Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Love With "City Island"

Every now and again you see a film that just lingers, like the scent of gardenias or a perfectly satisfying meal. "City Island" is one of those films. If you haven't seen it yet, please do, even if it means driving across town to the one cinema where it's playing. It's a gem of a film. Hard to believe, with a script this good, writer/director Raymond De Felitta had such a hard time getting funding and distribution. Then again, "Slumdog Millionaire" had similar woes, which isn't bad company to be in. Hopefully, with some good ole word of mouth, it will be showing everywhere soon.

Why do I love the film so much? Maybe it's the quirky but real characters. (Brief aside to say that I HATE films where characters are odd for the sake of being odd. "Like, wow... a story about a successful actor who secretly longs to be an accountant! And he's OCD about hygiene! And he rides a Segway everywhere!") Fortunately, "City Island" characters are real, flawed, likeable, and 3D without the need for funny glasses. Like the prison guard dad (played by Andy Garcia) who secretly dreams of being an actor. Or the snarky teenage son (Ezra Miller, who stole every scene he was in) with an unusual and surprisingly endearing fetish. (Didn't know "endearing fetish" could actually exist until now.) Or the character of Tony the ex-con (played with formidable gravitas by Steven Strait, an actor to watch) who ends up being the moral center of the film.

Beyond the characters, there's something about the tone of the story that made me what to stand up and shout, "YES!" "City Island" is a true dramedy, and I say that with utmost respect for my favorite genre of film. De Felitta manages to make a buoyant, deliciously sweet film about some heavy family issues. It's unbelievably hard to walk the comedy/drama tightrope as well as he does. A few other films I love that thrive on that tension include "Parenthood," "Together" (a little Swedish film by Lukas Moodyson), more recent hits like "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine" and the film that made me want to make films, Ang Lee's "Eat Drink Man Woman." Bravo to De Felitta for striking that perfect balance between dramatic tension and comedic release, or in other words, thank God he kept it funny.

As for the plot... wow. I'd love to have coffee with De Felitta and ask him where he got his story lines from. They feel so authentic and self assured, I'm sure he has some kind of emotional connection with each one. The father given a second chance to make good with his son. The marriage that might crack in spite of having real love at the core. The parents longing to connect with their kids but not knowing how. The auteur weaves these stories together with the comedic timing and crescendo of a Shakespeare play -- one of the happy ones, that is. De Felitta clearly doesn't have Plot Issues the way I do. I love creating characters and dialogue, love crafting individual scenes... but plodding, I mean plotting that overall story line feels like going for a run in a murky swamp. It's about as enjoyable as natural childbirth (and yes, I've done it so I know EXACTLY how it feels.) De Felitta makes storytelling seem effortless, and reminds me why I'm a screenwriter.

I left the theater wishing I could have "City Island" for dinner. It really was that good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the brink of my dream

I just read the most amazing author's note. Donald Miller, one of my favorite writers, opens his new book by saying, "nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo." His point is that if our life goal wouldn't make a good movie, it probably won't make a good life. I totally agree.

There was a time in my life where I wanted nothing more than to go to Stanford. I did, and it was great. But that movie probably wouldn't make you cry, would it? Then there was a time, when I was a grunt at an ad agency working on the Microsoft account, where my dream was to work FOR Microsoft, so I could tell grunts like me what to do. I did that too, and it wasn't as great as I thought it would be. I guess I was working out my ending all those years.

So my new dream, one that I hope "sticks" is to be a writer. It's really what I wanted to do all along, but didn't have the courage to pursue. It takes GUTS to be a writer. A willingness to stand stark naked on a street corner and have people point at you and laugh. At least that's what it feels like when you're putting your soul on the page.

I've written a few screenplays, won a few awards, nearly had a script made into a feature, and now I'm writing for TV. I've been doing this for over six years now, and for the first time, doors are really opening. Once again, I hope it sticks. I don't know what the future holds. Some days I wonder if I'm more afraid of success than failure. I'm comfortable where I am today... wife, mother, unknown writer. I'm not a high profile, center of attention kind of person, and don't aspire to that in particular. But I do want my writing to come alive on a screen and I do want to work with brilliant, creative people and I do want to tell stories that are meaningful and reflect my point of view. I've moved 14 times in the last 17 years, lived in 3 different continents and have LOTS of stories to tell. I'd love to get paid for doing what I love. I just want to make sure my marriage and my kids and my soul stay intact through the process.

Not sure if that makes for a great Hollywood ending, but it's the current goal. I guess we're all works in progress, aren't we?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How Social Networking Can Kill Your Career

So I attended a TV panel discussion in Santa Monica last night. The topic was "Getting in the Writers Room" and one of the panelists was a TV exec who recently started her own consulting practice. She was articulate, knowledgeable and nurturing when she spoke, and I thought, she could be useful! I'm working on a TV pilot, something I've never written before, and it's quite a challenge. The consultant specializes in helping people like me navigate the development process.

I had a good conversation and handshake with this woman after the meeting. Got her card. Then went home and Googled her. Interestingly, her LinkedIn profile felt rather sparse. She had some contacts, but not nearly as many as I would have expected from someone with her years of experience. Hmmm, I was having my doubts. In this business, it's just as much about who you know as what you know. I was willing to pay for knowledge AND contacts. Knowledge alone... maybe. Isn't it interesting that a site like LinkedIn could prove to be a serious liability?

Have you Googled yourself lately? How do you come across to someone stumbling upon your profile? Is your Facebook picture accessible to the general public? Do you want it to be? You'd be surprised by how many people allow just about anyone to see their photos and be able to view all of their friends. Are you sure you want all of that hanging out?

Just a word of caution for those of you who depend upon making a good first impression. Check your LinkedIn and Facebook and whatever else is Googleable. Better to be off those social networks altogether than risk turning away potential clients. Nothing's private these days, unless you work hard to make it that way. The default is letting all your laundry hang out to dry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Feeling like a Twit

Locked out of Twitter! It was the day of the big Twitter Meltdown (thanks to some guy in Russia?) and SOMEONE posted a "get rich quick" scheme using my account! It was such a betrayal. But the bigger betrayal was trying to get through to Twitter, who locked me out of my account. I thought Twitter was an advocate for The Little Guy, but after contacting them multiple times over the course of a few months, I was beginning to feel helpless. I bet Ashton Kutcher would've gotten a response, if HE had been locked out! Surely Starbucks or Diablo Cody would have had their account restored by now! Who was I, humble Saffron, with nothing really important to share, other than trivialities such as "I'm having a baby in a few days" or "I'm working on a new script"? The irony... a medium that put everyone on level footing (character limit wise) was turning into the same old hierarchy! I toyed with the idea of writing a piece for NPR... I called it, "The Twit That I Am" and whined about Twitter leaving me in the dust with no recourse. Would my followers leave me? Would someone else take my precious "@" moniker, the one I created waaaay back in 2006, before some twitterers were even born? (OK, slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean.)

But I kept bugging customer service and out of the blue birdy-less sky, I was assigned a ticket! A real person was going to look into my claim! I thanked "Trihawkathan" (one of only 7 Twitter staffers who must respond to mountains of emails beseeching help) and thanked him profusely, hoping that might speed up my resolution. It worked. A day later, @Saffron was back! It feels so good to be alive! Really, isn't it the small things in life that you come to appreciate? 140 characters CAN make a difference!