Monday, September 26, 2005

Act One on NPR

Here's a nice piece about Act One that aired recently on NPR's Weekend America. The producer/journalist Shannon Mullen did a great job. Enjoy!

When I say "hiatus", I mean...

...that I will still be posting links to Act One media sightings, Act One events, and my own speaking engagements.

Just no original thoughts.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

See Barb Teach Screenwriting



To register online, visit

Act One, Inc., a Los Angeles-based training program for writers and other film industry professionals, presents the Act One Screenwriting Weekend, a conference for professional and aspiring screenwriters. The workshop, slated for October 14-15, 2005 at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, is an intense, practical overview of screenwriting basics and the current film market.

Participants will study the craft of screenwriting – from story development and structure to character, dialogue and screenplay format – with two accomplished Hollywood professionals. Barbara Nicolosi is a screenwriter (The Work, Select Society), columnist, and Executive Director of the Act One programs. She will be joined by Sheryl Anderson, a TV writer and former development executive, whose TV writing credits include Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Dave’s World, Charmed, and For the People.

The seminar begins with a 7 p.m. Friday evening session and continues Saturday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The registration fee (which includes study materials and breakfast and lunch on Saturday) is $175 for students and early registrants. After October 1st, the cost to attend is $195. Online registration is available through the Act One website at . Space is limited, and early registration is encouraged. For more information, call the Act One offices at 323-464-0815.

October 14 - 15, 2005
Friday, 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
1760 N. Gower St.
Hollywood, CA 90028

$175 - students and early registration
$195 - after October 1
(Includes Saturday breakfast and lunch)

The session covers:

Story development
Screenplay structure
Plotting and pacing
Visual images
"Haunting Moments"
and more
Our instructors are faculty members of the prestigious Act One: Writing for Hollywood screenwriter training program. They bring the experience and know-how of Hollywood insiders and the unique perspective of Christians who work in the world's entertainment capital.

Learn how to choose the right story and why Christians often fail to tell their stories effectively. Master industry-standard script format and explore the power of TV and film to shape audience attitudes and speak powerfully to the human heart. Find out if a Hollywood career could be right for you.

Lodging Options

(Please note ­ this list is provided as a service and does not indicate partnership with or recommendation of Act One, Inc.)

Near First Presbyterian Church/Downtown Hollywood

Best Western Hollywood Plaza

Days Inn Hollywood/Universal Studios

Hollywood Metropolitan Hotel

Westside Rentals Hollywood Hotel

Near LAX

Doubletree Hotel LAX

Hampton Inn LAX

Marriott Courtyard El Segundo

Radisson Los Angeles Airport

Near Burbank Airport

Extended Stay America Burbank Airport

Marriott Courtyard Burbank Airport

Safari Inn Burbank

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Well, this is hard.

Those of you who frequent this blog know that I have been writing less and less over the last few weeks. The blog has degenerated pretty much into news items from other sites, and media links about Act One.

When I started the blog, the idea was that I would write original thoughts, as opposed to linking around to other spots around the blogosphere. Clearly, I haven't been doing the posting of original thoughts thing much lately.

The truth is, my professional commitments are sapping all of my energies lately. I've got three screenplay contracts, two screenplay consulting gigs, a book proposal, and two magazines who want articles. I am teaching a class at APU to eight undergrads, and giving a slew of speeches over the next few months. Between now and Christmas, I have to be in Nashville, NY, PA, CT and Argentina. And then, there's this little program called Act One of which I am rumored to be the Executive Director.

I remember when Mark Shea went on a blog hiatus to write his book, I thought, 'I coul write my book without stopping the blog........ Well, that just shows why Mark is the wise sovereign of all blogdom.

So, I have to take a break. The goal would be to be back here in a few months, once I can get the book and screenplays done. I leave open the possibility of an occasional rant should the compulsion strike me.

Thanks to all of you who drop by here so often and so faithfully.

Please keep the Church in Hollywood in your prayers. God bless -

Monday, September 19, 2005



My best Acquaintances are those
With Whom I spoke no Word --
The Stars that stated come to Town
Esteemed Me never rude
Although to their Celestial Call
I failed to make reply --
My constant -- reverential Face
Sufficient Courtesy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Another Barb talk in Seattle, Thursday September 15

What Hollywood Knows About Storytelling:
How the Movies Get Your Attention and Haunt Your Dreams


Emerald Heights Academy
3850 156th Avenue S.E.
Bellevue, Washington

Cost: $10 or free will offering at the door
Sponsored by Regnum Christi and Emerald Heights Academy

Barbara Nicolosi will use film clips to present a filmmaker’s perspective of the seven levels of meaning in a movie, and what Hollywood means when it says a movie is a "visual" medium. She will also discuss how Christians can be smarter consumers of film and television and really be heard by Hollywood networks and studios as well as share insight about Hollywood one year after The Passion, and how believers should greet the upcoming releases The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Da Vinci Code.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Response to The Revealer

I wrote this to post about three weeks ago, but never got around to it. It was supposed to be sent as a letter to the editor of the always intriguing website "The Revealer" in response to their commentary about the pieve on Act One that appeared in the Washington Post. I am running here so can't find the place to link to. But basically, the writer - was that you Jeff? - was challenging my assertion that Hollywood is not a town in which there are "people of faith." Here's my response...


Thanks so much for linking to COTM. I would love to respond to all of the questions you raise -- But for now, let me respond to the "people of faith" question.

You said that "it isn't true that people of faith haven't been a big part of Hollywood. I guess you are thinking of Jewish people as being left out of my distinction.

But no, there aren't a lot of Temple-frequenting folks in this business either.

This industry is one which delivers to people God-like stuff: Everything good the world has to give. Tremendous power. Undue influence. The adulation of the masses. Exactly why should people who have all these things worship Someone else?

When people can buy their way out of most of life's exigencies, they start missing the spiritual sources of their problems, and see instead material sources. There is no incentive to worship God in this.

Finally, is the source of most of the frenzied rage against institutional religions in Hollywood. The institutional religions dare to dictate which behaviors are healthy for humans, and which will lead to misery. The implication is that the folks here are not divine - not beings who live without limits ("you shall be like gods knowing what is good and evil for yourselves..." Genesis). This makes people gnash and grind their teeth.

So, I stand by my contention that people of faith (ie. people who worship something other than themselves), are not well-represented in Hollywood. This is not a town where embracing your creature-like dependency on an Almighty Other makes sense to people.

Whoop, whoop! Congratulations Scott!

1. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, $30.2 million.
2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, $7.9 million.
3. The Transporter 2, $7.2 million.
4. The Constant Gardener, $4.8 million.
5. Red Eye, $4.6 million.
6. The Man, $4.0 million.
7. The Brothers Grimm, $3.3 million.
8. Wedding Crashers, $3.2 million.
9. Four Brothers, $2.9 million.
10. March of the Penguins, $2.5 million.
11. The Skeleton Key, $1.6 million.
12. The Cave, $1.3 million.

I haven't caught the film yet because a series of trips and cruises have conspired to keep me from seeing it. (Demonic? hmmmm....) I look forward to seeing it as soon as I have a free evening - looking like Sunday right now.)

The Los Angeles Daily News had a good article about the film. I haven't been able to find it on line but here are a few choice bits...

[from the Los Angeles Daily News, 9/2005, The Devil You Don't Know, by Glenn Whipp]

Make a movie with a variation of the word "exorcist" in the title and you're inviting a host of head-spinning associations that would scare the bejesus out of most first-time directors.

"Pea soup. That's the first thing you think of," says Scott Derrickson. "That and the other things -- the language -- that came out of little Linda Blair's mouth."

There's nothing that shocking in Derrickson's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," which he directed and co-wrote with writing partner Paul Harris Boardman. And that's the point. Though they're ostensibly both horror movies, the two films approach the subject of demonic possession with entirely different objectives in mind. "Emily Rose" is, at times, terrifying, but at its heart, it asks some big questions about the existence of demons and angels and, by extension, Satan and God.

And as great a piece of horror as "The Exorcist" is, director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty didn't seem overtly concerned with the spiritual implications of their film. The demonic possession of the movie's 12-year-old girl (memorably played by Blair) was as much about exploiting parents' fears and frustrations over their children's burgeoning adolescence as it was about the reality of the spiritual realm. The film was a full-frontal assault on the senses, not necessarily the intellect.

"Emily Rose" counters the raw escapism of "The Exorcist" with a dogged determination to get to the heart of the spiritual matter.


"I certainly wasn't interested in inserting my own point of view," Derrickson says. "The questions themselves are interesting. There are very intelligent people who come down on both sides of the argument about the existence of angels and demons. For me, it's impossible to live without reckoning -- honestly and deeply -- with those questions, because how you answer them is going to affect how you live, how you think."

[NOTE from Barb: And now, some choice materialistic absurdity from the two stars in the project...It really shows how brilliant Scott had to be to get this project made and to keep it reverent...]

"I'm on the side of the prosecution," says Tom Wilkinson, who plays the accused priest in "Emily Rose." Wilkinson is referring to the movie, not the real case, but it doesn't really matter since the film sticks pretty close to the essential facts of the girl's condition.

"This is a girl that's sadly schizophrenic," Wilkinson says. "She should have been cared for with drugs as opposed to exorcism -- but that's just my opinion, and my opinion isn't worth a damn. I'm not religious, and I don't believe it."


Linney, the linchpin of the cast, was initially reluctant to make the movie, fearful that Derrickson had an agenda that could turn the film into what she calls "religious propaganda." Derrickson convinced her otherwise during a three-hour meeting at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.

"The last thing I want to be in is a movie that's identified with some kind of religious filmmaking movement," Linney says.


Derrickson, who graduated from the Christian liberal arts college Biola University and, later, from USC with a masters degree in film production, has done his share of thinking on the issues. But he isn't eager to share any of his conclusions, preferring that "Emily Rose" unravel with a shifting, "Rashomon"-style perspective that offers little in the way of black-and-white certainty.

"It's not that I don't have strong opinions about the subject matter," Derrickson says. "It's just that when you're dealing with politics and religious subject matter, you are typically better off posing the proper questions than trying to propose the answers to them. I know when I'm watching a movie and I feel the filmmaker's point of view coming across too distinctly, even if it's one I agree with, I find myself resisting.

"It's the difference between art and propaganda or quality entertainment and propaganda," Derrickson adds. "I'm not interested in convincing. The pulpit in churches is for that purpose. The pulpit for politicians is for that purpose. It doesn't belong in movies."

Judd and Maggie on Tour!

Here is the website of talented brother and sister duo Judd and Maggie. I had the opportunity to meet with them earlier this Spring and found them really charming and thoughtful. They were snatched up by RCA and have released their first CD in August. They are now touring in support of the release and will be singing here in West Hollywood on Friday. Clayton "Weight of Glory" Emmer has more info here.

Check them out before they become too big for your to go up and shake their hands after!

Back in My Little Los Angeles Shack

Well, the long-awaited cruise to the Caribbean with my sister is now a memory. It felt weird every now and then to be cruising around splendidly while the images of Katrina were everywhere in our heads, in the papers and on the satellite TV. There was a priest on board who said daily Mass and his first homily was about the tragedy and how we should feel about it from the vantage point of sipping margaritas on deck while listening to Jamaican kettle drum music. The gist was that we should try and make some sacrifices during the cruise. The cruise line also took up a running collection for the victims of the disaster all during the tour.

Except for periodic swells of guilt - the cruise was great. We went horseback-riding on the beach, snorkeling in Tortola and Nassau, slot-pulling in a casino, shopping in St. Thomas and just being languid and relaxed while Mother Nature gently rocked us through lovely blue-green vistas. The best part was being with Alison for a nice long visit. It was great.

Came back to a pile of new mail from folks who read the Newsweek piece. There were five obscure or self-published books that absolutely must be turned into screenplays - presumably by me for free. There were three DVD's of homemade feature films - presumably that I am supposed to launch a production/distribution company to get into theaters. Then there were about forty emails from people who want to be writers or actors...or just anything in Hollywood. One person wanted to know what I had really done to get thrown out of the convent. (Me: "Uh well, I guess, be real Catholic?")

Thanks so much to Dan Ewald for writing so well and often while I was away. I hope Dan starts a blog of his own very soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Emily Monday

Well, Barbara's back so I'll be retreating into my privacy. Thanks to all for reading this week and for all the nice words. As of right now, I don't think I'll set up my own blog because I don't think I'd ever be able to keep it up. But it's been a pleasure. Please feel free to say hi now and then. --

P.S. I'll leave you with an Emily quote.

"I will kill all of mankind! I AM THE DEVIL!"
--Emily Rose, currently starring in her own movie

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Extra! Extra! Pt. 2 -- by Dan Ewald

On a film set, the boss is the director. Beneath him or her are actors, producers, and the like. The technical crew is primarily made up of men who wear sweat-stained T-shirts from other movies they’ve worked on and cargo shorts filled with emergency items like lighting accessories, electrical tape, and pot. The rest of the set is filled with people who have funny names for themselves—grips (people who grip stuff), craft services (people who do crafts), gaffes (people who gaff), and best boys (boys, presumably the best).

Wardrobe departments are made up of elderly flamboyant men who snap when you return a borrowed outfit without the original hanger and women who have their long, gray hair done in a French braid. They always have a tape measure draped over their shoulders like an honor cord wrapped around a proud valedictorian.

Assistant directors (heretofore called A.D.s) take all the heat from the higher-ups. It’s understandable why they would be irritable. Their walkie-talkies crackle with stern commands like, “Ms. Reid has a tickle in her throat. Get her a lozenge immediately.”

My biggest dustup with an A.D. happened on The Majestic. Two hundred extras were dressed in 1950’s attire at the Mann’s Chinese Theater and I was one of the lucky ones positioned in the shot. As the camera brushed past my shoulder, I would move into my seat following my date. I was facing the camera, so I had to be sure not to look in its' direction or my expression would be caught in a close-up.

During the first take, I felt the camera crew sweep past me. I started to move in, but my date's hoop skirt blocked my path. I stepped back for a moment and bumped into, presumably the crew. Again, I wasn't looking because I was following strict orders.

The first A.D. came over and screamed at me in hushed tones. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU JUST DID?” she harped. “Be careful, idiot, or I send you home.” I barely brushed anyone, what was the big deal? Then a weirder thing happened. Jim Carrey himself walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey.” That's it. Just "hey." I said "hey" back. He walked away. All two hundred extras stared at me with jealousy in their eyes. It was like I was being blessed by the comic pope.

Turns out I had bumped into Jim, prompting him to spill a bit of popcorn and soda. Even better, Jim liked “our bit” and wanted me to do it every time. The A.D. came back in a much different tone and said, “Do it again. But be careful, idiot.” That bit of clumsiness resulted in an unforgettable moment in a completely forgettable film.

Extras -- soon to be mocked in brilliant Ricky Gervais' new HBO comedy Extras -- come from everywhere, even the slammer. Sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not. When California inmates have paid their debt to society and are released on probation, they are promptly given the phone number of Central Casting. After all, it’s the one job that demands no skill or job training whatsoever. These embezzlers, thieves and molesters are now well-muscled members of society who exist to scare the crap out of females on set.

Most extras want to be actors one day, and they love to sit around and talk about how their manager warned them not to be “pigeon-holed” as background talent. Most of this sad bunch will never reach the level of getting an actual audition, yet everyone has an 8x10 headshot and resume filled with more lies and falsehoods than a hot tub party hosted by Bill Maher.

Let’s trace my history in the shadow of the spotlight. Again, this was 2001 so stretch your minds to remember this far back --

The Practice – My thoughts: Dylan McDermott wears waaaay too much pancake make-up and it looks as if he uses black shoe polish to darken his hair. In person, it looked like Desi Arnez’s helmet.

Family Law – Man, Tony Danza is shorter than me. I wonder if I should point that out to him. Oh wait, no. He’s a tattooed boxer.

Ally McBeal – They made me take off my shirt. "I'm playing the towel boy," I petitioned. "Where will we put my nametag?" The production assistant snapped: "Pin it on your trunks. Just be glad we approve of your body." I'm serious. She said that.

National Lampoon’s Van Wilder – Awful experience. Locked the keys in my car and had to call a Beverly Hills tow truck, which cost more than my day rate. I played an Orthodox Jew and had those curls glued onto my sideburns. It was never my dream of working in a Tara Reid flick. Every extra I worked with seemed under the age of 22. I remember it was the week leading up to Easter and someone was joking about an encounter between Jesus and “that hooker Mary Magdalene.” I wasn’t amused.

Orange County – I remember walking into a darkened school around 2 a.m. and finding Kevin Kline alone, stretching his back against the stairs. I asked him where the rest room was and he was kind enough to answer.

The Wallflowers music video – Sat in the audience and watched the same song performed for twelve hours.

The Parkers – I was the campus honky.

7-Up commercial – This is the one where the 7-Up dude got dragged through a busy street hanging onto a giant blimp. I remember hiding somewhere in-between takes and making calls on my cell.

Mazda – Apparently Asians loves their Caucasians out-of-shape because I got cast as a model for a Mazda print ad. The photographer and crew were Japanese and no one spoke a lick of English, except for the set translator. This one was actually fun because there were only four of us in front of the camera. It’s the one and only time in life I’ve been paid to pose for a picture.

J. Lo video “I’m Real” - Danced in a field and collected briars in my socks. Stood at the foot of the stage and watched Jennifer make out with husband (#2?) Chris Judd when the cameras weren’t rolling. Quite the exhibitionist. Her love really don’t cost a thing.

Oceans 11 – To avoid getting yelled at, as I did in The Majestic I purposely stepped out of Brad Pitt’s way during a take. My intentions backfired and the A.D. yelled at me for looking unnatural. “If someone were about to bump into you on the street would you get out of the way?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Should I get someone else to do your job?” he snapped.

I insisted that I could handle it. For the next seven takes, I body-checked Brad Pitt.

e.r. – Maura Tierney had a horrible cold. She was wheezing and couching, but it still “worked” for her. Nothing makes her unappealing.

Arli$$ - As boring on the set as it is on TV. I did, however, get to wear a designer pin-striped suit. The wardrobe person warned me: “Be careful. This suit is worth more to the world than the value of your life."

Six Feet Under – Danced in a club scene with Keith and David. Well, not "with Keith and David." Let me rephrase - danced in a club scene that also included dialogue between the characters Keith and David. Had I known this would become one of the most innovative and thought-provoking series in TV history I would have cared more.

Gilmore Girls – Also did this show before I was a huge fan. Now I think it’s amazing I was ever in Stars Hollow.

Strong Medicine – I don’t even remember being on this set, but I was.

National Security – Martin Lawrence wasn’t on set this particular day, for which I was thankful. I was dressed as a cop for an outdoor military funeral in a cemetery under controlled Hollywood rain. The wool uniform started smelling like a wet dog. (Don’t call PETA.)

And last but not least... Yes, Sarah and Justine, I made you wait for this one...

America’s Sweethearts – I took a risk that could have certainly gotten me fired from this four-day job. But we’re only talking about $200 bucks, tops, so it was worth it. On the end of day one as the extras were being herded off set I lagged behind in the shadows. There she was, Julia Roberts. I’d already missed my chance to steal her used Starbucks cup from the trash and sell it on EBAY. (Another extra beat me to it.) I was going to seize the day, as Julia had taught me to do in so many of her films.

I was holding a pitcher of ice water as a prop. It made perfect sense. All I had to do was work up the nerve to approach the pretty woman. If I was caught, I’d be sent home on the spot.

“Excuse me, Julia, would you like some water?” I found myself saying.

“Sure, thanks,” she said flashing the smile valued around $20 million.

Nervously I poured the water as she spoke to her make-up woman. When she turned back, I was standing there with a glass of water, holding it in front of her face as if I was waiting to pour the water down her throat. “You can set it down,” she said with a smirk. It was almost as if she’d had encounters with giddy fans prior to this moment. I set the glass down and mumbled “congratulations on winning the Golden Globe,” something that had happened three days prior. “Thank you, thank you very much!” she replied as if I were the first person to give her a Job Well Done.

It's what I do -- make the stars feel loved. I think it's what they need most.

My bad Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 09, 2005

Dan as an underappreciated blur in front of John Cusack's side and Julia Roberts' backside Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Extra! Extra! by Dan Ewald

I’m getting the sense that readers are missing Barbara’s Hollywood anecdotes. I’ve heard your cries and would love to share some insight from my former acting career...

Every year in Hollywood, John Goodman gets a new show. And every year, hundreds of people are paid minimum wage to stand in the background and pretend not to notice him. These people are called extras. It’s their duty to fill in the background, to make a scene look realistic, to pantomime and simulate conversation, to try not to stare at his waistline while cameras roll. From the moment I became aware of this career opportunity, every random person in L.A. seemed to have a story about it. It’s like when you learn a new word like “perspicacious” and suddenly you hear everyone using it. My barber told me he could currently be seen at the movies, eating soup over Kelly Preston’s shoulder. He was out of focus in the scene, but I’d surely spot him wearing a blue vest.

I moved to L.A. in ’01 after taking Act One in '99. The plan was to definitely pursue sitcom writing. But before becoming a writer, I first needed to taste the limelight (as I would never again experience).

What a hopeful, affirming word: extra. Webster’s Dictionary describes the word as something additional--an add-on, a supplement. Who doesn’t love extra credit? Who besides Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, and vegetarians wouldn’t want an extra sausage? Who doesn’t love Mark McGrath on Extra?

One brisk January morning, I looked up CASTING in the yellow pages and started alphabetically. AAA&AA Casting had a recorded message: “We are hiring extras for several high-profile films currently in production. On Wednesday we will hold an open-call at our offices on Melrose and La Brea.” Oh baby. This was the break for which I was waiting. It didn’t matter what they were casting, high-profile or low-profile. Weekend at Bernies 4: Still A Waste of Time, I would be there.

I had no idea what to expect. Would I be auditioning at the office? Should I have prepared a scene? Would one of the film’s stars be on hand to run scenes with us extras?

My friend graciously loaned me his SUV for the trip to the casting office. I hopped in and switched to Hot 104.3 where Enrique Iglesis was singing through his mole. He sang about wanting to "be with me" and man, I could feel his presence.

I was second in line at the casting office. For half an hour I chatted it up with other hopefuls. Some of them were showbiz vets, having been in the background of hundreds of films. At 2 0’clock, a woman named Jelani Sanders came outside with a notepad in hand and a bra strap that refused to do its job. She was accompanied by a skinny guy clasping a Polaroid camera. “Who can work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and possibly Monday?” she asked bluntly, not bothering to crack a smirk across her weathered face. It took half a second to flip through my mental calendar before realizing every square was blank. “I can!” I raised my hand in earnest.

“Fine,” said Jelani, giving a tug on her rebellious strap. “You’re playing busboy number one. Can you go to a wardrobe fitting this afternoon?”

“Can I!”

“That’s what I’m asking,” she snapped, missing the point. “Take his picture.” Skinny guy aimed the camera at me and snapped a photo of my giddy face.

Within the hour, I found myself in a fitting room. It felt sensational. “What’s your inseam, sugar plum?” asked Bobbi Jasmine, a wardrobe lady with a Southern accent and a presumed heart of gold. I had never measured my inseam. Up to this point my wardrobe fittings involved the mirror of the men’s dressing room at Target. If they buttoned properly and didn’t make my butt fan out like a dead pigeon, I’d buy ‘em.

“I have no idea. I’m sorry,” I apologized.

She ran that measuring tape up my body -- from ankle to calf, past the inner thigh, until she hit home. I tried not to squawk. “You’re a 32, precious.”

She found a white jacket, black pants, and shiny shoes for me to wear. “OK, busboy number one, you’re set,” she said as she finished putting together my ensemb. She wrote my name on a strip of masking tape and wrapped it around the hanger. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be in a major motion picture. I had a costume to wear and in essence, a character to portray.

As a way of expressing thanks, I whipped out one of my new 8x10s and autographed it: “To Bobbi Jasmine, thanks for making me look so good. See you at the movies!” On my way out, I caught her tossing it in the garbage.

I went back to the casting office and they handed me a couple pages of instruction. On page two, something caught my eye. The names “Julia” and “Catherine” appeared in a sentence. “I’m sorry,” I bothered Jelani Sanders, “Are these the names of the actors who will be appearing in our scene?”

“Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones, yes,” she replied.

I was awestruck. Julia Roberts? The actress whose political statements made me wretch but whose movies made me tingle? The pretty woman? Erin Brokevich? Tinkerbell? Julia Roberts is the reason I wanted to become an actor in the first place, I told myself, disregarding the fact that I had never actually wanted to become an actor in the first place.

It didn’t matter. I was in a giddy frame of mind. I think I literally skipped down the sidewalk. The only thing the moment missed was an oversized lollipop. One week in L.A. and I was co-starring in a major motion picture with Julia Freaking Roberts.

Life was good. Too bad that adjective wouldn’t aptly describe the movie that would become America’s Sweethearts

Nun on the Run

I'm with Mary Rose. I want Barb back, too!

But until then, here's a nice write-up in this week's Newsweek. -- DE

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Traveling Mercies Pt. 2 - By Dan Ewald


OK, as a reader insightfully pointed out, it’s true. I could have chosen to stay in a hotel on my business trip to Nashville. But here’s my dilema.

Baptists from Jenison, Michigan consider hotels a “last-resort.”

I was reared by middle class American folk living on modest income. When our family of six traveled, we drove a borrowed van from a big-hearted member of our church. Road trips were enjoyable, but we typically slept cheap, in the van at a highway rest stop or in a tent at a KOA campground.

Hotels were a luxury. If we stayed in one, it usually had some form of the word economy worked into its name. Econo-Inn had a cheap ring to it, but you couldn’t beat the deal. Thirty bucks got you free HBO, which my parents promptly blocked, and an indoor pool, where we promptly peed. Plus there was the ubiquitous continental breakfast, which included a basket of grapefruits and oatmeal as binding as wood glue.

Some were better than others. When you stayed at a Holiday Inn you could expect certain things: towels folded into triangles, an ice machine on each floor, and perfect yellow rings resembling crop circles on the fitted sheets.

More often we stayed for free in the home of a friend of a friend of a friend. You never knew what to expect when pulling into the driveway of a strangers’ house. The Greybear family was the most memorable disaster in our life journey of mooching. Their home could be described as a pig sty, but that would be unfair to both pigs and sties. The Greybears were of Cherokee decent, yet they powerfully shattered all stereotypes of dignified Native Americans who want nothing more than to smoke a peace pipe and dance with wild animals.

There were a lot of misfits in the clan: John Greybear, his wife (Mrs. John Greybear), a few rascally sons, and Baby Greybear, a naked child who wore nothing but graham cracker crumbs. “Welcome aboard the Greybear Express!” John shouted enthusiastically upon our arrival, sounding as stupid as a common Caucasian. “Let’s give you a tour.” He started in the bathroom, explaining the trick to the toilet. “The chain’s broken… so to flush, submerge your arm in the tank and give the plug a yank!” In case we forgot, the rhyme was taped to the head.

We moved to the next room where John gave decorating tips. “You can furnish an entire house if you have buddies at the salvage yard!”

In the hallway, he stood in front of an old map and commenced a history lesson about his grandfather’s involvement with Custer’s Last Stand. Too tired to stand, I leaned against the wall and dreamed of eating custard. (Dumb joke, sorry.)

Mrs. John Greybear took note of my weary body language and became sympathetic. “John, these folk are exhausted from the trip. Let’s give ‘em time to unpack.”

It was obvious John Greybear didn’t appreciate being interrupted by “the wife,” as he obnoxiously called her. He scowled, then made a fist and pretended to backhand her. She flinched and sauntered away. John laughed and rolled his eyes with the good ‘ol fashioned charm of a wife beater. No doubt about it. Mrs. John Greybear was an abused woman waiting to inspire a Lifetime movie. I just knew Hollywood casting agents would one day ask, “Will Jilll Eickenberry be able to pull off Native American?”

My family exchanged knowing glances, from my dad to my mom, to me and Sarah, to young Rachel and Becky. It was if we were all saying the same thing – “This family makes our family look healthy.”

The rascally sons set fire to something in the garage. Baby Greybear sucked on the dog’s chew toy, her bare feet standing on bubble gum and shards of glass. We marched down to the cellar where Rachel and Becky would sleep. John pointed to a hide-a-bed normally occupied by Coughball, the family cat and her litter of nine. “She had those sweet kitties last Saturday,” explained John. “Some of ‘em were stillbirths, so if you see a dead one, toss it.”

We shuddered, but it explained the smell. We whispered “Good luck” to eight-year-old Rachel and five-year-old Becky and left them alone in the chilly, darkened basement.

In the living room, my parents were handed an air mattress and pump. John pointed to an electrical outlet and my dad began to inflate. “Where are my manners?” asked Mrs. John Greybear. “Let me get you some bedding.” She returned minutes later with the same pee-stained sheets you’d find at Holiday Inn.

Later that evening, the hosts said goodnight and left us alone to mock them. Mom, Dad, Sarah and I began to bond over the bizarre situation of staying in this house. Within twenty minutes my parents dropped the adult pretense and giddily channeled their inner-teen. It was one of those moments when everything became funny. There were no lines between what was appropriate and what was not. We were ridiculing and deriding the Greybears in their own home, beneath a ceiling fan that inexplicably dripped maple syrup.

While Mom braved the bathroom, Sarah and I bounced on the air mattress. When she returned, we invited her to flop down on the bed between us. “Are you kidding me?” Mom asked, before uttering the funniest thing she’s ever said: “If I jumped on that air mattress, the two of you would hit the ceiling like rag dolls.” We laughed until tears flowed. The whole night was an exercise in shushing each other.

The four of us took turns sneaking around the house, going on a scavenger hunt for unusual items. When Dad returned from the kitchen with “Utter Balm… for Utters and Teats” we snorted and chuckled so hard we rolled off the air mattress. That earned him ten points.

Sarah tied the game, however, when she entered from the bathroom clutching a bar of soap from the shower. It was covered in mud. “Dirty soap!” she exclaimed. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

It was a mammoth struggle to keep from laughing too loudly. We didn’t want to insult the least to the point they’d be aware of it.

Even though the original plan had called for staying two nights, the next morning there was no question. As the sun rose, we threw our stuff in the car and checked out of Greybear Lodge.

It was a night we will never forget. Rachel and Becky won’t let us – their hair still stinks of graham cracker and deceased kitty.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Traveling Mercies – By Dan Ewald

I try to be an accommodating host when people come to visit me in Los Angeles. I change the bed sheets and wipe egg yoke from the wall over the kitchen trash. I even place factory-sealed soap in the bathroom, because is there anything more unnerving than standing in someone’s shower working up the courage to touch their soap?

Not everyone appreciates company in their home. For a recent business trip to Nashville I asked my friend Greg and his wife Theresa if I could crash at their place.

“Suuuu-re,” Greg said with certain uncertainty. Odd. The year before I helped pack boxes in Greg’s living room and he had specifically said, “Hey, if you’re ever in the Nashville area, please come and stay with us.” I had taken him at his word, just as I do the Lord.

The problem is, I don’t think his mousy wife Theresa ever liked me. I can’t blame her, I’ve met me.

They were childless in their early forties, yet their weekly highlight was watching ABC’s TGIF line-up, famous for Hope & Faith and other programs rocking the cultural landscape. Greg and Theresa were Lutherans who’s marriage banked on their shared interest in eating pot-pies in front of the TV and making small talk during commercials.

When I arrived in Nashville, Greg greeted me with a hug. Theresa was cordial, but not elated by my presence. I brought out the spirited side of her husband. In my presence, Greg was known to chuckle aloud. Such frivolity didn’t fit into a world where a switch to low-energy light bulbs was considered a topic of interest.

Greg suggested we go out for dinner. Theresa peeked at the wall clock. Seven-forty. “I’m not sure anything will be open. By the time we get there, it’ll be eight,” she frowned, paralyzing an expression that would remain on her face for the rest of my stay. Greg suggested the special pizza place they frequented every year on their anniversary. “Fine,” Theresa gave in.

Seated at an Italian dive owned and operated by two Turks, we split a medium mushroom pizza. Greg and I swapped stories of our days in retail. We recalled the rude customers we used to serve. We remembered the sweet ones we loved. We gossiped about our former colleagues and shared a lot of laughs. Theresa sat and picked the mushrooms from her slice.

“You know what?” Greg said, seizing the bill, “I think this one’s on us.” Theresa rolled her eyes and mumbled inaudibly. “Are you sure? You don’t have to,” I said. Greg gave the waitress twelve dollars. “Tell you what, you leave tip and we’ll call it even,” he answered.

We were home by nine-thirty and Theresa made it understood that social hour was over. I was shown the guest room. “I vacuumed in here,” Greg said, “And Theresa moved her sewing machine.”

“Thanks,” I answered, giving a swift yank to the hide-a-bed that wanted to remain that way. Greg left to find bedding. I tried and tried to open the couch, increasing aware of how my presence imposed on their lives. I had interrupted their routine. Greg had paid for my pizza and Theresa had moved her damn sewing machine.

I heard the shower in the adjoining bathroom. Theresa was obviously washing my evil from her pale skin. Ed entered and handed me a set of sheets. “Here goes,” he said, “All set?” I swear to Judge Judy it was forty degrees in their house. It was late October and Greg said they didn’t run the heat until mid-December to keep the electric bill reasonable. I asked for, maybe… a blanket or something...? My friend looked like I had asked him for something ridiculous, like a nine-inch springform cake pan.

“Uhhhhh, I’ll ask Theresa,” was his response to my excessive request. He ran to the bathroom door and asked his wife where the blankets were kept. At first, she couldn’t hear him because she was loudly humming the hymn, Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb? When he finally got her attention, she retorted, “On the couch.”

Greg returned to my room with a thin, pathetic throw. I thanked him and said goodnight. He went to his bedroom where he crawled into a cave of down-filled quilts. I, on the other hand, shivered from the bitter temperature. Near the window, a draft invaded the room making the chill chillier. It was colder than a witch’s index finger.

I lied on the bed and pulled the sheet over me. The throw was 4 by 3—perfect for a Smurf.

When the clock on Greg’s computer turned three a.m., my lips had turned blue from frostbite. I flipped on the light next to the bed. As the bulb heated up, I pressed it against my face for warmth. I think I smelled my flesh burning, but I was so numb it didn’t matter.

At this point, I was wearing everything I had brought in my suitcase—several shirts, my blazer, layers of socks, and khakis pulled over two pair of jeans. I even wore the wide part of my tie around my neck as a scarf. Still, I was freezing. I got out of bed and looked in the closet for additional clothing. The only thing I saw was Theresa’s bridal gown wrapped in plastic.

It was enormously tempting.

I hit the jackpot with an old wedding gift—an iron still in the original box. They’d been married for fifteen years but that machine worked like a dream. I plugged it into the wall and began ironing myself in bed. It was wonderful. I was able to get my body back to a survivable temperature.

I finally got sleepy and unplugged it. Suddenly, I went back to freezing cold. I thought about plugging the iron back in and igniting a house fire, dreaming of the warmth it would provide.

The next evening, the Nashville temperature dropped to the twenties and I worked up the nerve to request one more blanket. Theresa frowned, but located another verb--another “throw,” if you will--from the basement. It was equal in size and discomfiture.

All night I froze like a rack of lamb in a meat locker, without the luxury of being dead. At four a.m., I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to do the unthinkable--to take a bath. It was the only thing that would stop the shakes.

The bathroom was next to Greg and Theresa’s bedroom, which was unfortunate. I knew they would hear the water and it would wake them, but the stakes were high and I had to think about survival. I curled up in the tub for the next four hours, falling asleep, then waking up every thirty minutes in a pool of cold water. By that time the hot water heater would reheat a fresh batch and we’d start the process over again.

“Did I hear the bathtub last night?” Greg asked inquisitively the next morning.

That was it. I had had enough. I packed my bags and made plans to stay at a hotel for the remainder of my trip. You learn a lot about your friends when you mooch off them. I discovered, for example, that I no longer liked Greg.

And furthermore, his wife’s wedding dress was ugly and didn’t flatter my body in the least.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Lather, Rinse, Repeat - By Dan Ewald

Every morning I take a shower at 3 p.m.

During today’s lather, I listened to “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, The King of Creation” from the new Hymns CD by Out of Eden. The powerful anthem had me singing like the twentysomething black girl I’m not.

Praise to the Lord, Who over all things so wondrously reigneth / Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth / Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been granted in what He ordaineth?

What that meant in my mind:

Thank God for managing the world, even during terrorism, tsunamis, and hurricanes / For protecting me and keeping me going / Haven’t I seen how my needs have been taken care of?

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation / O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation / All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near / Praise Him in glad adoration.

Thank God, even though He himself came up with the concept of tsunamis and hurricanes / I'll thank him from the bottom of my soul. He does, after all, continually save me from myself / I hear His voice, so I'd better run -- not walk -- to His side / I'll choose to praise Him, gladly, without making it the huge effort I make everything else.

I had to read about the eloquent guy who wrote this. Why don't today's worship choruses contain the same heft? I mean, I like "letting the river flow" as much as the next guy, but c'mon...

After an intense 3-minute research session on Yahoo, I discovered I had a lot in common with Joachim Neander.

1. We’re both writers. He wrote a hymn that means something 300 years posthumously. I’m writing a cartoon about Ninja bunnies for Disney that comes out next year and will entertain for months if it ever reaches syndication.

2. Neander was a Calvinist as am I, half the time.

3. Neander was a German. I spend most of my life trying to hide that I’m part-German. When people ask me my nationality I say, "Guess." If they guess anything other than German, I tell them they're right.

4. His bio says he lived a “rowdy life” before converting. I’ve lived my rowdiness since converting at the age of 5.

5. After he underwent conversion, Neander found a cave by a river and lived a life of solitary meditation. I, too, meditate in solitude. Each week I read Entertainment Weekly in the bathrub, alone.

6. Joachim Neander died at age 30. I made it past that milestone, but if "Six Feet Under" has taught me anything, you never know about tomorrow.

If you like big harmonious anthems, I highly recommend buying the song from iTunes or getting the whole record. (Buy it, don’t steal.) The King of Creation doesn’t like it when His creation steals the creation of other members of His creation.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

James Dobson was right!

SpongeBob is struggling with sexual sin. Visit my favorite news site for more info

Lender's Remorse - By Dan Ewald

I’m buying a home in Florida I’ve never seen with my naked eye, nor with my other scantily-clad eye. I’ve only seen photographs of this rumored house. I’m trusting my mother – who will rent – this place actually exists. I’m buying it sight unseen. Hopefully, it isn’t one of those fake exterior Hollywood sets, taunting you believe there are four walls instead of just the front exterior.

I should be fine. My mom never lies about big things. She may say she’s feeling “fine” during a hot flash, but does that warrant suing her for perjury? I thought it did, but the judge thought otherwise. Some people think it’s tacky and shameful to take your mother to court, but who asked you?

My point is, I’m not going to sue my mother over anything, unless she crosses me or gives me “those eyes.”

Buying a house is nothing but paperwork! Since I live in California, I was forced to buy a fax machine which will make a great garage sale item after this purchase goes through. The realtor my mom chose is calling me constantly. Her name is Ginger and she cannot shut up. The phone calls are on her dime, but she’s wasting my time. It’s bad enough when she talks my ear off. She called a few days ago and caught my roommate. Instead of leaving a simple message, she gave the entire detailed back story.

“Can I take a message?” Damon kindly offered.

“Sure,” Ginger said. She took a deep breath before beginning. “My name is Ginger Jacobson. I’m Dan’s real estate agent. I’m a Sagittarius and I’m allergic to wet grass. Dan is buying a home for his mother in Florida. That’s where I’m calling from… Florida. Can you tell from my accent? Sarasota to be specific, which is on the west coast. You’d know that if you’d ever been to Florida. You haven’t been? What’s wrong with you? Anyway, Dan is buying a home for his mother. I guess I said that already. His mother is going to live in it. I don’t know what their rent agreement will be, but that’s none of my business. Nor is it here nor there. At any rate, Dan’s sister Rachel is the mortgage broker in this deal. We’re at the place where the seller has accepted our offer and now we’re waiting for the paperwork to clear. That’s why I’m calling, to get more paperwork signed from Dan. It’s really hard without him located locally. The Fed Ex bill is staggering! Hey, I’ve been talking your ear off for several minutes. Is Dan home yet?”

When I did arrive home, his message was succinct and pithy: “Dan, your real estate agent called. Her mouth has a bad case of the runs.”

Ginger emails twenty-five page documents that I must print, initial, sign, and fax back. Inevitably, I miss something and must fax something again. The paper in her fax machine likes to jam, so I usually get to resend things six-to-eight times. Many pages have ink smudges so I get to do it a few more times.

Sometimes I swear Ginger calls me just to talk. To “shoot the breeze,” as they say, though I wish they’d stop. Ginger thinks we’re friends. I fear she’ll show up at my apartment for an unannounced visit. Really, I’d be satisfied with a yearly Christmas card of a camel burping “P-E-A-C-E-o-n-E-A-R-T-H.” Help me buy this house, Ginger, and let’s leave it at that.

My sister Rachel “I have an ethnic last name now” DiGiovanni is working as my mortgage broker. For those of you who have never purchased a home, a mortgage broker is defined as one who “gages morts.” And that’s what you want when you’re making a substantial acquisition--someone who will carefully, meticulously gage your morts. I’m not sure how Rachel ever got so smart. The girl used to pronounce “oatmeal” as “oak-meal.” That toddler was such an idiot! But despite being talk-challenged, Rachel ended up going to college and I didn't. She attended one year of Liberty University, a school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell who likely thinks gay black people are responsible for Hurricane Katrina.

Rachel called me last night, trying to rub her smarts in my face. She said I need to fax some kind of form to the lending bank so they can approve some kind of loan which will provide my something-something financing. There were a lot of important words in her sentences that I did or did not understand. Still, I nodded and replied “uh-huh” a bunch of times which seemed to appease her.

The gist was that I would need to sprint to my bank first thing in the morning using my car for faster results. There I would wire eighteen grand back to the lending bank. It needed to arrive at four p.m., eastern standard time. Los Angeles is three hours earlier than the east coast and Sarasota is on the west coast of an east coast state, but that makes no difference here. She reminded me that wire transfers take several hours, so I would have to wake up at the crack of nine.

I got to the bank just as they opened. The teller was perkier than most.

“Welcome to Citibank, what can I do for you?”she beamed from behind bullet-proof plexiglass.

“I’d like to send lots of money to Florida,” I said.

“Oh, great! I’ll get you the fun forms to fill out! But you know, if you were to do a wire transfer online, you could avoid spending the super-fun service charge!”

I didn’t realize it was going to cost twenty-five bucks to send eighteen thousand bucks. I asked if the process of wiring money online was easy.

“As pie!” she giggled. “It’ll take you five minutos. That’s minutes in Spanish!”

I said fine, got my parking ticket stamped, and drove home. I jumped on the Citibank website to find there was a super-fun password required to send money. All I had to do was request it, wait fifteen minutes for a response email, then hop back on and presto.

But somehow, Satan had broken the space-time continuum set in place by God and my clock said it was already eleven a.m./two p.m. in Sarasota.

Apparently, Satan also had control of the world wide web, because the password they sent didn’t work. I entered it multiple times, like a stupid person repeatedly pushing the elevator button. Doing this caused my account to freeze “for my security.”

I dialed the toll free number where I was prompted through seven friendly voice messages leading to seven friendly minutes of hold time. Citibank kindly offered an irritating rendition of “Kokomo” performed by a boys choir backed by panpipes. Eventually an uninterested operator picked up. For my safety, she needed the last four digits of my social, my current address, my mother’s maiden name, and my opinion of the war on terror.

She said that online wire transfers cost as much as doing them at the bank, then reset my account. I had to wait another twenty minutes for a new password. When I entered it, Citibank put a colorful red (!) explanation mark on the screen and said, “Due to technical difficulties we are unable to process your request at this time. See you in hell.”

It was noon when I jumped back into my air condition and radio-free car, gunning it for the bank, my home-away-from-home. I had to get the money to Florida within one hour or I’d lose the house I’d never seen. I got to the bank, left my cell phone in my car to avoid being interrupted, ran in, cut in line, and accused the skinny, perky teller of being a big fat liar. She apologized and gave me the forms to fill out. I wanted to sit at an empty desk and relax my throbbing calves, but all the pens in the building were attached to eight-inch chains and were out of ink. I eventually filled out the forms and got back in line. This time I got a male teller and thanked God, in a brief, rare moment of sexism. (I apologize.)

When it was all said and done, I left the bank and breathed a bad-breathed sigh of relief. I checked my messages. My sister Rachel had left an urgent voicemail saying: “Stop the transfer! The bank says there’s no time to process your money today, even if it arrives in the next hour. You’ve lost the house. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you tidings of great sorrow.”

The Christmas allusion made me no less irate. I had spent the entire morning running back and forth to the bank, losing precious time I would have enjoyed watching TV and catnapping.

I called Rachel and she gave further explanation, nothing of which I understood. The gist was this -- we didn’t get the house for my mother. I am greatly disappointed. I hope the bank officers remember this when they see her living in a refrigerator box outside of their bank, using potato sacks for pretty curtains. Maybe this cruel sight will cause them to experience lender’s remorse.

I Bring Seattle Good News

Camp Barbara would like me to tell you that she will be at the Seattle Screenwriting Weekend on Friday September 16. Details and online registration are available here

Friday, September 02, 2005

Working the Graveyard (Stick) Shift

I was searching for a late night job that would leave my days free to write -- non-stimulating work, somewhere I could wear grey sweatpants and my “Jesus: That’s My Final Answer, Regis!” tee-shirt. Who doesn’t love a timeless pop culture reference spun into a religious ad?

I discovered a business called Autopilots, Inc. looking to hire late-night chauffeurs. The owner is a guy named Barry who bought collapsible motorbikes from Italy. The bikes are sixty pounds of lean mass, three percent body fat, and fit inside a zippered black bag. The company exists as a unique service. (1.) Someone guzzles too much happy juice and gets drunk. (2.) In a stupor, they call Autopilots and within thirty minutes a driver arrives on a motorbike, collapses it, and places it in the trunk of the alcoholic’s car. (3.) The driver takes the customer home in their own car, preventing them from having to retrieve their vehicle the next day. The idea is as smart as lowfat Funions.

Barry wanted me to start right away. I shared my main concern about accepting his kind offer. “How many cars will have a stick shift?” I asked with reservation. I had learned to drive a stick but that was when I was fifteen, young and stupid. What does a fifteen-year-old know? Barry said that in the thrice years since he’d started the company, maybe four cars had a stick shift. No problem. “Besides,” he said, “We drive upscale clients – agents, lawyers, tax collectors – and most of them own Jags and Beemers.” I had no idea what Jags and Beemers were, but it sounded British so I didn’t question it.

I would earn one-third of the listed fee, plus tips. In a good night, I could expect to pull down about a hundred sheets. A hundred big bones. A hundred screech owls.

I nodded blankly. I wasn’t hip to Barry’s lingo but I respect anyone with a foreign accent.

The first evening we trained and it was all-good. We worked a gala opening for a store named Ocean, though it probably should have been called Notion. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell what the owner was selling. It was an abandoned West Hollywood storefront on Melrose with great track lighting and a couple of chrome stools. Flamboyant people like you see on Bravo mingled, sipping champagne and making small talk. I overheard one woman saying – in an opinion supported by viewing Michael Moore movies – that the war in Iraq was “for oil.” That caused everyone to toast their champagne flutes, WeHo’s version of a high-five.

The night was a bust financially. No one needed a designated driver. I went home with nothing in my pocket but a lint-covered Chicklet. Still, it was fun watching people watch me do my job. Passerby’s were mystified observing a motorbike collapsing into a bag.

The second night I got my first call at ten p.m. I was psyched. I sped up to the W, a hotel too hip to be bogged down with vowels. I stood outside the building and watched young ladies with A and B-sized busts getting turned away by discriminating doormen. Probably for the best. If you don’t have cash to splurge on silicon, you probably don’t belong at the W. After thirty minutes of standing around, I called Barry and asked for the name of my client. He neglected to get that nugget of trivia.

Barry left four messages on the alcoholic’s cell phone before telling me to turn around and go home. All in all, my first ninety minutes on the job yielded exactly no sheets, no big bones, no screech owls. I was working on commission, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “getting the shaft.” I popped that dirty Chicklet in my mouth and chewed my frustration away.

My next job came at 2:00 a.m. when Los Angeles bars close and liquor stores experience an economic boom. Four intoxicated frat dudes needed a ride home. Now I’m not a racist, but there is one people group I hate across the board – young white guys I don’t know.

I reluctantly entered their sports car and there it was. A stick shift. I was as scared as a bounty hunter at the dentist. When I get intimidated by an overwhelming obstacle in life, my natural instinct is to immediately chant this affirmation – “You cannot do this. You are incapable of this task.” There you have it. I become absolutely convinced I have no ability to perform the task at hand.

I put the gear in reverse. No problem. Then I pushed in the clutch and tried to shift it into first. The car stalled. Immediately, an odor resembling “burned clutch” filled the car. The owner got sloppy-angry. He started cursing at me over the music of rapper 50 Cent, the volume so booming you could hear every inarticulate nuance.

The vehicle stalled in the busy intersection of Desperation and Anger. The “dudes” in the backseat cussed at the awful stench. They suggested that I -- now responding to the name Senior @#$% -- jump out of the car and let them drive home, drunk. My eyes narrowed as I considered their tempting offer. “No,” I determined, “In the interest of public safety I will square my jaw, clench my diaphragm, and press on.”

Forty-five minutes later I completed the twenty-five minute trip. Since I had probably burned out the clutch of his fifty-thousand dollar car, I didn’t anticipate a tip. They cursed at me and gave me five bucks.

As I unfolded the motorbike for the hour-long return trip (they maxed out at 30 MPHs), I started to wonder if this non-stimulating job was for me. I was not overwhelmed by the five bucks of profit. Was this truly the glamorous life of a Hollywood writer? Would I be able to write about this night on Barbara Nicoloi’s blog? Could I go home now?

No. Barry called and offered me one more pick-up. It was four a.m. I was giddily exhausted but decided to give this career one last go. I drove up to Silverlake and picked up two drunken jokers. Their car was neither a Beemer nor a Jag, but rather a Mazda GLC that made my ’95 Corolla look like the car all the kids are talking about these days. Sure enough, by the end of the hour-long drive, the drunks gave me a gratuity-free thank-you and went on their way.

The night was a bust. I was winded and exhausted, topped by broken and bruised spirit. The morning sun was already seducing the Los Angeles skyline.

I tried to look on the bright side. But then my motorbike choked like a dyslexic at a Spelling Bee. The bike ran out of gas. I kicked in the reserve supply, as I had been taught. There was nothing left in the gas tank, save a few broken promises. I called Barry and told him I needed to be picked up. Angry and alone, I was left with nothing but my thoughts. Delirium became my closest confidant. I sat on the sidewalk of a street called Sawtelle, a name better suited for a young kid in the inner-city.

I had plenty of time to ponder the concept of time. I reflected on my life before I started this ridiculous job, two days ago. I decided to quit this demeaning job and return to my bed, where all honest people spend the night. The next day I would look for even more non-stimulating work. Maybe, with just the right amount of luck, I would find something disgracing, devastating, and debasing. One can dream

I’d have to find another job that would allow me to wear my pop-culture parody Christian tee-shirts. I’ve got another great one hanging in my closet -- “Eternity: Smoking or Non-Smoking?” That one's really gonna minister the socks off this town.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Kill October

Thanks, Barbara. Glad to be a Red Sox fan. That's hockey, no?

For those of you not wise enough to quit reading this blog while Barbara suns herself, I look forward to sharing my deeply spiritual, Protestant insight. After a week of me, everyone will flock to Mass.

Let's start with my views on reality shows, since I've worked on four of them. You could call me "an insider," though you'd probably be the only one.

Reality TV offends me to the core. I'm a comedy writer living in a fallen, Punk'd world. Everyone (besides TV execs) knows that the reality genre is of the devil.

I’m not talking about classy shows like “The Amazing Race” or “American Idol” or the exciting new season of “Survivor: Des Moines.” I’m speaking of shows where Jerry Hall shuttles between a British and Texan accent, choosing a "kept man" or where someone gets an hour of tattoos on The Learning Channel.

If reality TV has convicted me of one spiritual truth this summer, it’s this: As a pro-lifer, I need to remember that even Pauly Shore’s life has dignity.

Instead of paying me to write sitcoms, Hollywood thinks its cheaper paying twentysomething hardbodies minimum wage to remove their underclothes in a hot tub. Clearly, they haven’t seen how cheap I'll work.

Having said this, I must admit: I LOVE REALITY SHOWS IN THE SUMMERTIME. Summer has always been filled with boring re-runs, except for historic 7/11/91 when FOX chose to air the heavily-sideburned “Beverly Hills 90210.” Good times. Anyone currently between the ages of 27-33 can give me two Brandon Walsh fist-pumps, perfectly timed to a break in the theme song.

Last summer, I leased my soul to Satan and decided to work as a casting director for reality TV. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I went on the road for the FOX series “Trading Spouses,” a “re-interpretation” or “re-image” of the ABC series “Wife Swap.” It was my job to find what my boss tolerantly called “religious nutjobs under the spell of George Bush.”

Insider Secret

The reality of reality involves a term called Franken-bytes. This is a widely-shared secret of the genre. Let’s say a vegetarian isn’t “vegetarian-enough.” Or a minority isn’t “sassy enough.” Or a Christian isn’t “born again-y.” The story department simply tells the editors that they need a franken-byte—a sound byte pieced together from hundreds of hours of interviews. Hidden under B-roll footage, the editors can create a sentence that never came out of the person’s mouth.

For example, using the above paragraphs a good editor could piece together the sentence “Brandon Walsh is a sassy summertime vegetarian” even though I never said such a thing.

Visuals can be manipulated too. I once noticed a sly editor putting a yawn in super slow-mo because the producer needed the contestant to look “shocked.”

Is it real? Of course not. You’d be crazy to allow your kitten on reality TV. The producers would twist the footage to make your cat express something she never meowed.

Still, it’s the only place where Christians are allowed to roam. What would “Beauty And The Geek” be without “the Christian nerd?” Where would “Elimidate” be without the virgin being kicked off due to her stance on chastity? What would “Celebrity Fit Club” be without "Bibleman" star Willie Aames beating up his front door in a fit of holy rage?

Until well-written shows like “Arrested Development” and “Gilmore Girls” return, I’m forced to watch class-less reality shows.

Here are my top five, in very-specific order. Bring on the love in the comments section!

5. The Cut - You haven’t laughed until you hear Tommy Hilfiger tell some loser, “I’m sorry, but you’re out of style.” Fantastic writing! Somewhere, Donald Trump's writer is sweatin' it.

4. Blow Out - Hairstylist and sound byte king Jonathan Antin spends the summer weeping on-camera that his product line landed on QVC.

3. Being Bobby Brown - Who knew Bobby (on a recent prison break) was the sane one in the marriage? Whitney needs to pick up a Bible and put down the junk!

2. My Life on the D-List - Kathy Griffin is one funny atheist who calls celebrities on their crap. She's got the funny. Now she needs Jesus.

1. Big Brother 6 - Julie Chen, sprinkled in body glitter, hosts this annual psychological soap where 12 houseguests try to one-up each other’s moral superiority. Good fun.

Special Guest Blogger: Mr. Dan Ewald!

Good friend and Act One alumn, Dan Ewald, has graciously consented to assume the coveted COTM chair as guest blogger while I am in the Caribbean (feeling guilty about being on vacation in this particular week...but that's another post.).

Dan has an extensive background as a writer of magazine articles, teleplays, and screenplays, and - with his writing partner Rajeev Sigamony (also an Act One alumn) - just inked a feature deal a few weeks ago of which I hope he will blog a bit. I could only find one of his magazine articles on line here. (Dan, do let us know where others might be!)

Here's his Hollywood bio:

Writers Dan Ewald and Rajeev Sigamoney partnered several years ago, joined by a love for writing comedic television. Together, they've worked at Carsey-Werner, Angry Films, FOX and Lifetime. Ewald and Sigamoney shot an independent pilot in 2004, a sitcom called "The Room" featuring Tony Hale (Arrested Development), Debra Jo Rupp (That 70s Show), and Victoria Jackson (Saturday Night Live). The show was shot at the CBS Radford Studios, and repped by Principato/Young (Reno 9-1-1). Ewald and Sigamoney are represented as writer/producers by Endeavor Talent Agency.

Dan, you are now an honorary Emily Dickinson afficionado, ex-nun, Red Sox fan from Rhode Island. Take it away...
Your Hidden Talent
Your natural talent is interpersonal relations and dealing with people.
You communicate well and are able to bring disparate groups together.
Your calming presence helps everything go more smoothly.
People crave your praise and complements.

And with that, I leave for a week's vacation. I will be back the week of the 12th.