Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I'm a guest on the GEEK HISTORY LESSON podcast!

Another podcast appearance (I'm really enjoying these), this time with Jason Inman and Ashley V. Robinson on Geek History Lesson. We're talking about the greatest Superman stories ever. If you ever wondered what my Top 5 Superman Stories are, wonder no more.

You can access the podcast at any of these locations:

Direct Post

Apple

Spotify

This was a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, December 25, 2020

CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS is back for a return engagement until Jan 8!

Did you miss CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS the first time it was released? Did you buy tickets and forget to watch? Did you love it and want to see it again?

Well, as a Christmas gift to you, we are making CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS available again until January 8th. For only $5 you can watch, though if you're motivated to donate more, you certainly can give more if you want because the proceeds go to two worthy causes.


And if you bought tickets for the first airing, those tickets still work at no additional charge! It's like rewatching for free!

1) The Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund - This has been established by the Actors Fund to benefit L.A. based support staffers affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. I'm a Writers' Assistant on SUPERMAN & LOIS, and I'm very fortunate to have a job right now. Many of my peers aren't as fortunate and I really want to help them out with this show. Please give generously. You'll be helping a lot of future TV writers stay in the game.

2) The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation - This is a non-profit that does legal work to protect the land rightfully owned by the descendants of former slaves as well as ecologic and economic work to sustain those properties and their communities. Basically, they help underserved families protect land that the government or rich white people want to take from them and exploit.

Click HERE to get your tickets!

Related links:

Download the script here

Then, for an EXHAUSTIVE list of annotations that list every reference, go here

Links to interviews that I've done about CRISIS can be found here

For a roundup of the reactions to the first airing, go here.

And for a little history about how this came together, go here

A Crisis is erasing the world of the Teen Drama multiverse and the only thing that can save it is an all-star cast of teen archetypes assembled by Kevin Arnold and Dawson Leery! The worlds of VERONICA MARS, EVERWOOD, RIVERDALE, ONE TREE HILL, GILMORE GIRLS and 13 REASONS WHY are just a few that collide in this meeting of the angstiest, sexiest and fastest talking teens in TV history.

And in a special treat, this dream team includes Ephram Brown and Amy Abbott from EVERWOOD - played by their original performers: Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp! Yes, it's an EVERWOOD reunion, and that's not the end of the surprises here!

From producers Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek; Everwood; The Flash; Riverdale, and many more) and Ben Blacker (Thrilling Adventure Hour; Dead Pilots Society) and writer Adam Mallinger comes a tribute to the classic WB teen dramas of yesterday and an affectionate parody of the CW superhero shows of today.

Starring

Gregory Smith (ROOKIE BLUE) as Ephram Brown

Emily VanCamp (THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER) as Amy Abbott

Melissa Fumero (BROOKLYN NINE-NINE) as Lorelei Gilmore

Isabella Gomez (ONE DAY AT A TIME) as Rory Gilmore and Brooke Davis

Emmy Raver-Lampman (UMBRELLA ACADEMY) as Veronica Mars

Vella Lovell (CRAZY EX- GIRLFRIEND) as Veronica Lodge

Nick Wechsler (REVENGE) as Archie Andrews and Lucas Scott

Matt Lauria (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) as Dawson Leery

Anjelica Fellini (TEENAGE BOUNTY HUNTERS) as Hannah Baker

Mark Gagliardi (BLOOD & TREASURE) as Kevin Arnold

Caroline Ward (HOST) as Peyton Sawyer

Jaime Moyer (A.P. BIO) as Sue Sylvester

Lindsey Blackwell (DAVID MAKES MAN) as Young Veronica Mars

Autumn Reeser (THE O.C.) as Taylor Townsend

And Greg Berlanti as The Flash

.

Monday, December 21, 2020

2020 seemed to give me everything I wanted... and then it took my Dad

As 2020 winds down, I'm left with the realization that it's a year I'm always gonna remember as "the year I lost my dad." Considering how much has happened this year, it's sobering that that is what leaves a mark.

From the time Donald Trump, truly one of the worst Americans alive and easily the worst American president ever, had been elected, I'd spent practically every day counting down to Election Day 2020. In a truly dark turn of events, that day, November 3, 2020, was the first day in 73 years that my father was not on this Earth, having died the previous morning.

I started the year with so much optimism. Just two weeks in, SUPERMAN & LOIS had been picked up and thanks to prior encounters with Greg Berlanti, I had a meeting with Todd Helbing, the showrunner. Having been up for a Berlanti show the prior season, I knew that nothing was in the bag, so I went in as prepared as possible and managed to walk out with the job.

Holy shit! I'm was going to be working on a Superman show! Produced by Greg Berlanti! It was pretty much everything I wanted from the time I first came out here. When I finally met the staff, they proved to be a great bunch of people and for a month, it was a dream job. As writers' assistant, I was spending my entire day in a room with people talking about Superman, and I got to contribute quite a bit too.

Then, about a month into the room, the whole world changed. Due to a complete failure on the part of the Trump Administration to contain COVID-19, the pandemic broke out. The room moved to Zoom, and here again, I have to commend the staff I was working with. Working on Zoom is draining in a way that working in a normal room isn't, but I think we adapted about as well as any team could have.

I think it helped that as a collective, this might be the best writing staff I've been lucky enough to work with. In other rooms, I've watched as animosity brewed between some specific writers, to the point that it was obvious everyone in the room was noticing it too as it led to daily clashes between those two. I've witnessed one writer push another writer so far that the second writer simply walked out of the room at 11:30am, drove home, and didn't return until the next day. I've seen writers not intuit after months in a room which pitches aren't anywhere near viable, or be able to adapt their style when it's clear their personality isn't getting results.

We didn't really have that on our show. It was a great bunch of writers who all seemed to feel that the best part of our day was getting together and talking story. Most days, you could feel the excitement even across Zoom. I'm not exaggerating when I say that working on SUPERMAN & LOIS kept me sane this year, and helped me through what otherwise would have been an extremely difficult several months where I was isolating with only my wife and son.

At one point, we took a brief hiatus, and so, with nothing else to do, I found myself writing the teen drama mega-crossover I was born to do: CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS. I've told that story here, so I won't retread most of that ground again. But as you know, I was as shocked as anyone when - at a point when only four pages of this script existed - Ben Blacker contacted me and told me he wanted to do the Zoom live read of the script. Then, once the script was done and I showed it to Greg Berlanti, Greg generously offered to help us with casting.  This is how we got Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp to reprise their roles and make it sort of an EVERWOOD reunion.

As I returned to the show, the summer found me focusing my attention on either SUPERMAN & LOIS, or the production of the live read. Both were welcome distractions and as our amazing cast came together, it was clear that we had something special. At the same time, it was the end of the summer when Todd Helbing called me with a question, "How would you like to write the next episode?"

I found myself breaking my episode as the last pieces of the live read were falling into place. That all but confirmed to me that it was time for something that had been long delayed - I was going to remove the anonymity from The Bitter Script Reader.  And so, once we had filmed and edited the Zoom live read and announced a release date, I made that reveal as part of the announcement... on October 11, 2020.

Mere hours after I made that announcement, my mother texted me with news. My father had symptoms that appeared to be COVID and had gone for a test. 24 hours later, while I was in the Zoom Room, I got another text from my father: "I tested positive for COVID."

Late that night, I got a call from my mother. Dad had collapsed and hit his head, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. The next day, Tuesday, October 13, he was admitted to the hospital and was being given oxygen to get his blood-ox up. I spoke to him on the phone that day, immediately surprised that he sounded normal. I expected his voice to be weak, or for him to be coughing heavily, or at least sound winded. He didn't. I allowed myself to believe that this was a relatively minor case of COVID, especially when he was released that Thursday.

Friday night, October 16, he was back in the hospital after his blood-ox remained low. He would not leave again.

I spoke to him on the phone the next couple of days. Dad told me he was looking forward to my live read. He hadn't watched most of those teen shows, but he knew it was a big deal for me. He was impressed to see it all come together. In what turned out to be one of our last conversations, he said, "I'm most excited to see Greg Berlanti as The Flash."

I always took that to mean he was very impressed that I was doing something that someone as accomplished as Greg wanted to be a part of. And I think he was very excited for me that I was working with one of my professional idols.

In that same conversation, I told him that I'd just been on the notes call for my episode story area and that everyone raved about it. I read him the non-spoilery parts of the pre-meeting email, which was "We. Loved. This. Episode." He was so happy for me. I told him that I'd been working on my episode's paperwork, which included applying to the WGA. He asked what that meant. I told him it meant I was a writer. I'd be joining the union, card and everything.

But there became concern that he was talking too much and it was affecting his blood ox, so on Tuesday, October 20, they told me "no voice calls." The last conversation I would ever have with him was the day before that. I didn't realize for a few days that he had been allowed to keep his cell phone and was receiving texts, but once I did, I sent him a few pics of my son and we had a brief chat that Sunday, October 25. We texted again on Monday, October 26.

I woke up on Tuesday, October 27 to the news he'd been intubated and sedated. 

This was three days before my live read premiered. The one he'd been so excited for.

The rest of the week was a series of updates as to his condition, communicated in the forms or numbers and levels and benchmarks that aren't worth recapping. There's be improvement in one area, and then something else would go south. They'd address developing blood clots by using thinners, and then the thinners would cause trouble elsewhere in his body. So they would address that, and the distress then cascaded elsewhere.

What this leads to is a FaceTime call with my unconscious father on Saturday, October 31. He'd had a bad morning, but seemed to be turning around by the time they put me on the phone. I knew why they were doing this. I knew that this was the call where I was supposed to say goodbye, just in case there wouldn't be any other opportunity.

I hate goodbyes. I told him that. I told him I knew why they wanted me to talk to him. And then I said to him that I wasn't going to say goodbye. This call would not be goodbye. Instead I told him about everything that was going on. I told him I'd dedicated the live read to him and that since it debuted, so many people were sending well-wishes.

I reminded him of the line he often quoted from Dumb and Dumber, when Lloyd is told by Mary that his chances with her are "one in a million" and Lloyd says, "So you're saying there's a chance!" I told Dad that I needed him to believe it, and that I believed it.

The next day, I posted a picture of my newly-arrived WGA card to Twitter and spent the day fielding congrats from so many of my followers and peers. This was on the heels of CRISIS being very well-received just two days earlier, so my feed that weekend had been like a geyser of well-wishes and positivity. It was a lot of kindness at a time I truly needed it.

Dad did not have a good Sunday. Late in the evening here, I got a call from Mom that his condition was bad. My brother was making the four hour drive to get there because there was a very real chance that he wouldn't make it through the night. I've already told you as much about that night as I can bear, and you'll find that post here.

What I was left with in the wake of Dad's death was anger, so much anger. His death, like so many of the other 250,000 COVID casualties at the time he passed, didn't have to happen.

Any competent administration and Congress would have put everything on a true lockdown, paid people to stay home for two months, and then done contact tracing to isolate active cases and prevent a spread. They would have promoted the science aggressively, and let it be known that masks drastically reduce transmission and embraced the necessity of social distancing. They would not have prioritized "the economy" over human lives, and they wouldn't have acted like it was encouraging freeloading to take financial burdens off of people so wouldn't have to choose between going to work and staying safe.

My father is dead because of Donald Trump, because he chose to fight a pandemic like a PR problem.

My father is dead because not enough people understood how grossly unqualified and incapable this man was to lead... and that wasn't a hard thing to see. Myself and many others knew from the day he was elected that he would only bring ruin to this nation and we spent four years begging everyone else to see it. 

My father is dead because of every ignorant person who voted for Donald Trump despite all the red flags in 2016, and I promise you that just about all of them voted for Trump again the day AFTER my father died, thereby making it crystal clear their denial that boorish ignoramous completely screwed up the pandemic response. Other countries got a handle on it. We didn't - because we have a sociopathic asshole guiding our response.

I hold all of those people responsible, even those who once might have considered themselves close friends or blood relatives of my family. I will never be able to forgive them for what they did in putting that man in the White House. And I don't want people to tell me that I need to "understand" why they supported this racist garbage of a human. I have zero interest in salvaging those relationships and I could not have a lower opinion of those who tied themselves to Trump.

So you can see how all of that tends to overshadow the overwhelming positivity that happened elsewhere in the year. 

I was grateful for the many people who reached out to me as they heard of Dad's passing. One of the advantages of having a robust social media presence is that news travels fast. One of my oldest friends let me know that he felt "like I lost my second dad." A college friend who I first met at a pre-orientation event for Columbus locals attending Denison emailed me to say that he remembered meeting my Dad at that event 22 years ago, and talked about how friendly Dad was to him then.

A writer I worked with on my last show emailed me to say he spoke to my dad when I dragged my parents along to a cookout hosted by another of the writers earlier this year. Apparently Dad told him all about how we drove across the country together when I moved out here and "You know this already, but it bears repeating: he was damn proud of you. For your hard work, your perseverance, and having landed your dream show. He knew you were starting a new chapter and he was positively beaming. It was clear you and your family were the apples of his eye."

I wasn't prepared for how hard it hit to hear that from someone who'd only had one encounter with him.

So many people who Dad met only once or twice, often YEARS ago, emailed me to tell me details of their conversations with him. I have been to so many parties where a friend introduced me to their parents and I promise you, I probably couldn't pick them out of a lineup today. I don't even know if I often had any kind of in-depth conversations with those people... but Dad had such a presence that even in those short encounters, he made an impression.

These last seven weeks have been about me realizing that this impression is now a gigantic hole in the wake of his passing.

Again, the people on SUPERMAN & LOIS couldn't have been more wonderful to me. The morning of my Dad's passing, Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing had flowers sent not just to me, but to my mother as well. That night, one of the actors on the show, Erik Valdez, happened to see a RT of my tweets about my dad's passing, noticed that we worked on the show together, and DM'd me to introduce himself and send his condolences. The next morning, I returned from a walk to find more flowers waiting for me and a very kind note from "The S&L Cast." Though he didn't claim credit, I'm sure that was Erik's doing.

All of the writers were so wonderful to me, reaching out, covering for me, being there to listen when I needed it. And in perhaps the most unexpected kindness of all, the other Arrowverse assistants - many of them, mind you, whom I've not yet met aside from email - reached out with a condolence card and gift card.

I'm telling you this because I want you to know that contrary to the stereotype of people who work in Hollywood, my co-workers, bosses, and counterparts on other shows are some of the kindest, most empathetic people you could know. Their big hearts made a horrible situation much more bearable than it would have been. All I can do is try to live up to that kindness and pay it forward when it's my turn.

Everything good about this year was connected to this show and Greg Berlanti. I got to write my first episode of TV. I got to write SUPERMAN. I did a star-studded crossover of my favorite teen shows and got Emily VanCamp and Gregory Smith from my FAVORITE teen show to come read MY words. Because of my job, I didn't have to worry about supporting my family during the pandemic, and because of the attention the live read got, I didn't have to go through the days after it alone.

2020 took my father from me and it feels like the only way it could balance the scales is by giving me everything else I ever wanted. And yet, as I sit here reliving the past year, I'm left with these thoughts:

As your parents get older, you confront the reality that one day, they will leave you. That had definitely crossed my mind the last few years. My father was 73, but he looked nearly a decade younger. He'd been taking care of himself. His father passed at the age of 79 and looking at pictures of him, I'm struck by how he looked at least 15 years older than my father did this year. 

Beyond that, my father's mother - my grandmother - had died only four months earlier at the age of 97. I never expected we could lose him so soon after her. Think about that... my father only lived four months of his life without his mother.

I feel like an entire decade was stolen from him. He should have been here to see my four year-old son grow older. Maybe he'd have even made it to his high school graduation, or at least been around long enough that my son wouldn't only know "Papa" as a distant memory.

It's unfair and it hurts and it never should have happened.

I miss him. And I will continue to miss him forever.

I love you, Dad.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

I talk 13 REASONS WHY, spec episodes and CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS on the podcast WHY NOT?

I was very excited to make an appearance this week on the podcast Why Not? This is one of my favorite podcasts this year. During the pandemic, David and Taylor launched the podcast as an episode-by-episode recap of 13 REASONS WHY. It was a show that they couldn't stop talking about, so they decided to make the podcast and find other people who couldn't stop talking about it.

I really enjoyed their examination of the first two seasons, but it was as they dissected season 3 (a lesser effort), that I realized that David and Taylor were examining the show with a fusion of the critical and humorous that I had not seen applied at that level since the glory days of Television Without Pity. When a show takes a ridiculous or an unpleasant turn, it's easy to just say, "This sucks" and rage at it. David and Taylor were great at engaging with what was embedded deep in the DNA of the series. They engaged with an obsession that could only come from someone invested in the show and they were hilarious as they laid it all out.

If you've been here a while, you know I was deeply invested in Season 1 of 13 REASONS WHY, to the point I wrote 13 posts about it. My thoughts about Season 2 were also largely positive, particularly with regard to Dylan Minnette's performance, though the heavy retcons left me conflicted. So this was the perfect podcast for me.

What you'll hear is a fun conversation between me, David and Taylor about the series in general before we turn to discussing my 13 REASONS WHY spec episode, which actually is the first episode of an alternate season 3. I wrote it over two years ago as an exercise in how one might write a spec episode.  It's sort of a mash-up with the premise of AWAKE. As the one year anniversary of Hannah's suicide approaches, Clay finds himself leaping between two worlds - the one he's known, and an alternate timeline where Hannah survived her suicide attempt and is still recovering. In doing so, this storyline would have explored all the ways someone in Hannah's situation could have sought help instead of trying to kill herself.

In breaking the story for that one script, I eventually ended up crafting an entire season's worth of story so that I could have a sense of what that first episode needed to put into play. Though I've shared the script before, I haven't posted that full season treatment on the blog. That comes up in my talk with David and Taylor too.

And finally, we have a little talk about CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS and why it was a fun project as both a fan and a writer.

So listen to the podcast here or here on Soundcloud

And check out some of their other episodes. Since moving on from 13 REASONS WHY, David and Taylor have turned their insight and humor towards all manner of cultural garbage, including TikTok feuds, Fast Food brackets, Pretty Little Liars, Kid Nation, Emily in Paris, and much, more.

Notes:

My original 13 Reasons Why Posts

My posts on my 13 Reasons Why spec, with "How to Write a Spec Episode"

Link to my spec episode

Link to my treatment of my alternate Season 3

Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas script

Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas reaction

Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas Annotations


Note: when downloading the script or the treatment, after you click the link, press only the button that says "Download" next to the title. Ignore all pop-ups and anything that tries to tell you your Adobe Flash is out of date.

Friday, November 27, 2020

2-for-1 MasterClass annual memberships with "Give One, Get One Free"

 Note: this post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after using one of my links.)


If you've read my MasterClass reviews over the last couple years, but have been waiting for the right opportunity to buy, you might be interested in this Christmas deal. MasterClass is doing a "Give One, Get One Free" sale.  The promotion allows a new customer to purchase an annual membership for someone else and get one for yourself completely free!

Each class runs about 5-6 hours and comes with a workbook and often valuable supplementary materials. For instance, if you take Shonda Rhimes's class, you get the series bible for Grey's Anatomy, the original 10-page pitch document for the series, and the pilot scripts for both Grey's and Scandal.

As I've said in my reviews, I consider the Ron Howard class on directing to be essential for anyone who wants to be a film director. I absolutely will guarantee its value. If there's someone in your life who might find this of value, definitely consider gifting them the All-Access Pass. To help you out, I've included links below to the reviews I've written for the writing and filmmaking-related classes, as well as links to the full roster if that helps convince you that this purchase will be worthwhile for your interests.

And best of all, if you use any of these links, I get a commission, so it's like giving a gift to a friend or family member AND me!

To gift one and get one, go here. The offer is good until Monday, 11/30 at 11:59 PST.



Prior MasterClass Reviews:
Aaron Sorkin's MasterClass on TV Writing (review)
David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing (review)
Ron Howard Teaches Directing (review)
Shonda Rhimes Teaches TV Writing (review)
Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy (review)
Steve Martin Teaches Comedy (review)
Samuel L. Jackson Teaches Acting (review)
Dustin Hoffman's MasterClass on Acting (review)

Highlights of the MasterClass roster:

Filmmaking/Directing
Spike Lee teaches Filmmaking
Judd Apatow teaches Comedy
Malcolm Gladwell teaches Writing
Martin Scorsese teaches Filmmaking
Werner Herzog teaches Filmmaking
Ken Burns teaches Documentary Filmmaking
Mira Nair teaches Independent Filmmaking
David Lynch Teaches Creativity and Film
Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking


Writing:
Shonda Rhimes teaches TV Writing
Aaron Sorkin's Masterclass on TV Writing
David Mamet teaches Dramatic Writing
Steve Martin teaches Comedy
Judy Blume teaches Writing
Margaret Atwood teaches Creative Writing
James Patterson teaches Writing
R.L. Stein teaches Writing for Young Audiences
Dan Brown teaches Writing Thrillers
David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor
Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling
Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing
Joyce Carol Oates Teaches the Art of the Short Story
Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing
David Baldacci Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry


Acting:
Samuel L. Jackson teaches Acting
Helen Mirren teaches Acting
Natalie Portman Teaches Acting


Music/Performance
Christina Aguilera's MasterClass 
deadmau5's MasterClass 
Herbie Hancock teaches Jazz
Hans Zimmer teaches Film Scoring
Reba McEntire teaches Country Music
Usher teaches Performance
Tom Morello teaches Electric Guitar
Carlos Santana teaches the Art and Soul of Guitar
Danny Elfman Teaches Music for Film 
Timbaland Teaches Producing and Beatmaking 
Itzhak Perlman Teaches Violin


Sports
Stephen Curry teaches Basketball
Serena Williams teaches Tennis
Garry Kasparov teaches Chess
Misty Copeland Teaches Ballet Technique and Artistry
Simone Biles Teaches Gymnastics Fundamentals 


Cooking/Food:
Wolfgang Puck teaches Cooking
Gordon Ramsay teaches Cooking.
Gordon Ramsay teaches Cooking Techniques II: Restaurant Recipes at Home
Thomas Keller teaches Cooking
Thomas Keller teaches Cooking Techniques II: Meats, Stocks and Sauces
Dominique Ansel teaches French Pastry Fundamentals
James Suckling teaches Wine Appreciation
Aaron Franklin Teaches Texas-Style BBQ


Business: 
Bob Iger Teaches Business Strategy and Leadership 
Anna Wintour Teaches Creativity and Leadership 


Politics: 
Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism 
Doris Kearns Goodwin Teaches U.S. Presidential History and Leadership 
David Axelrod and Karl Rove teach Campaign Strategy


Other:
Jane Goodall teaches Conservation
Marc Jacobs teaches Fashion Design
Annie Leibovitz teaches Photography
Chris Hadfield teaches Space Exploration
Daniel Negreanu teaches Poker
Paul Krugman teaches Economics and Society
Jimmy Chin teaches Adventure Photography
Will Wright teaches Game Design and Theory
Penn and Teller Teach the Art of Magic
Phil Ivey Teaches Poker Strategy

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

SPONTANEOUS, one of the best films of the year, is now out on DVD

When SPONTANEOUS hit VOD about five weeks ago, I was preparing for an extremely hectic month, so I opted not to do one of my long reviews then, figuring that by the time it came out on DVD on November 10th, I'd be able to really give it the attention it deserved.

Ha. If you've read this blog over the last few weeks, you know that my life is WAY too busy to do that, so I've decided to do a briefer, spoiler free review. I'm writing this because I want you to see it.

SPONTANEOUS is easily my favorite movie of the year. I realize that's not saying much in a year like this, so it might help to add that this would have been in my Top 5, maybe Top 3 of last year, had it come out then. It's one of those movies that I call a "magic trick" film. If someone told you about it, you'd never imagine in a million years that it would work flawlessly on screen. It walks this amazing tonal tightrope between being a dark comedy, and heartfelt, sincere, and heartbreaking. If I saw it as a teen, it's the kind of movie that would have made me want to MAKE movies.

A number of my early scripts were attempts at mashing up tones and genres that didn't usually work together. The result was a lot of scripts that few people knew what to make of, and if I'm being honest with myself, there probably was a question if the tone worked on the page, let alone was going to be effective on-screen. When I see someone stick the landing with a movie that almost invents its own tone, I take notice.

The premise is that teenagers start spontaneously exploding. One of the script's boldest decisions is the deaths are played for laughs BEFORE we're asked to care about people whose lives are at stake.  Some 45 seconds into the film, a student has exploded suddenly, splattering their classmates with blood. As everyone else in her class is trying to make sense of it, Katherine Langford's Mara reacts to the first death with ironic detachment.

This is a risk. It's like doing a slasher film where we're laughing at the killer BEFORE he has to be scary. It can be pulled off, but a layer of difficultly has just been added. And the movie has to do that while continuing to absurdly blow up its cast.

Oh. And it's also a love story. It's a really heartfelt romance that blossoms between Mara and Charlie Plummer's Dylan. He's admired her from afar for a while, but when the exploding classmates make everyone feel like they could go at any time, Dylan takes his shot, and for a while they go through the expected moments of teenage romance, until the pandemic takes over and accelerates their story in a different direction.

There's a sequence an hour into the film that's balls-out insane - it's comedy, horror and tragedy all in one perfect symphony that would be ruined if any single instrument was off-key. I don't want to say anything about it for fear of diluting the sequence's impact, but I consider it a major tragedy of 2020 that I couldn't experience it in a theatre full of screaming moviegoers.

I'd read the Aaron Starmer novel upon which the film is based, and as much as it worked on the page, I really wondered if the movie could blow up so many teenagers on screen and maintain the wry tone of the novel, told through Mara's eyes. It's one thing to have her say something like, "Oh, and then they blew up." It's quite enough to put that very absurd image on screen and not have it be too horrifying or too silly to keep the emotional reality going. As much as I enjoyed the novel, I think the film is sharper and more focused. It trims away a few subplots and reshapes Mara and Dylan slightly.

If you've been here a while, you'll know I've been a fan of Katherine Langford since her breakout performance in season one of 13 REASONS WHY. That was her first major role, even though I've enjoyed her in every thing she's appeared in since, she's usually been playing supporting parts that have been less challenging than Hannah Baker. SPONTANEOUS is my favorite performance of hers since that first season and she plays Mara unlike any of her other parts. With the curly blonde wig, she's almost unrecognizble as the suicidal teen she became famous for playing.

Her performance is equally unrecognizable. Langford proved she could do heavy drama on 13RW, but here she's got razor sharp comic timing and is clearly having a ball playing a broader character, one with a more sardonic edge. The best way I can describe her character here is "the love child of Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps." There's an energy to her performance that's completely apart from the shy, withdrawn teens she's played before.

The film doesn't shy away from dealing with death and the devastation it visits on those left behind. I think the ending of Mara's journey is one that doesn't deserve to be spoiled in this review, but I do want to say that after all the loss, the movie ends up in a very life-affirming place. After seeing so many people around you randomly dying, and knowing you could be next, how do you move forward with your life?

 As timely as these themes feel in a pandemic, I feel like the movie wouldn't even need that extra context to resonate so hard here. I'm not kidding when I say this film deserves to be on a lot of Best of lists at the end of the year. I'm totally available to do the door-to-door canvasing for the Oscars when the time comes.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

What it's like when your dad is going to die that morning

My dad died in the wee hours of the morning on Monday. He'd been in the hospital for about three weeks fighting COVID-19. Up until Saturday, there was never a doubt in my mind he'd be walking out of there, even after he was intubated.

The day he died, I didn't know what to do with my feelings. The next day I wrote this and posted it to Facebook. It helped to write it and seeing the responses actually was healing.

I'm posting it here in honor of the man who supported me through everything it took to get me where I am, and who really deserved to be here when I finally made it. He was 73 and in otherwise great shape until this. I will never feel like I wasn't robbed of another decade with him.

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You’ve just hung up from the call. The call you’ve dreaded since he took a turn for the worse yesterday.  The doctor told you a lot of explanations and reasons and jargon for how we arrived at this moment, but all you really need to understand is this: they’re moving to comfort care. Your dad is going to die that morning.

Your brother and your mother are with him, but you are not. You’re three thousand miles away. It’s 2:58am. You’re in the living room, waiting for the next call, the one that will come when your mother and your brother are actually by his side. They’ll hold up the phone so he can hear. “Can he really hear you?” you wonder. It will be the last time you talk to him. And then they will let him go. He’ll be comfortable, but he’ll be gone before the sun comes up where you are.

This is it, so you’ll have to make those words count. But you can’t wing it, because if you fall apart you’ll forget something. You’ll get it wrong and you’ll hate yourself for the rest of your life for getting it wrong. It has to be right. Even if he can’t hear you it has to be right.

The clock in the living room ticks each second as you try to gather your thoughts. Most of the time you don’t hear it, but the house is so still that the sound travels. It just turns up the pressure. How long will it take your mother and brother to put on their gowns? That’s how long you have to figure out what to say.

There’s no rewrites. No rainbow draft. They’re not even giving you blue pages. They’re shooting the white pages of this script and you have minutes to get them to set.

There’s so much to say. No, so much you COULD say. What do you NEED to say? Better, what does he NEED to hear? Focus, this is not about you. When you hang up it can be about you. This is about him.

You figure out what was unsaid. Oh god, when he was in the hospital, did you tell him you loved him? You check your texts with him, the messages that go right up to the night before he was intubated. The guilt comes back. They stopped voice calls a week before that to preserve his oxygen, but somewhere wires got crossed and you didn’t learn until almost a week later that he was still reading and responding to texts. When you realized, you sent him pics of your son to raise his spirits. You convinced yourself it was just a few days missed, that he’d be fine.

Now you wish you had those days back. But you see the last text you sent that he saw: “Love you too.” You breathe, and then you remember that you said that to him in at least two of your phone calls to him. You’re not sure if you did on that one. The one that freaked you out a little bit.

It is 3:20am. You think you’ve found the words. Why haven’t they called? What’s taking them so long? You find yourself impatient for a moment you dreaded, only because you’re afraid of losing it all.

It is 3:35am. The phone buzzes. This is it. Once you take the call it becomes real. You take that last second and put on your game face.

They put your brother’s phone to his ear. You think about how it’s easier to do this without having to see him and then immediately curse yourself for such selfishness. It’s not about YOU.

You start by reminding him of your call yesterday. Then one where you knew they wanted you to say goodbye. You’re terrible at goodbyes so you told him you weren’t going to say goodbye. Instead, you told him about your big show. You told him about the dreams coming true. The ones he’d helped nurture in you. 

And then you reminded him of a favorite movie quote – that moment in DUMB & DUMBER when Jim Carrey is told his chances with the girl are “one in a million” and his instant response was “so you’re saying there’s a chance!” Dad loved that quote. He used it all the time. You remember that time when your school was threatened with closure and the odds of stopping it were just as long. Dad was one of the people whose attitude was “So you’re saying there’s a chance.” You reminded him of this. You told him he had to believe it. You told him he had to believe it because YOU believed it.

But that was last night. Tonight you start by reminding him you said you weren’t going to say goodbye, but this is goodbye. God, this was so much easier in your head. Speaking it outloud, it becomes a incantation that summons all the feelings you’re not ready to deal with. You breathe.

You tell him not to worry. That you’ll be okay. Mom will be okay because she’ll have us. We’ll take care of each other, you promise him.

You tell him you were glad you got to talk when he was in the hospital. You say you enjoyed those talks. You know he’ll know what it means – the talk that freaked you out because you could feel him trying to tie up loose ends just in case. The one where he kept saying how much you impressed him and you just wanted him to stop because all you heard was the subtext “I need to say this in case I die.” The one where the only way to deal with it was to become modest and self-deprecating.

And then you tell him you’ve been thinking about his favorite movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Specifically, you’ve been thinking of the quote he used in your grandfather’s funeral 26 years earlier: “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” You tell him, “Dad, you are loved.” You tell him “I love you” and it hurts because you know it’s the last time he’ll hear you say it. 

You tell him goodbye.

You hear your brother say his goodbyes and the pain in his voice makes you wish you could do anything to comfort him. This is not how you imagined this moment ever going down.

You expect that your mother will be next, but you can’t hear anything. Is she whispering? Did she speak to him privately? You wonder what’s happening. Eventually you decide this is where they’re making him comfortable. Where your mother and brother will be with him. Should you be with them? Will it help? 

You can’t do this. You’re not there. You can’t see him. You’re a blind phantom, unable to touch or see anything, only hear the silence of a life slipping away. This is not helping. You tell them you have to go.

It is 3:50am. You go to bed. Your wife tries to offer comfort, but there’s no comfort to be found. This is going to hurt. You toss and turn. How can you not be tired this late? How are you not exhausted?

Why can’t you cry enough right now? You remember that insane cathartic cry you got watching that ER episode where Anthony Edwards died. The one where his daughter played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for him as he passed. Shit! Why didn’t you think of that an hour ago? Why didn’t YOU suggest playing that song for Dad? That would have been perfect. If you’d given it more thought during those fifteen minutes you were impatient, you might have come up with it.

You wonder if it’s too late to call and suggest it. You decide to let it go. 

Shit. That would have been so perfect. You kick yourself again.

It is later. You are still trying to sleep. Suddenly, with your eyes closed you see something that looks like golden starbursts. They’re not afterimages. You know what afterimages look like. This is different. And as they pulse you feel the slightest tapping on your eyelids. It’s not normal. But it has to be normal because you don’t believe in this stuff. You’re not Mulder, you’re Scully. You’re not spiritual.

But you check the clock anyway, just in case. It is 4:46am. If you don’t believe, then why did you check? Was it him?

You don’t remember falling asleep, but you must have because now you’re being awakened by the email alert on your phone. It’s Mom. A mass email to spread the word. It says he died this morning at about 8:00am, meaning 5:00am where you are. 

Later you’ll tell your brother about the experience. You’ll feel stupid and silly. You think he’ll see you as a drama queen trying to make it about you, or boasting that “Dad reached out to me!” It’s neither, you just have to know. He tells you Dad died at about five minutes before eight, but that 4:45 was about when they stopped the ventilator. He'll later tell you that was the minute he felt like he saw the spirit leaving his body, even mentioning that to your mother.

Was it him? Was he telling you he knew what you said? That he knew that you loved him? You think about this until you realize of course he knew you loved him. He’s your dad.

No, the past tense hits you, he WAS your dad.

No, you realize, he will ALWAYS be your dad.

And you will always love him.