Monday, July 29, 2013

Back to the Pacific war

As I've mentioned before, I'm helping a WW11 air force veteran write his memoirs of the Pacific war around 1944-45. His first name is Jule and he lives in Santa Monica. Jule, at 89, rides his bike to Venice beach nearly every Sunday and our little group of film people would see him there by himself.

After a few years, he began to join us and when I told him I wrote a book, Emperor of Mars, he became interested in writing, so much that he asked me to help him. For the last 2 months Jule (first name) wrote and I put his material in a more readable form.

But last Saturday, Jule and I drove out to Camarillo, a city north of Los Angeles, about 40 miles away. There we found an air museum and two cargo airplanes from the war - both were flown by Jule.

He flew cargo planes to the Philippines and finally into Tokyo itself at the end of the war. His unit was nicknamed the Tokyo Trolley.

The two cargo planes we saw in Camarillo, were the C47 and C37, both pictured here. It was quite a moment as Jule stepped into each of the planes that were so crucial to the combat. He explained almost everything to me, some of it having been forgotten but now fresh in his mind.

Then we drove to Santa Paula, about 25 miles away where we met two of his flyer friends. Santa Paula has a tiny airport, no tower at all. There we found a P-22 instructor airplane
that was Jule's training, two open cockpits. Again his memories flowed, telling me stories about himself and others whom he flew with.

All in all, a heck of a day for memories. Now I will get back to editing and hoping also to do a small documentary on the subject.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Reader

There is, in this business of writing, one thing that makes writers shudder.  For that one thing, it is a single person, male or female who, in their world have little or no power, but for writers, they are either saviors and monsters.

These are the "readers". And they can sometimes make or break you.

 Readers have always been around, I'm sure Homer had a reader or two on his plays more than 2000 years ago. And so did Shakespeare. And Stephen King too. We all meet the reader when we choose to write words.

The readers I am talking about are the ones that read our screenplays to see if they are good, bad or great. There are more readers now than ever, because I suppose, the executives are too busy too read screenplays.

It wasn't always that way.

Even back as close as 2005, an agent could call a studio exec and suggest he/she read a new "hot" script. A runner would bring the script over on a Friday and the exec would read it over the week-end.  This was before we could email screenplays. There was a time when there was no internet.

Now, with so much information on the internet, screenplays can be sent faster and easier and with more screenplays tumbling in, they need more readers.

Now the question you might be asking is this; who are these guys and why does anyone listen to them?  Remember that famous quote from that famous screenwriter, William Goldman who did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among many others. He said this;

Nobody knows anything.

And he's right. Readers are hired to read screenplays to find the next hit, and it's not a job that writers could call honorable. Most of the readers are secretaries or interns or friends. You can get anywhere from nothing to $100 a read.

So why, you ask, do the people on the lowest rung of the Hollywood ladder be given so much responsibility.

Nobody knows anything.

A reader and hand in a hot script and the exec pitches it to his upper management. If they hate it, guess who takes the blame.

I've had fights with readers on those rare occasions we've met, and I don't generally like them. They've said good and bad things about my work and mostly they were wrong although they were also sometimes good and gave me ideas.  The power that they have is not really anything, but a good review can push a screenplay further up and a bad one can kill it.

So... on my new screenplay The President's Heart, the reader gave me some initial great remarks. But then the reader launched into an area where politics come into the story, and 
said that a lot of what I wrote couldn't happen. In fact he said it is implausible.

"Implausible - causing disbelief." Websters

What the reader is saying about the politics scene I wrote is that it causes disbelief. You mean like a guy who flies in the air or space aliens attack earth, or Bruce Willis races a car through the streets of Moscow at high speed? Or how about Jim Carrey being God for the day in Almighty Me.

Are those plausible?

In fact, everything in a movie is implausible, it's not real, it's actors walking around talking perfectly and being heroes and murderers.

For your consideration; I know politics. I worked for Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and Trudeau in 1969 and read tons of books on politics and continue to be absorbed by all those pundit TV shows. 

But that comment remains on that reader's report and for that one time, he/she is king. And a lot of them know it. And ultimately it isn't usually good because it is subjective, I liked Lone Ranger, my friend Barry hated it. Who's right?

But finally, my last resort is this; when I taught UCLA screenwriting back in 2003, I had my students read each other's work and then comment. But I added one thing; if they criticized any other student's screenplay, they had to offer an alternative.

Now only if I could tell my writer he/she doesn't know what he/she is talking about.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Black Sand Beach and Vik - Iceland

After our airplane excursion, we had just enough time to stop at Reynisfjara Beach before the sun set. Basalt stack rocks, caves, and weird rock fingers rising out of the water. The tide was too far in so we couldn't explore as much of the caves as we would have liked. It's a real gem in the area.

We stayed one more night in Vík before heading east along the coast toward Höfn

Coming up... icebergs!

- Julia

Friday, July 19, 2013

Crashed Plane Site - Iceland

Yuriy had a swell idea to hike out to a crashed plane in the middle of nowhere, Iceland.  I didn't think much of it and followed his lead, not knowing this would turn into a painful all-day adventure.

There's not much information about it online, but according to this guy, a Douglas C-117 US Navy plane crash landed on the coast after running out of fuel during bad weather in 1973. When a helicopter tried to recover the remains, it too crashed and killed several people. The US decided to give up on it and abandoned the plane where it had landed.

According to a few people's reviews online, we knew it was about an hour walk from the road, headed straight toward the ocean. We determined where to pull over based on a small river that runs near the plane. Problem is, there are many streams that run from the mountains to the ocean, and we pulled over at the wrong spot. It was very flat, barren, cold, and with the lack of trees and hills, extremely windy. The entire time, we strained our eyes to see if there was a plane in the distance, and many plane shapes turned out to be only boulders. Once we reached the ocean and no plane, Yuriy pulled up the map on his phone and only then realized we were probably in the wrong area. Walking back to our car was much harder as we were now heading into the strong wind. I almost gave up on the plane, but Yuriy talked me into trying again with, "if we don't see it in 20 minutes we'll turn back" (like he always does).

Another hour later, we could see the plane but were on the wrong side of a small river. We kept thinking it would get narrower so we could jump over, but it only got wider and wider and was actually pretty deep and swift where it met the ocean. So we walked back to a calmer area, took our shoes off, and walked through the icy water barefoot. We had gone too far to let it stop us.

Alas, after 3 or 4 hours of searching, we approached the lonely plane skeleton with triumph and smiles, feeling like successful explorers. The battered plane looked ghostly against the black volcanic sand. As we approached it, it started to hail and we climbed inside to warm up. Taking my gloves off even for a few minutes to snap photos resulted in painfully numb fingers. We climbed on top of the plane and looked out at the nothingness, and felt like we understood what drives explorers and how Columbus found America.

- Julia

P.S. See the plane via satellite here and here (this one's better quality). (courtesy of Ian Grant)