Friday, May 30, 2014

"Black List Live" to hold live reading of 2013 Black List Screenplay

I've spoken before of the virtues of holding a live reading of your screenplay.  There's a lot you can learn from hearing actors speak your dialogue outloud and frankly, it's just plain fun.  Casting table reads of my own specs is one of my favorite things to do, actually.

That's why I'm so excited about the latest Black List announcement regarding a live reading of the 2013 Black List script "1969: A Space Odyssey, Or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon"  by Stepheny Folsom.  I've reproduced the press release below along with links to purchase tickets.

Jason Reitman has held some rather famous table reads of script from acclaimed films, but to my knowledge, this is the first time something so public has been tried for an unproduced script.  It'll be interesting to see if this sparks renewed interest in Folsom's screenplay.  Hopefully, this even will be enough of a success that it can encourage future readings of other well-regarded but unproduced screenplays.

Los Angeles (May 30, 2014) - This morning via Twitter, The Black List announced the partial cast for their first Black List Live! event on June 14, 2014 at the Los Angeles Theatre. Black List Live! will present a live table read of Stephany Folsom’s 2013 Black List script “1969: A Space Odyssey, Or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon.” Folsom will also be directing the read. Truly a one-time only event, the event will not be filmed or livestreamed.

“1969: A Space Odyssey” is the story of a White House Public Affairs assistant (Kathryn Hahn - Bad Words, Parks and Recreation) who hires Stanley Kubrick (Jared Harris - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Sherlock Holmes 2, Mad Men), to fake the moon landing just in case of technical issues during the now world famous one small step. Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) plays the role of legendary NASA Public Affairs administrator Julian Scheer and Shannon Woodward (Raising Hope, The Riches) has joined the cast as Stanley Kubrick’s assistant, Kara Downs.

Black List co-founder Franklin Leonard says, “our mission with the Black List has always been celebrating great screenwriting and the writers who do it, and presenting this script to an audience with actors like Kathryn, Jared, Thomas, and Shannon gives us an extraordinary opportunity to continue that mission in a very exciting way. Get your tickets now. It’s going to be a hell of a night.”

The event takes place downtown at the historic Los Angeles Theatre on Broadway, a hidden gem rarely open to the public. Modeled after Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, the French Baroque theatre first opened its doors in January 1931 for the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights.

A limited of tickets are available for $20 via the Los Angeles Film Festival - get them now!

Once sold out, full price tickets are available online for $40.

Black List Live! presents "1969: A Space Odyssey"
Saturday, June 14, 2014
7:00pm doors (cash bar), 8:00pm

The Los Angeles Theatre
615 S Broadway,
Los Angeles, CA 90014

A limited edition movie poster designed by Fernando Reza and signed by the cast will be available for sale in the lobby of the theater before the show.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST - Making continuity accessible to new viewers through character

Here is possibly the most important thing you can know about X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST - my wife's only exposure to the X-MEN at all is a viewing of about half of FIRST CLASS and she really loved the film.  For a story that spans two incarnations of the franchise and touches on storylines that encompass not only the original three films but the WOLVERINE spinoff and the FIRST CLASS prequel, it's nothing short of a miracle that the film works almost as well for the uninitiated as it does for the faithful.

(HOW uninitiated was my wife? Afterwards, she said that when the film started, she was surprised to discover that "Captain Picard" was in this and then remarked how cool it was that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were cast "as the older versions" considering how notable and adorable their real-life friendship is.  So anyone telling you that someone can't walk into this movie cold and understand it really isn't giving the average viewer much credit.)

Before we saw the film, I expressed concern to my wife that she might be a little lost.  She brushed that off, saying, "They always make these movies so you can follow along even if you've never seen the others."  In an ideal world, she'd be right but many a franchise has come undone when its focus becomes too insular. Actually, I can even envision another version of this film that ends up being total "continuity porn" with the references to Trask from X2 and WOLVERINE, Jean Gray's death in X3, and many other grace notes in the epilogue.

By the way, massive spoilers follow, so steer clear until you've seen the film...

Everything one needs to appreciate DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is contained within the text of the film itself.  That means that the film carries the burden of not just the history I've alluded to, but even further connections, all of which must somehow be incorporated into the film as exposition without feeling like exposition.

We begin a few years in the future, where mutants wage a war against futuristic Sentinels who are capable of adapting and overpowering any mutant attack.  It's a devastating post-apocalyptic time, with only a few surviving mutants that include Professor Charles Xavier, Storm, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and (surprisingly allied with our heroes) Magneto.  The war is all but lost, but Xavier and Magneto have hatched a plan to use Kitty Pryde's powers to send Wolverine's mind back in time 50 years into his old body.  There he'll have a chance at stopping this war before it starts.

One of my few issues with the film is how Kitty suddenly has the power to project minds back in time.  This ability is new to this version on film and the movie doesn't really dwell on how she's able to do this.  In any event, she's able to project Logan/Wolverine back, but the catch is that they have to stay alive long enough in their present for him to complete his mission.  If the Sentinels find them and kill them all, future Logan's mind will die and 70s Logan will wake up with no idea what he's been up to.  This neatly establishes some urgency and a ticking clock

In 1973, Logan needs to convinces a broken and reluctant Charles to rejoin the fray so he can stop Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask, the head of Trask Industries and the man who designed the Sentinels in the hopes of convincing the U.S. Government to purchase them as weapons against the mutant population.  In the original history, Mystique's mission has unexpected results.  She kills Trask, but is taken prisoner herself and experimented on. With access to her shapeshifter DNA, scientists are eventually able to develop that ability as a feature in later versions of the Sentinels, allowing them to counter any mutant attack with ease.

Of course it's not that easy.  Not only is the younger Charles a broken recluse, but he's also sacrificed his mental powers as a side effect of the drug that lets him defeat his paralysis.  And even once Wolverine gets him in the game, they have to collect the younger Magneto... who's currently held in a prison 100 feet below the center of the Pentagon.

The solution to breaking a man out of the most heavily fortified prison known to exist turns out to be a speedster named Quicksilver.  The prison break might be one of the most inventive set pieces in any of the X-MEN films and I say that as someone who was blown away by several of the action scenes in X2.  There are some clever moments where we experience things along with Quicksilver, who's moving so fast that everything around him appears to be standing still.  (This is also doubly amusing to anyone who remembers that the internet reaction to the first Quicksilver still and the Carl's Jr. commercial was certainty that the character would ruin the film.)

If that set-piece is a fun moment of levity, several others are squeezed for maximum tension, particularly the third act set-piece that involves Magneto lifting up a baseball stadium and dropping it around the White House while manipulating Sentinels to do his bidding.  The eyes of the world are watching as President Nixon is about to announce the Sentinel program and by this point Charles, Logan and Beast know that Mystique is going to make another attempt on Trask's life (following the failure of the attempt that succeeded in the original history)  If Mystique kills Trask - and possibly the President for authorizing the program, all it will do is inflame mutant/human tensions and give humans even more reason to fear the mutants.

This is brilliantly cross-cut with what's happening concurrently in the future timeframe, as the Sentinels have found the citadel where our last few heroes are hiding out.  The mutants need to make one last stand in order to buy Wolverine enough time to secure a better future.

In a particularly elegant bit of writing, the climax comes down not so much to whose powers are stronger or who can hit harder. No, the axis of the future revolves around Mystique's choice.  Can she choose the path Charles advocates?  Or will she surrender to the desire for revenge and justice that fueled her initial attempt and now has only become stronger?  Magneto's involvement raises the stakes even higher, but even if he's dealt with, the most critical moment in the film hinges on the action she'll take with the eyes of the world on her.  Charles can try to appeal to her soul, but in the end, she defines mutant/human relations forever with her decision.

Charles gets a fair amount of character development as this younger version is a far cry from the serene wise man of the first three films and the mentor/older brother figure of FIRST CLASS.  Seeing the professor in this new circumstance also forces Logan into a bit of a role reversal.  Suddenly he's the seasoned veteran who has to help his former mentor find himself.  Magento is largely the same man he always is, but the script and Michael Fassbender give the character a lot of dimension.  He might not undergo much change, but this isn't a film that treats it's human characters like chess pieces to be moved through action beats.

And then there's the ending.  I've made no secret of my feeling that X3: THE LAST STAND is possibly one of the worst comic book movies ever made.  Recently I've seen some rumblings on the internet from people who claim that it only takes a lot of heat because people think it's fashionable to hate its director Brett Ratner.  I still contend that it's an awful film that makes horrible choices with its characters and then doesn't even have the balls to stand by those choices, immediately introducing the trapdoors that can undo them. (Except for the really terrible deaths of Scott Summers and Jean Grey.)  The reset button is so primed by the end of that film that it renders most of the events of the movie utterly pointless and a waste of time.

The ending of this film seems like an apology of sorts for X3, as all the timeline shenanigans lead Logan to wake up in a reconfigured present where the Sentinel war never happened.  As he wanders the halls of Xavier's School for the Gifted, he sees several of his old friends, alive and happy: Rogue, Iceman, Kitty.  And then, in a doorway, he sees her... Jean Grey, the woman he loved and killed.

Of course, this is no longer THAT Jean Grey.  The implication is that X3 never happened (and probably not her death in X2 either.)  Then, as Logan is still reeling from this return, an old rival steps into the reunion - Scott Summers.  And why wouldn't he be? If Jean never went bad, then she certainly never would have killed him.  If this really is the last time we see the cast that launched this franchise 14 years ago, it's hard to think of a better way to tie things up than with the promise that all of these X-MEN are still alive, still out there, and are living on just as they have in the comics.

The amazing thing is how much impact this sequence has for someone who didn't see the earlier X-MEN films.  There's an earlier exchange between Wolverine and the younger Beast where Logan mentions that Beast isn't still alive in his future (having died off-screen between X3 and this film.) Thus, the brief cameo of the older Beast in the rebooted timeline allowed my wife to get that "aw, Logan saved his friend."

The Jean Grey resurrection was easily appreciated via a flashback to Logan having to kill her, which is slid into the film within a scene where Logan urges the younger Charles to look into his mind.  In that scene, the flashback's apparent purpose is to show us all the horror Logan has lived through as a way of leading up to how Logan has gained much from his friendship with the older Xavier.  It's not bald exposition - it's organic to the scene in the moment, even as it sets up a more impactful payoff later.

Am I saying that that wonderful final sequence played as emotionally for my wife as it did for someone like me?  No, I doubt it hit quite THAT hard.  But it certainly works as a denouement to aspects of this film itself.  For that reason, it transcends just being a convenient way to ignore unpopular sequels and their elements.  

X3's teased resets were infuriating because they were unearned emotionally.  DAYS OF FUTURE PAST makes the reset a feature, not a bug, and the justified payoff of everything the film builds to. This isn't just a great comic book movie, it might just be the best X-MEN movie yet.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Film School Rejects post - "Badly Written Spin-offs (Not Gender) Killed Female Superhero Movies"

I'm sure in the past on this blog we've addressed the dearth of female superhero movies.  For years, the excuse was that "Audiences don't go to Female Superhero movies," an excuse that seemed to fall in line with the "conventional wisdom" that female-driven action movies can't find an audience.  It's dubious logic at best, but it became common to see CATWOMAN paraded around as a contributing factor about why Warners was skittish about pulling the trigger on a WONDER WOMAN film.

This always felt like bullshit to me.  Even when a bad superhero movie salted the Earth on a particular property, usually a second chance was granted within a decade. (There was only about eight years between BATMAN & ROBIN and BATMAN BEGINS.)  Surely now that we're in a superhero renaissance, the old beliefs can be revisited?

More than that, if SUPERGIRL, CATWOMAN and ELEKTRA were being held up as the reasons no one was willing to take a chance on another female superhero movie, shouldn't a more thorough autopsy be performed on those movies?  Were those movies failures because they focused on women, or because they were simply objectively bad movies?  If a brilliant female superhero movie still failed to find audiences, maybe - MAYBE - the naysayers would have a point.  But if not...

To that end, I recently spent a week revisiting SUPERGIRL and ELEKTRA, and watched CATWOMAN for the first time.  The goal - find out what made these movies fail.

Head on over to Film School Rejects to see my post on why each of these movies fell short of expectations, in a post called "Badly Written Spin-offs (Not Gender) Killed Female Superhero Movies."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's the 15th anniversary re-release of GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE - an interview with director Joe Nussbaum!

This year marks the 15th Anniversary of a short film we've discussed a few times on the blog here: GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE. The film is a hilarious mash-up of Shakespeare In Love and Star Wars, as it purports to reveal the origins behind George Lucas's script that launched one of the most enduring franchises and mythologies in popular culture.

To celebrate that occasion, the film will be available for download on iTunes for the first time ever. It's on sale today, so check it out here. (And unlike certain other filmmakers, this re-release is exactly how you remember it - no new musical numbers to be found.)

GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE is one of my favorite short films ever, if not my absolute favorite. Written by Joe Nussbaum, Timothy Dowling & Daniel Shere, and directed by Nussbaum, it is everything a short film should aspire to. It's got a brilliant premise, it moves fast, it's funny and the acting is solid.  It feels like a lot of young filmmakers today try to catch attention with fan films of some sort, but I have seen few as purely savvy and creative as Joe Nussbaum's GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE.

So when the opportunity arose to actually get an interview with Nussbaum, I couldn't say "yes" fast enough. In the intervening years, Nussbaum has directed the feature films Sleepover, American Pie presents The Naked Mile, Sydney White, and Prom, and has also worked in TV on a number of shows including Awkward, Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous and Surviving Jack.  But it all began fifteen years ago with a memorable short film...

Joe, first, congrats on the 15th anniversary of GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE! I think some of my younger readers have grown up with YouTube and an era of short films being easily accessible on the web. Can you take us back to 1999 and talk a little about what it was like to make a short film - and specifically a STAR WARS fanfilm - around then?

Joe Nussbaum: In the pre-YouTube era, it was all about VHS tapes. I worked as an assistant in film development, and my boss and her colleagues would get these short films on tape from agents trying to promote new directors. I would look at the stack of tapes and think, “I want a tape in that pile”. So I got together with some friends from film school and set out to make a short film that would get me noticed as a director.

The hybrid short already existed before us (what would today be called a ‘mash-up’) and we knew these were more likely to be watched. Shorts like Troops, Swing Blade, Eating Las Vegas, and Saving Ryan’s Privates were more likely to be put in the VCR than say, ‘Dancing to Oblivion’ or something like that. So being the calculating mofos we were, we dreamed up a hybrid of Star Wars and Shakespeare in Love and hoped it would work. Lucky for us, it did.

As for being a Star Wars ‘fanfilm’, I had not only never heard that word, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I never thought I was making this movie as a fan (though I was a fan) I was always making this movie as a sample of what I could do.

 STAR WARS is pretty ubiquitous these days as a source for fan films. Was that the case in 1999? I definitely have strong memories of TROOPS becoming an internet hit around the time of the Special Editions, and going back further there is, of course, HARDWARE WARS. Did you have any reason to think that GLIL could become popular to the degree it did?

JN: Popularity was the furthest thing from my mind. I really didn’t think anyone outside of Hollywood would see it. I just hoped that the people who could hire directors (like my boss) would see it and give me a shot.

In your mind, what are the components of a successful short film?

JN: Mostly I think what makes a successful short film is the same as what makes a successful film of any length, but beyond that, specific to a short would probably be the need to capture the audience immediately (first scene, first seconds even), move at a very brisk pace, hold some surprises, and end strong. A successful short should also have strong stylistic elements. It should have a point of view when it comes to style.

Can you give us an idea of how thoroughly you developed your strategy for using this film as a calling card? This was a time before YouTube metrics and Twitter tastemakers were able to get a lot of eyes onto something. Obviously people responded to it once they saw it, but making sure they watch the film probably was the hard part. When you sent out a DVD or VHS of the film, how did you make sure it didn't end up in the "unsolicited submissions" pile?

JN: I was fortunate that the people involved in making the movie were all already working in the Hollywood machine. I was an assistant at a production company, producer Joseph Levy had been an assistant at a big agency and was working with a manager, and Gary Bryman, one of our executive producers, was floating around in legit development circles too. So when we finished the movie we had a network of ‘underlings’ in Hollywood who, if they liked it, could move it up the chain to their bosses.

Gary quickly showed it to a manager and I signed with him right away. This manager then paved my way toward an agent, and all our submissions were legit.

If you were making something like GLIL today, do you think it would be as successful? Should today's young talent be trying to make their own standout fan films?

JN: I hope GLiL would be just as successful today. I think when people like something they like it regardless of how much other noise is out there. I think if anything, with Facebook and Twitter and reposts, the short would have spread 100 times faster than it did back then (assuming people liked it).

As for today’s young talent, they should make whatever they would want to see. Yes, we were calculating when we decided to make GLiL, but we also loved Star Wars and loved the idea and thought it would be really funny. I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but make what you love and it will come out way better. If that’s a fan film, then do that. If it’s something original, do that. Make what you think you can make great and special. That’s the only chance that it will work.

You shot GLIL on 35mm film which is significantly more complicated and difficult than it would be to shoot and edit on digital today. Do you have any thoughts on how the short film community has been impacted by the greater availability of HD cameras and editing equipment, as well as easy distribution via YouTube and Vimeo?

JN: I’m not really tapped into the ‘short film community’ enough to know the answer to this question, but my guess is that everything’s a lot easier, and a lot cheaper, and there’s probably a lot more really unwatchable stuff because of it. Which is actually good news! Because then when you make something great, I’m sure it can still cut through.

The DVD behind-the-scenes has a great story involving Steven Spielberg. Can I ask you to recount it here?

JN: So one of my good friends, Jim Ryan, has worked at Dreamworks Animation since it opened. And when we made GLiL, we gave him a tape and he showed it to some of his co-workers there. Well, they liked it, and soon more of his co-workers wanted to see it. Apparently, word spread fast, and soon Jim was doing hourly screenings for everyone in the building. Somehow, the producers of the movie Jim was working on, Prince of Egypt, heard about the short and said they wanted to see it, so Jim gave them his tape. It turned out that they liked it so much, they gave the tape to Jeffrey Katzenberg. And apparently Katzenberg liked it enough to send it to Steven Spielberg.

Then, from what I’ve heard, Spielberg watched it, laughed very hard at it, and proceeded to call George Lucas and begin describing the short to him in detail. He then, according to the story, sent Jim Ryan’s copy of George Lucas in Love to George Lucas himself. Lucas wrote me a congratulatory letter less than a month after we finished the short, and the first line was “Steven Spielberg sent me a copy.” Definitely surreal and very very cool, and yes, the letter is framed on my wall. And yes, Jim got another copy.

You have directed 4 feature films and a lot of hours of TV in the last 15 years. I'm sure it's not as easy as "direct a good fan film, get a feature" so give us an idea of what was involved in making that leap from GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE to directing SLEEPOVER just five years later?

JN: It’s funny that you say “just five years later” because at the time, it felt like forever. I was fortunate because GLiL proved to be such a well received directing sample that I was attached to direct my first feature within three months. That movie never got greenlit. But then there was another. But that never got greenlit either. And then there was another, and another, and another. Sleepover was, I believe, the 7th studio feature that I was attached to direct.

Getting a movie off the ground and into production is amazingly difficult. It could be casting that kills a movie, or a poorly received rewrite, or a regime change at the studio, or simply the whim of a studio head on any given day. Ultimately, there wasn’t really anything I needed to do directing-wise beyond the short in order to get a movie, I just needed the planets to align to get one into production.

It seems like - for the most part - your resume has a lot of projects aimed at the teen audience. Is that by design? Are there things about that particular genre that you really thrive on?

JN: I feel like it’s more a result of the twists and turns of fate than by design. I do tend to love teen movies though and think that high school is a fertile ground for both comedy and drama, but I’d be more than happy to ‘graduate’ as well.

When you watch GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE today, what does that film tell you about the 26 year-old guy who made it?

JN: This is such a great question and one I’ve never thought about before. I think it tells me that guy was very passionate and had a strong enough belief in himself to risk his life savings on his own talent. I wonder if I would have the guts to do that today. I also see someone who was lucky enough to have an amazing group of friends willing to pour their hearts into a project to try and make it great. I wish I had as much chance to work with my talented friends over the years as that guy probably thought he would.

So in the last fifteen years, have you gotten the chance to meet the man himself, George Lucas?

JN: I did. It was five years after GLiL and I met George at the Telluride Film Festival where he was premiering the remastered THX 1138. I made friends with some volunteers at the festival who knew I had made the short and they helped smuggle me up to him before the screening. I quickly introduced myself and said that I made George Lucas in Love. Then the most amazing thing happened, George’s eyes lit up, he gave me a firm handshake and he said, “Thanks for making me famous.” I was speechless.

Then his kids, who were there with him, chimed in how much they loved the short. It was unbelievably cool.

And finally, as a STAR WARS fan, what are you hoping for from the new trilogy?

JN: I hope it’s great! I just want a great SW story with great characters who I can get behind and root for.   I can’t wait.
Once again, you can find the film on iTunes here. The official website is here, and there's even an official twitter account at @GLucasInLove.

Press Release Below:

In the fall of 1998, four friends and aspiring filmmakers, JOE NUSSBAUM, JOSEPH LEVY, DAN SHERE and TIM DOWLING began discussing making a short film in order to launch their careers.  The group went on to make one of the most notable, widely seen and profitable short films in the history of the genre.

The film, which was produced in less than two months with only two days of actual filming, hit Hollywood on the morning of May 24, 1999, and within several hours, copies of the film started being passed around town.  The film gradually worked its way up from assistants to executives, eventually ending up in the VCR’s of such moguls as Mike Ovitz, Jeffrey Katzenberg and George Lucas himself, whose copy was personally sent to him by Steven Spielberg.  It wasn’t long before the press picked up on the story of the film which was trailblazing its way through Hollywood.  The film’s success was reported in such publications as DAILY VARIETY, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES, PEOPLE MAGAZINE, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and USA TODAY.  The story went on to reach publications in nearly every continent of the globe.  Television news media also reported about the phenomenon on such outlets as NBC’s TODAY SHOW, CNN’s SHOWBIZ TODAY, MSNBC’s MORNING LINE, Fox News channel, CBS, CNNfn and many more.

In September, 1999, the film made its internet debut on Within weeks, the film was reported to be the most viewed short film in internet history, eventually being watched several million times by internet audiences around the world.  GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE is currently taking its position in a permanent exhibit on the history of film on the internet at the prestigious Museum of Television and Radio in New York and Los Angeles.

Approximately six months after its world premiere and internet debut, GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE was made available for purchase on home video through  Within its first 24 hours of sale, the nine-minute video became the top selling VHS film on Amazon, placing it ahead of “Star Wars Episode 1”.  GEORGE LUCAS IN LOVE retained its number one position for nearly three months straight, just before the film’s release on DVD and broad expansion into traditional brick & mortar retail markets such as Tower Records, Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster.  At the same time, the film was being licensed for television, airline and theatrical exhibition around the world in numerous countries and languages.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Godzilla: Knowing where to put the focus

I am not a Godzilla guy by any means. I have seen more Gamera movies than I have seen Godzilla movies. Hell, I have seen more PACIFIC RIM movies than I have seen Godzilla films.

What I'm getting at is that I've never seen a Godzilla film, so I have no idea if any of them have been any good or if they're all cheese-fests like Gamera. (Sing it with me, "Gamera is really neat! He is made with turtle meat!")  What I can say is that the Gareth Edwards-directed Godzilla that opened last Friday is actually a very strong summer action film, probably better than most expected.  One of the many reasons it works is that it cares more about the human characters than it does the three monsters laying waste to multiple cities.

There is a critical distinction between how Edwards treats his human characters and how, say, Michael Bay treats his.  (For one thing, Elizabeth Olsen isn't photographed from behind, bending over a motorcycle.)  Bay regards them as merely his way into the story and then once he places them there, all perspective is tossed aside while we soak in pixels clashing pixels, rendered at a higher degree than ever before.

One moment in particular stands out as the embodiment of that style.  There's a point in the story where Las Vegas comes under attack from a creature called a MUTO. A lesser filmmakers would have made this a fifteen-minutes VFX orgy showing the MUTO tearing into the MGM Grand, tossing the Eiffel Tower mock-up into Planet Hollywood and then smashing the Bellagio into the synchronized fountain.  You can probably see this in your mind's eye - money shot after money shot; big IMAX-sized destruction porn, windows shatter, building pulverize - the full Bay-hem.

That's not what we get exactly. If that whole sequence lasts two minutes, I'll eat my hat.  Better still, so much of what we experience (note the use of that word instead of "see") comes from the perspective of the people IN Las Vegas. We're inside the casino when it's smashed, not watching it as we would a breaking news report from a chopper feed. Our first view of the full swath of destruction comes from a shot that originates inside a Vegas hotel suite that's had a wall ripped away.

This style continues through much of the film. Every now and then Edwards allows himself to indulge in a beauty shot that takes in a more omniscient perspective, but by and large he's very careful to make sure we're emotionally in tune with the human characters in the scene, be they main characters or just day players.  The film essentially takes one of the best elements of Cloverfield and assimilates it into this summer tentpole.

The script - with a story credited to David Callaham and screenplay by Max Borenstein - compliments this by attempting to make the human characters more than cyphers. I'm not going to claim that the players are as fleshed out as, say, Jaws's cast.  Indeed, there are players that barely rise above the distinction of "military guy" and "scientist carrying the backstory ball."  It helps a lot that the stage is set by Bryan Cranston, who is about as fantastic an actor anyone could hope to cast.  He plays a man who was a supervisor at a Japanese nuclear plant fifteen years ago when an "incident" happened.  The official story is that an earthquake caused an explosion and radiation leak there, claiming many lives and forcing an evacuation.  Cranston's character doesn't believe that and spends the next fifteen years trying to put the pieces together.

When we pick up with him in the present day, it's after he's been arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area.  His son Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, comes to bail him out and the two end up breaking into the quarantine area together.  It's here that they learn there's no radiation and that the Japanese have been keeping a creature in the reactor all these years.  Conveniently, all hell breaks lose soon after, setting up the rest of the film.

It's hard to undersell just how critical Cranston is in his relatively small role.  He takes the role of the "crackpot" scientist as seriously as if he was playing Walter White again.  I couldn't help but think of how a Roland Emmerich or a Michael Bay would have treated this character as a punchline. He'd have been a totally bonkers loon with the ultimate joke being that he was right all along - think Randy Quaid in Independence Day or Woody Harrleson in 2012.  Picture for a moment, Jeff Goldblum in the Cranston role and you'll see how easy it would have been to go for the quirky choice.  This film needed Cranston, much in the same way the first Superman film demanded the gravitas of Marlon Brando to set the stage properly.  It's all a matter of fixing the right tone.

Once Cranston checks out, Ford becomes our POV character, through another convenience in that his route from Japan is that of the Muto. (The two pretty much could share an airport shuttle.).  Through him we experience a major attack on Hawaii - which follows much of the same POV style I discussed above - and eventually a bold mission in San Francisco, which has become the battleground for two Mutos and Godzilla himself.

There's not much character development to be found here, but the script knows how to set up clear stakes and establish a ticking clock. (Hell, there's a scene at the end of Act Two that might as well be called "The Ticking Clock.")  We know from about halfway into the film that the three creatures are converging on San Francisco, and an attempt to lure them away with a nuclear bomb (the creatures are attracted to radiation) only ends up making things worse when the device ends up in the hands of the monsters, in San Francisco, with no way to terminate the detonation remotely.  The first few attempts to solve the problem consistently end up making the problem worse, which is always a good way to go in screenwriting.

The tension builds on itself nicely and the simple genius of Edwards's decision not to beat the audience senseless with VFX orgy after VFX orgy pays off in the final showdown because the viewers aren't yet numb to the destruction.

I have a mild quibble with the end, which doesn't even try to explore how the devastated cites will pick up the pieces after this.  Also, as thrilling as it is to see Godzilla just tear into Muto, I really don't buy the news hailing him as the "hero," nor do I think he'd be allowed to just disappear back into the ocean after all of this.  If anything, the wild devastation of at least three cities should make any nuclear countries even more eager to bomb Godzilla to pieces, especially if he's doing them the favor of fleeing a populated area.  The film's got a decent ending, but a good coda would have gone a long way.

Gareth Edwards seems to belong more to the blockbuster world of Spielberg rather than the world of Bay and Emmerich, and we are all much better off for it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to take feedback gracefully

Avishai asks:

A short while back, I asked my scriptwriting professor if he would read a spec I wrote. He agreed, and a few months later, responded with a critique. It was negative-- he only read up to page 70-- but highly constructive in the brief lines of review he gave me. I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about the craft and asked if I could meet with him to discuss what I could do to make my script better. Once again, he agreed.

The question I have is this: what is the best way to conduct a constructive conversation with someone who has read your script and didn't like it? Or, to put it another way, what should I most definitely NOT do in such a conversation? For instance, I want to explain what my original intentions were, but I'm worried that I might come across as defensive and dickish to a man who was courteous enough to give me a read and honest feedback in the first place.

The number one rule for accepting notes: Listen.

When I get notes from someone, I always have a pad and pen and I write down as much of what they say as I can.  Even if they've written down their notes and are going to give me a printout, I do this because I find if I'm writing, it stifles my urge to break in and try to explain myself.  It also gives the appearance of being open and accepting of their notes.

The other benefit of this is that ANY reaction can be valuable, even if I'm convinced it's 100% wrong.  Unless this person has bought your script and is paying to produce it, you are under no obligation to make changes just because they tell you they don't like something.  If someone gives you a note that pisses you off, is it really worth getting into a fight over it? 

Plus, I always assume that if this person spots something in a script, someone else will have that same reaction too, even if it's wrong.  So if their misunderstanding is provoked by something in the script, you need to know what led them to those conclusions.  That is the sort of tone you want to strike when you ask follow-up questions.  I don't think you even need to explain your original intentions, at least not at first.  All you need to do is probe deeper: "Okay, so you think this character is a pedophile... why are you picking up on that?" Or "It surprises me you think of the girlfriend as bitchy. Can you point to specific moments that provoked that?"

Arguing with them that how they reacted is wrong is always a waste of time.  If I say I hated THE PURGE, there's no point in trying to tell me I didn't hate it because I know I hated it. There's no debate if someone liked or hated something, but you can debate what led them to such a conclusion.  The best reviews are not ones that say "I loved it!" or "I hated it!" but instead explore why a creative work is worthy of acclaim or scorn.  That's the kind of dialogue you want with a reader.

As questions that invite them to expound, not force them into retreat-and-defend mode.  Never leave them feeling like you're saying, "What you're reading into this is WRONG!"  I think it's totally fair to continue the dialoue in the tone of, "That's not what I want to do.  I'm hoping that [plot point/development] comes off [intended reaction.]  How do you think I can get there?"

Basically, you should always humor the person giving you notes.  If the misinterpretation is caused by something that's easily addressed, you might as well remove that tumor before the script gets to someone who matters.  It's like a prostate exam: if you went to the trouble of getting them to put their hand up your ass, you might as well get the full report on what they found.  Otherwise you BOTH went through that for nothing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A question of tone

Chad writes in with a question:

Recently, I got a review from a reputable website where they said that my script was "tonally muddled" because many of the characters were kids, the beginning is about the main character as a child, so it starts out with a family friendly vibe--but they have to fight (presumably CG?) giant insects and this reader thought that I was mixing family-friendly with horror and that I should tone down the violence. 

This same reviewer admitted that MIB (one of my influences) combined these elements successfully, but said the difference was that MIB used practical effects for the aliens and mine would have to be more photo-realistic CG. This brought to mind the obviously CG cockroach that explodes at the end of MIB. "Got some entrails on you there..." I don't want to be one of those writers who gets offended at a critique. This same reviewer gave me some constructive criticism on my dialogue. 

My question is, how to I write non-human "monster" characters getting blasted without pro script readers getting an R-rated image in their heads that conflicts with the family-friendly stuff in this script? Eight-Legged Freaks with David Arquette is an example of what I am talking about as well.

Okay, this is a good question.  First, I want to say that I don't think it really matters if we're talking about CG monsters or practical monsters.  It's not really accurate to say that any single approach is more "family-friendly" than the other.  So let's set that aspect of the question aside entirely.  That's a debate that's more appropriate once a director's attached and he's figuring out the best way to bring the tone of your script to the screen.

Without reading the script, I can't be too specific about what might have set this reader off about the violence.  Perhaps you wrote the violence a little too vividly, or brutally.  It's one thing to say "The giant cockroach explodes in a fountain of puss and entrails! Gross!"  It's quite another to write something like "The motherfucker gets shot to pieces.  Blood. Guts. Gore. It's all over the place, painting the walls and coating the ground with a slimy secretion. You can almost smell the death."

A sanitized version might even just say: "The blast blows up the giant cockroach. Who needs Raid when you've got a big gun?"

But there are a lot of things that can contribute to tone beyond just the words in your description.  MEN IN BLACK can play that violent moment for laughs because it's crystal-clear from everything else in the film that we're in a universe that applies a light touch to everything.  It's been ages since I've seen the film, so I don't remember too many specifics in terms of how that tone is introduced.  But think about the overly-serious deadpan dialogue give to Tommy Lee Jones, or the background gag of Will Smith being tossed around by an alien about to give birth.

For crying out loud, MEN IN BLACK is a movie with a talking dog!

Everything from plot, to characters, to dialogue in MEN IN BLACK sets the tone that this is a broad comedy. A more serious movie might have played Edgar's possession for the horror of it, but here it's handled with a comedic touch. We're allowed to laugh about how gross it is instead of focusing on what a violation it could be.

So the way you keep the monster deaths from feeling like it's an R-rated scene is to make sure that the rest of the film reinforces that.  The fact that they say it's muddled suggests to me that there are scenes where you probably get the tone right, but that any of that lighter feeling is completely absent in scenes that get violent.  As you point out, the MIB cockroach death is instantly undercut by the "you've got entrails on you" joke.

If there ARE moments that are brutal, you've gotta be willing to take the piss out of them.  GHOSTBUSTERS achieves this often through Venkman's snappy lines, using his quips to cut the tension.  Really, I can only think of two moments in the entire film that might veer towards the intense.  The first is Dana's possession, which was pretty damn scary as a kid.  She's grabbed by one dog through her chair and pulled into her bedroom where another dog waits.  The film actually lets that tension hang until Peter shows up and it's clear that Dana has been taken over.  Fortunately, a side effect of the transformation is that she can't stop feeding Peter straight lines, thus letting us know it's okay to still laugh at the film.

The other horror moment is when Louis is pursued and attacked by one of the terror dogs.  Even then, before the attack we get the sight gag of the dog hit with a coat, plus Louis's "Who brought the dog?" line.  The scene concludes not by showing us the attack, but by giving us the perspective of the people inside the restaurant where he's banging on the glass for help.  Thus, our reaction is more about the amusement over how crazy he seems to those diners who go right back to their meals without missing a beat.

Use comedy to thin out the tension and make sure your script doesn't play like a silly script and a dark script that keep alternating scenes.  I'm not saying every scene has to be pure slapstick, but give your reader transitions from the silly to the straight moments.  If you do it right, we'll accept the shifts as merely the variations in a melody rather than a mash-up of two completely different songs.

Monday, May 5, 2014

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: film or business plan?

As always, there are spoilers all over this thing, so be warned as you dive into the post.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is less of a filmmaker's labor of love and more of a naked business plan for IP exploitation in perpetuity.

As much as I'm immersed in the business end of filmmaking out here in L.A.. I always do my best to put that perspective out of my head while I'm watching a film for the first time.  It's unavoidable that at some point down the line, one will be compelled to look at the work from a more corporate standpoint, but the last things I should be thinking about during my initial viewing are spinoff potential and franchise vitality.  And yet, here we are.

ASM2 goes to great lengths to establish tendrils that will likely not only connect to the two (yes, TWO!) already-announced sequels, but also the VENOM and SINISTER SIX spinoffs.  And unfortunately this comes at the expense of its own story. The reason for these spinoffs is clear: Sony's rights to Spider-Man will last only so long as they continue to produce films set in that universe.  If they ever stop producing films for a specific length of time (I believe it's five or six years, but don't quote me on that) the rights to the character revert back to Marvel, who is itching to exploit the property.

Thus, Sony finds itself in a very literal case of "use it or lose it."  This is what motivated the entire reboot in the first place.  The first three SPIDER-MAN films took in nearly $2.5 billion worldwide, with the third film actually being the most successful.  This is a valuable property and it would have been an impeachable offense for ANY studio head to let that windfall revert back to Marvel as a result of disuse.  Fans may bitch, but that's the reality of the situation.  There is no scenario sort of brain damage where anyone at Sony should consider letting Marvel have Spidey back.

Every now and then, I see some fans bitching that Sony should just sell Spider-Man back to Marvel.  Again, there's probably no sum that Marvel would be willing to pay that would make such a transaction profitable.  Let's forget the fact that Marvel is dirt cheap - why would they lay out a large sum of cash for Spider-Man when if Sony was really THAT disinterested in making further movies, the rights would revert to Marvel for nothing.  I lay this out mostly to make the case that Marvel's not going to pay for Spidey, and Sony's not gonna sell.

I hate the term "cash grab," which is what annoyed fans fling too often at franchise films.  "They only made this movie to *gasp* MAKE MONEY!" they cry.  I don't know many movies that don't have some financial incentive behind them.  Studios aren't in the business of trying to burn cash.  Despite all the financial motivations I laid out above, I'm sure all of the creatives involved are genuinely trying to make a good movie.

That said, the intention to build a long-term franchise too often override organic storytelling here.  In particular, some late developments in the story are rushed so that we can get a taste of Oscorp basically being a villain factory from which the SINISTER SIX will spring.  I feel like the final action sequence with the Rhino is misplaced and may have worked better as an introduction to the third film.  By dictating that the film ends with this point, it may have also accelerated Harry Osborn's story too much, given that his fall from grace has to share time with another villain.

Basically, this plays less like a major chapter in an ongoing epic and more like a midseason episode of a television series.  Though some major revelations are tossed into the light and a significant character dies, it lacks the emotional engagement of Raimi's work.

Raimi's own films did their fair share of developing plotlines across several films.  The most notable of these was Harry Osborn's arc, which saw him blaming Spider-Man for his father's death in the first film, learning Peter was Spider-Man and finding out the truth about his own father by the end of the second film, and finally acting upon his revenge in the third film.  This slow-burn approach worked because it was surrounded by other material that played as self-contained.  There's a sense of resolution in each of Raimi's first films that we don't get here.  More than that, there's a strong unity of plot and theme in those films.

ASM2 feels incredibly disconnected in places.  The villain this time around is Jamie Foxx's Electro, an Oscorp scientist who's mutated in a lab accident and gains powers that allow him to channel and control electricity.  I don't read the Spider-Man comics, save for the first dozen or so volumes of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, so I have no idea how accurate Electro's depiction is when compared to the source material.  Here all you really need to know is he's a nerdy guy who stars off as a mega Spider-Man fan.  When his powers bring him into conflict with Spider-Man, he's convinced the webslinger is jealous and feeling betrayed, he swears vengeance.

It's a pretty simple arc and it's biggest crime is that it doesn't add up to anything larger.  It doesn't contribute thematically to any other plotline in the film.  It feels like Electro could have been swapped with any villain in the rogues gallery and as long as their presence led to action sequences, the net effect would have been the same.

Even when Electro teams up with a villainous Harry Osborn it seems more like a case of that character being the muscle most easily accessible to Harry - not because there's anything really tying the characters together.  Of course, this conjurs memories of one of the weakest points of SPIDER-MAN 3 which has the exact. same. "You hate him? I hate him too! We should work together!" motivation for the team-up.  That's not a good thing.

I went in with my expectations knocked way down after hearing some early bad reactions. Naively, I thought this would be an asset and that I'd walk out saying, "That wasn't nearly as bad as it was made out to be.  I'll say this, after having spent the last month watching some of the worst superhero movies ever made (for some forthcoming posts on Film School Rejects), I feel obligated to say we don't have a debacle here on the level of CATWOMAN, WOLVERINE or X3.  That said, this film is a disappointment and probably is the weakest SPIDER-MAN film yet.

Yes, even weaker than SPIDER-MAN 3.  I'm not saying that film is any kind of unappreciated gem, but I think most of the people still calling it out as terrible haven't revisited it since its release.  The memory of its flaws has likely eclipsed some of the more enjoyable moments of the film.  Five years from now, when people revisit SPIDER-MAN 3 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 with fresh eyes, I wouldn't be shocked if most people realized they enjoyed SPIDEY 3 more.

That's not to say that there are high points.  In fact, Electro-related stuff aside, the first 2/3 of the film have a fair number of high points, including a nifty over-the-top sequence of Spider-Man stopping a plutonium theft on the way to his graduation.  The film's not a total loss, even if the third act's sins overshadow much of the film's virtues as you depart the theatre.

Chief among the highpoints are Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.  I'm not sure if their storyline is really as good as Garfield and Stone make it play.  Basically, Peter feels guilty about seeing Gwen because he promised her dying father he'd stay away from her to keep her safe from his enemies.  Yes, it's the old "I love you, but we can't be together because noble reasons" plot, but these two have such sharp chemistry in their scenes together that most of the time you won't care.

This is one case where the script knows the thematic payoff it's going for. So much is made of Peter's conflict and guilt that it's pretty clear we're going to get some version of "The Night Gwen Stacy Died."  Unfortunately, we get a rushed execution of the idea that almost feels tacked on.  Harry's screentime is limited due to the Electro storyline.  While the second act sets up his degeneration and his desperation to find a cure - a quest that eventually ends up turning him into the Green Goblin - the third act seems to reach its climax with Electro's defeat.

Thus, when Harry comes swooping in on a Goblin Glider (though I'm pretty sure it's never named as such) it almost feels like an afterthought.  There's a real sense of "Let's get on with this. There's only 15 minutes left and we've gotta kill Gwen off."  Because of this, there's barely any effective build-up to Gwen's murder. Frankly, had Raimi's first movie decided to kill Mary Jane at the bridge, there would have been more set-up and emotional groundwork laid.

But here, his rage at Peter was rushed and his decision to punish him by taking away the love of his life feels too spur-of-the-moment.  You'd never know the comics consider this confrontation one of the most defining moments in Spider-Man history.  Something about the execution feels limper than Gwen's corpse and it's only later during a replay of Gwen's graduation speech that the loss and sorrow really kick in.  Peter watching that speech, mourning and making peace with her loss would have been a great way to end the film, perhaps with him picking up his Spidey costume.  The brief fight with the Rhino really mangles the tone there, though.

I like that Gwen gets her heroic moment before she dies, but it really bothers me how tossed off her death is.  Electro should have been a distraction that Spidey dispatched relatively quickly and then the REAL fight should have been between him and Harry.  The Harry/Peter battle doesn't feel nearly as mythic as the franchise demands.  Dane DeHaan does what he can with Harry as written, but he's not really given a character who's allowed to make sense.

I've spent so much time talking about other issues, that I haven't found a place for another big misstep - the need to make Peter's connection to the genetically engineered spiders more than just a coincidence.  We find out Peter's father was involved in the research at Oscorp that produced those spiders and we learn that thanks to some "fun with DNA" science, Dr. Parker implanted those spiders with his own DNA so that the only compatible test subject would be him or anyone who shares his DNA.  Gee, so I guess it's really convenient that the one person the spiders bite would affect happened to wander into their range one day.

I don't like this idea.  It makes Peter's superhero career almost too pre-ordained.  Not every hero needs to be some sort of child of destiny.  It's not the worst application of the "Chosen One" syndrome I've seen, but it springs from the same mentality.  In trying to explain away the source of Peter's powers, the result is a convoluted series of circumstances that ultimately seems to depend MORE on coincidence than the original happenstance.  And to be blunt, as crowded as this script is anyway, the LAST thing we needed was to get bogged down in a retcon of Spidey's origins.

This movie leaves me concerned about the future of the SPIDER-MAN franchise.  The best thing this series had going for it is no longer possible after the events of this film.  If the next film isn't able to replace the Peter/Gwen chemistry with something equally compelling, this installment will be remembered as the one that tarnished the franchise.

Friday, May 2, 2014

ENLISTED creator Kevin Biegel fights tooth-and-nail for his show

I've been meaning to write about ENLISTED, which was one of my favorite new comedies of the season this year.  In a landscape dominated by relationship comedies, "friends hanging out" comedies and family comedies, ENLISTED charts its own course by turning to the military as its source for laughs.  That's a gambit that would be a challenge during peacetime, let alone coming after a decade-plus of on-going military engagement in the Middle East.  (Fun fact: yesterday was the 11-year anniversary of "Mission Accomplished.")

Creator Kevin Biegel came up the ranks as a writer on SCRUBS, so it's really no surprise he's adept at balancing humor and heart in a setting that hasn't been mined much for laughs.  When I first heard about the show (and here's where I should disclose that while I don't know Kevin well, he is very good friends with a good friend of mine), I admired the ambition to go so against the grain.  It's also a factor in what drew me to BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, which chose a similarly-unfunny setting as the backdrop for laughs.

The core story of ENLISTED is that of three brothers stationed together at a military base in Florida. As the opening voiceover informs us, these solders in the rear detachment are the ones who look after the homefront while their brothers-in-arms are overseas.  Pete, played by Geoff Stults, has been sent there from Afghanistan after punching out a superior officer.  The series thus far has doled out a number of moments showing that Pete is still dealing with PTSD from his combat days.  While out-of-order scheduling seems to be tinkering with the intended pacing of this story, overall it's added a nice depth to the character and shown that - like SCRUBS - this series isn't afraid to mix emotion in with its levity without compromising either.

(By the way, Pete's PTSD is inspired by Biegel's own emotions following heart surgery five years ago.  The experience made him think about death in ways he'd never confronted before and he shared those emotions in a very brave and moving essay with THR that you can find here.)

Pete's brothers - played by Chris Lowell and Parker Young - have shown a great brotherly chemistry from the start. All of them play well off of the incomparable Keith David as their commanding officer and Angelique Cabral's as a rival platoon leader.  Along the way, the show's also developed a deep bench of supporting oddballs within Pete's platoon, all of whom are impeccably cast.  There's a confidence to the writing and performing that might fool you into thinking you're watching a show in its second season or beyond.

But ENLISTED is struggling.  Fox stranded it on Friday nights without much of a lead-in when it would have really benefited from being paired with BROOKLYN NINE-NINE on Tuesdays.  It's really no shock that the ratings were so low, but Fox completely failed to capitalize on the very strong critical support for the series.

The ENLISTED cast and crew have also been working overtime in engaging the fans via Twitter.  Learning from Shonda Rhimes success in promoting SCANDAL via live-tweets, the ENLISTED team made sure that every available hand was there on show-night, chatting with fans and spilling details on the series.  It's a game plan that's extended beyond the network airings.

In this day and age, every metric matters and could mean the difference between renewal and cancellation.  Fox pulled ENLISTED from the schedule with four episodes unaired, which usually would mean it was a shoe-in for cancellation and if we were lucky, we'd see the final eps burned off over the summer.  So the ENLISTED team has connived to keep their fans engaged.

Each Friday, an ENLISTED "live-tweet repeat" is arranged for 10pm EST/7pm PST.  With all aired episodes available online, the creators designate a specific episode for their fans to watch on that particular day while as many of the ENLISTED cast and crew offer running commentary.  The goal of the coordinated live-tweet is obviously to show Fox how engaged their audiences is, both through the online viewing numbers and by if "ENLISTED" shows up as a Twitter trending topic.

Tonight's episode is a great one called "Randy Get Your Gun," which you can find here.

Kevin Biegel's twitter is @kbiegel, while the Enlisted writers are at @EnlistedWriters and the other showrunner, Mike Royce is @MikeRoyce.

As this fantastic interview with Kevin Biegel notes, the four unaired episodes will debut at the Austin Television Festival.  (And I really hope I'll be able to attend that fantastic gathering, but it's up in the air at the moment.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.)  Biegel teases:

"The last four are probably some of the biggest things we did. It culminates the story between Derrick and the bartender. There's an arc that we very carefully mapped out with Pete's PTSD that would be hopeful but also realistic. We didn't want to do, "Now Pete's solved! Now Pete's healthy!" We tried to do this tough thing for a comedy, which is to deal with a very serious and real issue facing actual soldiers and take it seriously. And we culminate that in the finale in a really special kind of way. There's that. 

"We decided that if we've got a few episodes left, we wanted to have as much Keith David as we could, so we amped up the physical comedy with him. With Angelique (Cabral)'s character, we decided to have her decide that she wants to be more in the Army than she is now, and to try to jump ranks. And Mike and I had long discussions with the writers about whether we should do something with Pete and Jill, and I always said, "No, that's cheesey!" But then we found a clever way to have our cake and eat it too with those guys. Parker's character may take a shine to Jill for very professional reasons, and that could lead to some brotherly conflict."

Please give the show a shot.  There's no other series like it on TV and we've gotta support the misfits whenever we can.