Posts in: June, 2008


Remember the co-op? Remember how I described it as part-sales-pitch, part-new-age-feel-goodery? I had an uneasy feeling about it from, let’s say, day three. Basically, after Big-Shot Producer’s initial pitch—which made it sound pretty good—he began ladling on the creepy gravy until I felt very uncomfortable about the whole prospect. I wanted to know what happened to the mild but very much existent promises that some crazy group of foreign investors would read Disappear and have a response in three weeks or less. I wanted to know what happened to the co-op concept of getting 20-30 (maybe even up to 50) individual pieces of feedback on my script.

Instead, what little information I did receive—which reached a standstill by mid-April—consisted of nothing but impersonal marketing-speak. Gone was the producer who encouraged me despite his reservations about my pitch-black sense of humor. In his place stood a pod person. I didn’t like where this was headed.

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Lardner’s Ring

Robin Hood (BBC America)—Last week, I voiced massive disappointment in the writers’ reliance on goofy plot contrivances and dumbing down their characters in an effort to advance the story.

Combining a compelling—but not ridiculous—mystery involving the word “lardner” with better character moments than anything we’ve seen before, the writers have pulled off a ridiculous quality turnaround. This might be the series’ best episode (so far, let’s hope). I had two minor quibbles that the show smartly addressed before the hour ended. First, Robin’s crew rush off to save him and Marian, except none of them actually know where they are. Fortunately, a short scene in which they get lost in the woods solved that problem. Second, they introduced yet another random, one-episode character who serves no purpose other than feeding Robin exposition. Except, oh wait—they integrated him naturally and completely into the plot, and he didn’t rush off or die at the end.

Sticking Robin and Marian up a tree at the same time Gisborne arrives was an excellent way to attack that triangle—the best idea the writers have had for this subplot. It also gave Marian an opportunity to show her independence in a way that felt more natural than last week’s shrill whinefest. More amazingly, the episode not only portrays Gisborne as an intelligent-but-lovestruck man—Robin actually comes out and says, “He’s too smart to fall for that.” More than once!

This week, the Sheriff and Gisborne’s often over-the-top stupidity didn’t cause or contribute to their failure. Robin’s men actually came up with a pretty intelligent, old-timey way of enshrouding the forest in smoke and tying a rope between two trees to get Robin down a safe distance away from the Sheriff’s men. I’m not saying it’s plausible, but it’s a lot less stupid than some of the other plans they’ve used. The Sheriff also came up with a good idea to stop the pigeon, and atypically, Robin and his crew outwit the Sheriff without rubbing his face in it (thus increasing his rage and shattering his confidence).

No joke, the writers did a fantastic job this week, easily surpassing the first two or three episodes this season, which were formerly the strongest in the show’s short history. I hope they keep this up.

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My Knowledge of Reading

Yeah, so I got that reader job.

I sent Amelia the coverage samples, hoping the ones I’d chosen weren’t too long or too short. And yet, despite my desire for brevity, I couldn’t resist sending the epic. It’s long, but it’s the best example I have of rolling up my sleeves and digging deeper, which I’ve been asked to do on several occasions. It has a plot so convoluted, it requires both a long synopsis and a long analysis, so you can get into the nitty-gritty and explore just why it doesn’t work—even the writing problems are convoluted.

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New Blogging Schedule

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve switched from blogging all day, every day to blogging at least three times a week. This is a conscious effort because, frankly, blogging takes too much effort. It’s both a combination of time management—lately, I’ve spent more time than I’d like thinking about what to blog about, or trolling the Web for blog topics, and subsequently writing the post. Worse than that, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m losing steam in terms of subjects. I can only blog about screenwriting, invasive medical procedures, and standardized tests so many times before readers rebel.

So yeah, if I think of something worth blogging about on an “unscheduled” blog day, maybe I’ll write it; maybe I’ll save it for the next scheduled day. Who knows? Just don’t expect daily blogging. I had a good run, but I’m officially out of gas.

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Author: Allison Burnett

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




A disparate group of students spend four years at a prestigious high school for artists in New York.


Young Artists study their craft while teachers (in voiceover) describe the struggles on the road ahead. A pseudo-montage follows as each character is introduced amid the cacophony of American Idol-esque bad auditions. JENNY LANG, petite and blonde, performs a monologue she’s written herself. DENISE DUPREE, the sheltered daughter of a minister, gives a nervous piano audition. MARCO BRUNELLO, a working-class Italian-American Brooklyn boy, sings a heartfelt love song. MALIK WASHBURN, a stylish African-American, recites a poem. ALICE BARTON, a down-to-earth girl raised in a ritzy household, impresses with her dance skills. KEVIN BAILEY, a sweet-faced Midwestern dancer, performs an expert tap number. NEIL FLEISCHER, a nebbishy butcher’s son with filmmaking ambitions, auditions for the acting program. JOY MOY, a tiny Chinese-American girl, acts the hell out of Juliet. VICTOR TAVERAS, Dominican and cute, skinny and cocky, is a songwriter and multitalented musician. ROSIE MARTINEZ, a voluptuous Dominican girl, impresses with her fierce attitude and aggressive dance skills. These are the lucky freshmen who have been accepted, all of them 14 and eager.

Freshman year starts with each student getting ready and making the commute to school. Immediately, their teachers warn them of the difficulties they’ll have, try to prepare them for the next four years. At lunch, the cafeteria is jammed with artists creating. After and impromptu musical number, Denise and Marco leave the chaos and share a nice, quiet moment. She offers him half a sandwich, and they each empathize with the other’s feeling of being an outsider in this new world. Looking for Rosie, Victor encounters Alice. She’s coarse and unpleasant; he’s cocky and obnoxious. They don’t get along.

By winter, Malik and Jenny are rehearsing scenes together. Malik finds the concept uncomfortable, fearing nobody will believe him playing someone so thoroughly outside of his skin. Jenny’s about to give him some words of encouragement when she runs into ANDY MATTHEWS, an upperclassmen, whom she immediately drools over. Malik teases her about him.

DOWD, the acting teacher, tells his students to start a journal chronicling the world they inhabit and question it. Alice has an awkward dinner with her parents; they’re gleeful about a former peer of Alice’s getting into Yale. Despite Alice’s disinterest in Yale, her parents hold out hope that the friend’s surprise success story could also happen to Alice. Meanwhile, REVEREND DUPREE, Denise’s father, is unhappy hearing his daughter will have to be out so late to perform with the school orchestra.

Joy Moy, Kevin, Neil, and Marco wander around Times Square and Broadway, discussing their dreams and aspirations. Later, all the students discuss their varied summer plans. Marco asks Jenny to dance, and she gets angry and storms away. He’s shocked.

Sophomore year. Neil obnoxiously videotapes Jenny and her friends, and they insult him. Joy Moy, Kevin, and Rosie discuss Rosie’s curves and her laziness. Although Rosie protests the laziness remark, dance teacher MISS KRAFT seems to agree with Joy Moy and Kevin. Later, Dowd adjusts the acting assignment: the students are to take the information accumulated in their journals, create a character based on someone they know and have studied, and find a way to correspond these characters with a character from a famous play. Marco sings a passionate love song for his class but makes it clear he’s singing to Jenny. Victor is accosted by CRANSTON, the music teacher, for playing with his own style instead of obeying traditional music rules. Victor argues that Bach is only famous today for breaking traditional molds 300 years ago.

Marco tries to apologize for embarrassing Jenny; Jenny doesn’t accept. Marco notices Jenny’s attraction to Andy Matthews. Denise, accompanying a singer on piano, gives the upperclassman some tips on singing. Victor finds out Denise’s “secret”—that she’s an excellent singer herself—and teases her about it. He asks her to sing on some demo recordings he’ll be making, and she reluctantly agrees. Jenny complains to her friends that Andy Matthews doesn’t notice her. Neil performs a character based on his father, who reminds the class of Willy Loman. When Andy Matthews says something offensive to Joy Moy, Kevin mocks him. Andy and his friends surround Kevin, acting menacing, but Marco steps in to rescue him.

At a Halloween dance, Victor slips Malik (the DJ) a CD of Denise singing “Fame,” and everyone dances. Joy Moy gets drunk and performs a monologue (videotaped by Neil) inspired by Jenny. When they play it for the class, Jenny’s humiliated. She asks to “borrow” Neil’s DVD, then hands it to a geeky kid to upload it to YouTube. Her sister discovers it quickly and says she’ll be in deep trouble.

Marco convinces Denise to go to a poetry slam, where she’s surprised by Malik’s engaging reading. After complaining that she has no friends, Alice’s father convinces her to sign up for a nonprofit activity, which will look good on her Yale application. At the poetry slam, Marco hooks Malik and Denise up. As they walk home together, Denise argues with Malik about his anger toward everything. She doesn’t see a reason for it.

Alice volunteers at a soup kitchen in a slum with Victor. After Miss Kraft harasses Rosie again and threatens to throw her out of the school, Rosie picks a passionate fight; Miss Kraft recommends her for the acting program. At the end of the year, Joy Moy rushes in and says her YouTube video got her an agent.

Junior year. Joy Moy auditions for Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls. The director suggests that Denise, who’s accompanying, should audition. Denise is reluctant; she sings an original gospel ballad that blows everyone away.

Neil engineers a meeting with Martin Scorsese by waiting around his dentist’s office. Scorsese is polite and encouraging; he agrees to look at Neil’s short script. Malik performs a monologue about his sister dying; it’s passionate, but Dowd knocks him down by telling Malik he covered everything except how the incident made him feel. Malik becomes abrasive and stomps out of class. Jenny and her friends sneak into a Columbia frat party and run into Andy Matthews, who has now graduated.

Joy Moy excitedly lets Denise know that she, a lowly junior, got the role of Sarah Brown. After a night at the soup kitchen, Victor asks Alice out. Kevin invites Joy Moy to her apartment; they rehearse a scene together, and she gets so in the moment that she kisses him, even though she’s supposed to be playing his mother. At a seedy warehouse, Victor and Alice go to see some performance art. At first, it freaks Alice out, but she gets into it. Joy Moy confesses her love for Kevin, in spite of his homosexuality. He lets her down gently. Alice apologizes for her hostility toward Victor.

Denise explains the role of Sarah Brown to Reverend Dupree, who already knows and disapproves. Neil gets a call from Scorsese, who has read his script and thinks it has a lot of potential. Neil asks him for money to finance it. At a karaoke club, the students perform a raucous country number. MISS ROWAN, the teacher chaperoning this event, tells a disappointing story about having so much potential but turning out to be a tiny fish in a vast ocean of superior talent, which is what led to her teaching at P.A.

Malik’s mother arrives at school, and everyone is shocked to discover she’s white. Denise quits Guys and Dolls. Alice lets Victor know she’s been accepted in the Joffrey Ballet and is leaving P.A.

Senior year. Dowd gives Malik a pep-talk about being half-white. Neil asks Jenny to star in his film, but she refuses; Rosie happily agrees to star in it. Later, Jenny is date-raped by Andy Matthews. Neil finishes up his script. MISS SIMMS convinces Denise to sign up for a college arts program. Alice’s leaving inspires Victor’s music. Neil’s film premiere and is loved by the students. Jenny apologizes for treating him badly. Neil cheers her up by naming now-famous actors who turned down famous roles.

Malik and Denise come to an understanding—both realize they need to stop doing what’s expected of them and do what they want to do. Denise decides to go to her college program, while Malik reunites with his family. Meanwhile, Jenny learns Marco has pounded the daylights out of Andy and is grateful. The class graduates, set to a musical number.


The story has its moments—some of the relationships and parental conflicts are sweet—and the writer does a great job with writing dialogue for such a diverse group of characters. Although many characters (especially the teachers) do little more than spout clichés, each character has a distinctive voice that feels authentic.

However, there are simply too many characters to make every single character and subplot satisfying. In trying so hard to hit as many ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds possible, the writer doesn’t have any room to breathe. I give him credit for trying to give each character his or her due, and he does a better-than-expected job of keeping all these characters straight, but it’s just too much. Taking two of these romantic couples and really fleshing them out will help streamline things a bit, rather than giving us a total of ten characters (not counting the teachers, parents, and supporting players populating the script) and trying to balance each of their stories.

Another significant problem is the lack of a clear antagonist, or any real jeopardy. Each character has a moment or two of conflict—sometimes significant conflict, as in the case of Jenny’s rape—but the lack of clear goals and antagonists makes the story murky. The writer never shows what these kids really want out of this school, other than the obvious: fame. Why are they so desperate for fame? I never felt close enough to any of the characters to know. The script introduces vague adversaries and obstacles, but for a story that spends about 15 of its first 30 pages telling us, in blunt terms, how difficult this journey will be—none of the students have a difficult time. The few obstacles hurled in their way resolve themselves within a few pages. Clearer goals and a true antagonist would give this story a much tighter focus and help it earn the happy ending.

With the enormous success of the High School Musical movies and American Idol, a story like this would definitely appeal to the teenage and young-adult demographics. It also has nostalgia value for an older audience familiar with the original film and TV series—the kind of movie parents would happily take their teenage daughters to see. The fact that it’s a musical but doesn’t overwhelm with musical numbers—there aren’t many and they are naturally integrated into the storyline—might also appeal to non-musical fans.

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Ugh…well, I hope it works out, but I haven’t heard anything all weekend. Amelia e-mailed me on Friday to tell me her company is looking for paid readers—decent money for the scripts, but no details on volume or whether or not this will come close to being permanent. She just wanted me to send her some coverage samples to give to her boss; I did, and I’m hoping for the best. Also, of course, preparing for the worst.

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Get Carter

Robin Hood (BBC America)—So when Robin comes up against the most powerful enemy he’s ever faced—he turns out to be a Crusades fighter who allies with Robin at the drop of a hat? Okay, maybe not the drop of a hat, but after a big fight, Carter acted far too willing to say, “Gosh, Robin, I was mistaken. I guess you didn’t kill my brother.” Yet, at the same time, I never felt like he’d turn around and betray them (as much did). It wasn’t a bad episode, but every time the show tries to raise the stakes, they end up fumbling without giving a real sense of danger or suspense.

And they’re back writing Guy of Gisborne as a clueless meathead. I do admire the occasional glimpses into Gisborne’s psyche the writers have tried to give us, but they still write him as too dumb/gullible/naïve. I’d accept this behavior from a character lower on the totem pole that Gisborne, but he’s the Sheriff’s second in command. He should be tough, smart and ruthless, to complement the Sheriff’s raging stupidity and quick, emotional decision-making. I have a feeling writing Gisborne this way will only get worse now that Marian’s all but joined the band.

Which, of course, brings us to Robin and Marian’s squabbling. Look, Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffiths are fine, but they aren’t exactly Nick and Nora Charles. I’m happy they’ve elected to make Marian independent-minded, but in this episode she didn’t come across as independent so much as stubborn, to an annoying degree. Their fighting made an unnatural escalation from “witty banter” to “seething bitterness.” Why couldn’t she be at odds with the rest of the group, too? She doesn’t fit in, and they know she’ll get preferential treatment because she’s his love thang. That would cause some resentment, yet everybody seems cool with her except Robin. As a result, Robin comes across as petty and insecure.

I wasn’t hugely fond of the “Robin fakes his death to get into the castle” strategy, either. This isn’t an example of fitting contemporary ideas into an older setting (something the show usually does quite well) so much as relying on a cheap, ancient gimmick that doesn’t amount to much. Also, I know they didn’t forget because they mentioned it, but Marian’s father died last week. Isn’t it too soon to use death-faking drugs in your ploy? If she felt anything regarding the plan, the writers didn’t let Marian show it—a huge missed opportunity to integrate her grief organically.

On the plus side, they gave Allan a decent subplot in which he tries to help out Marian by lying to Gisborne. It blows up in his face, but all’s well that ends well.

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Mark’s Site

Immediately after the porn review site incident, my friend Mark e-mailed me with a website idea of his own. He e-mailed less about the idea (which he believes is solid) than about the technical background required to create/run a website. I told him, shit, if I can do it, so can he.

But here’s the concept: defending movies that are universally bashed (most often by people who haven’t seen them) and arguing against movies that are universally loved. It struck an immediate chord with me, a closet Hudson Hawk fan who enjoys a great deal of tasteless, lowbrow entertainment that I find contains more substance and artistic merit than many critical darlings. What I’m trying to say is, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is 1000 times better than Juno. The sad thing is, Juno is so bad that that only puts Book of Secrets at “fun but forgettable.”

But beyond my own tastes, it sounded to me like the kind of site that can take off. The Internet has become a magical place where you can find people of similar mind, band together, and take over the world. Or, at least, get movies like Snakes on a Plane released. My most-read and most-commented-on post of all time is my analysis of Juno, 2007’s most overrated movie. It’s only partly because I’m so damn smart and insightful; mainly, it’s sought out by people looking for a comfortable environment to dislike something that’s beloved by all their friends, coworkers, family members, the media at large, etc…

The one hitch I could see is that he, apparently, wants to write all the content himself. That’s fine, and that’s his prerogative, but I think it’s a serious limitation. For instance, he loved Juno, and he’s part of the reason I went to see it. The previous year, he loved Pan’s Labyrinth and was the only reason I went to see it (I hadn’t even heard of it prior to him telling me of its profound emotional effect on him). I’m not saying he has bad taste—these two are probably the only movies where our opinions have differed—but, like I said, his love of those overrated crap factories will limit the success. I didn’t want to be presumptuous and toss my hat in his ring, but I’d gladly volunteer for it if he decided he wanted more writers or a broader perspective.

As I said, I don’t know much about the commercialization of the Web, but he’s a smart guy, a great writer, and this concept could take off. I’ve seen several sites with occasional dissenting-from-mainstream opinions or regular columns devoted to unsuccessful films (Nathan Rabin’s great My Year in Flops column at the A.V. Club is a good example), and I’ve seen sites like the Agony Booth that revel in badness, but I don’t think a site exist that’s solely devoted to defending supposed bad movies.

I’d like to see it succeed. I’m sure I’ll mention its progress in the future.

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The Porn Review Site

For nearly two years now, I’ve done glorified volunteer work on a former college professor’s film site. It started as a pretty basic thing—he needed someone to help him post reviews once a week; in exchange for that, I got free screeners and the opportunity to have published reviews in a semi-legitimate location—but gradually I wormed my way up to a full-fledged web guru, spending a shitload of time using my limited web-design knowledge to bring the site into the 21st century.

Despite the lack of substantial payment, I’ve found the work rewarding enough to not bail. I mean, there are a lot of things I look to get out of the experience, and as long as I get a few of them, I’ll be okay for awhile.

And then The Webmaster sent me an e-mail that made my brain explode.

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The Writing Sample Prompt

So here’s the thing: the LSAT writing sample isn’t graded, but it is sent to every law school you apply for, so you do want to give it your all. Even though I’d consider writing (and especially writing under pressure/deadlines) a major strength, my stupid prep guide scared me shitless.

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