admit, I was taken a bit aback to receive a note from "Anonymous" that "for a writer, I didn't write that much" on my blog. Too many You Tube videos.

When I told this to my hubby, he laughed and opined that whoever said this didn't know me very well.

I am always writing. Even when I'm not at my computer, I'm writing.

I've always thought of my blog as my scratch pad, where I can write and share what moves me. Artists like Natalie MacMaster and Fleetwood Mac. I don't post these videos to fill up band with. This is the stuff that flows through my veins, fuels my creativity.

On this blog, I've written about my highs and lows, the disappointments. True, there's a lot of personal crap I haven't written about, mainly because I believe that there are some subjects that should remain private. There are some days I wonder why I even get up to take a shower; other days, I can't wait to jump in the shower.

I've written on lots of other subjects too, like politics, fame, fortune, gossip, movies, TV, my obsession with Ted Levine. But I can understand why some people want a blog to be, you know...a blog.

So how about this for a 2008 resolution: more writing, as if I'm not writing enough. More essays on movies. And more of myself, even when it hurts.

Cos after all, in addition to everything else, I'm a writer, right?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

New Year New Hopes

A new year, new beginnings, new goals.

It's the same thing every January. We start off the new year with such lofty
aspirations. This is going to be the year I lose weight. The year I make that big breakthrough. The year I hit the lottery. The year I realize all those unfulfilled dreams. And you hit the ground running like Danica Patrick, full throttle.

But you can't keep that kind of velocity and adrenaline going forever---no one can, without the use of drugs---and slowly, when things don't quite work out the way you'd initially hoped, you begin to run out of gas.

And the whole cycle begins anew each January 1st.

I want this year, 2009, to be different. I really do. Change we can believe in, yes we can, and all that jazz. 2008 was so bad that in comparison, 2009 can only be better.

That's the great thing about turning a new leaf (or year). We can wipe the slate clean, start fresh, regain optimism, recharge our batteries. There's nothing to hold us back except our fears.

And if we falter or fail or take a giant step backwards...there's always next year.