Friday, February 29, 2008

Breakfast at Fat City

Took H to the train station early this morning, then errands at the post office, then breakfast at Fat City, where I haven't eaten for a while. This Portland institution serves my favorite breakfast, and I've been ordering the same thing there for decades. Talk about routine and habit. In fact, I like routine and habit in my life, unlike in my work, where I'm easily bored and where I'm reluctant to do something I've already done unless I get paid in advance for it.

Fat City has not bent one centimeter in compromise of the New Age fad for "healthy breakfasts" and continues to serve the same "unhealthy breakfasts" they've always served, and I love them for it. The place doesn't change. The place doesn't need to change. In good restaurants, as in good literature and art, change is not an improvement.

Now for some piano practice before class. A weekend to myself, H not picked up until Sunday evening. Polish the splay and mail the "cranked up" version to my agent, finish learning a couple banjo tunes, progress on the new splay.

Pete Seeger

Seeger with Arlo Guthrie.

Seeger was practicing "the audacity of hope" long before Obama was even born. Here is a national treasure, perhaps the most optimistic artist in our history. "The Power of Song," aptly titled, is the American Masters feature on him on public television, which aired here last night. Nothing startling or new in it if you know about Seeger but an important and moving reminder nonetheless. My own disposition is far less optimistic about almost everything but it's good to have these folks, these true believers, around. If they're right, and I'm wrong, the world will be a better place.

In high school, I taught myself banjo with his instruction book.

Pete Seeger Timeline.

From fame to obscurity

The Poetry of Ruth Pitter

On this day in 1992 Ruth Pitter died. Although Pitter has fallen into the obscurity we might associate with leap year, she was a durable and prize-winning poet in her day -- Hawthornden Prize in 1937, Heinemann Award in 1954, Queen's Gold Medal in 1955, CBE in 1979, eighteen volumes of new and collected verse. The modern neglect may be attributable to her too-wide range, or her unmodern themes, or what Thom Gunn said of her: "Ruth Pitter is the most modest of poets, slipping us her riches as if they were everyday currency." It is hard to argue with those who think the poetry deserves more attention, or to doubt that the poet wanted nothing more than "a cottage in some peaceful place," where she could garden and "lurk in undergrowth."
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Portland State gets chance at the Big Dance

If the Viks win the tourny, they get an automatic bid to the NCAA "March Madness" tournament. As Big Sky champs, they'll go to the NIT if they don't go to the Big Dance. Maybe they can do the latter and become a Cinderella team.

Viks crowned Big Sky champs

By: Nathan Hellman

Against Montana State Thursday night, the Vikings shot their way to the Big Sky regular-season title, defeating the Bears 96-68 behind a school-record 70 percent shooting from the field.
With the win, Portland State (19-9, 12-2 BSC) clinches the right to host the Big Sky Tournament for the first time since 2005. The tournament is scheduled for March 11-12 at the Rose Garden, and ticket information is available at
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Thursday, February 28, 2008

The sun, the sun

A tease of spring outside, sunny and almost warm, but only a tease with rain in the forecast tonight. I'll never forget my first spring at the University of Oregon after coming up from UCLA. After Eugene's wet winter, the occasional sunny day in late winter, early spring, had male students ripping off their shirts as they crossed campus between classes, getting a few minutes of sunshine before disappearing into the classrooms. I thought everyone had lost their mind. A few years later, of course, I understood completely.

The office hours activity today (between student visits) is to brainstorm the new/next screenplay.

Literary fiction

Serious novels have such a hard time in our culture. It's gotten much, much worse over the years during my lifetime. However, perhaps extraordinary things are now hidden somewhere on the Internet. I suspect so!

Gravity's Rainbow Appears

On this day in 1973 Thomas Pynchon's third novel, Gravity's Rainbow, entered American bookstores and split the literary world. Pulitzer Prize jurors unanimously recommended it, but Pulitzer advisory board members called it "unreadable" and "obscene." The novel seduced many critics but found few readers who would finish its 760 pages on the first attempt. Meanwhile, the author stayed out of the public eye, just as he had at the publication of his first two books. His fan club continued to grow, intrigued by the most camera-shy writer since J. D. Salinger.
As a result of the deep division, no Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded. Gravity's Rainbow did share the National Book Award that year. Pynchon, however, declined to appear at the ceremony.

Now 67 Pynchon still prefers to walk incognito through Manhattan, where he lives with his wife, a literary agent, and a teenage son.
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Great morning, busy day

Finished the splay rewrite, finished my Music Theory homework, printing out "coverage reports" for an exercise in class today -- a full, busy morning.

I'm looking forward to Saturday when I can print out the screenplay and sit down with my red pen and go over it carefully again. I hope to send the rewrite to my agent on Sunday or Monday. I want to impress him with how quickly I deliver :-).

Also, while in StorySpace for the hyperdrama structure, I realized it's been a long time since I wrote a literary hypertext -- and the "Nails In My Coffin" material would really lend itself to this. Hypertext works best, in my view, when the story is constructed of vignettes. This material lends itself to that. I may think about this. In the meantime, though, the Cold War novel is next on the agenda for "traditional" narrative forms but I don't expect to return to it until after the hyperdrama video is done. What I'll turn to next week, I suppose, is the new screenplay. I'd like to deliver it before summer. I want to impress my agent with how quickly I deliver :-).

I think the splay rewrite is such a huge improvement, I'm humbled and a little pissed at myself that I hadn't cranked it up this much to begin with. I bet I still get notes for doing more but I think this is a huge step in the right direction. We're talking genre here, a romantic thriller, and in the first draft there wasn't enough "thriller" in the story.

My agent sticks with me because he loves my writing style: he's called me "a reader's, producer's dream" for my tight, concise screenwriting and dialog. But every story I've given him has been too "small" for his commercial tastes and targets. So I'm learning a hell of a lot with him. I am not a natural "commercial" storyteller. More naturally, I tell deep dark little dramas of human secrets, like my posthumous play "Oregon Dream," or broader social satires. I am having a ton of fun trying to write more commercially actually. Interestingly enough, I could never get interested in this as a prose writer, writing commercial novels, because there the language itself is so important and in general I can't stand the writing in popular fiction. But in a screenplay, the writing is pushed aside by the story. It's a story-driven form, and so I'm having a lot of fun with that without feeling like a literary whore.

And I could do none of this without the wonderful accident of my agent. It's a total fluke how he found me -- an old script, "The Brazen Wing", was in a pile somewhere, he got a copy, read it and responded. He had me change two story points, which I did, both to be more commercial (like the guy doesn't die at the end), and we were off and running.

New draft

Up early to finish the "cranked up" draft of the splay. To act three I've added both a car chase and a boat chase. Jeez, I sound like my own satiric video. (When I worked for a direct-to-video company years ago, scripts had to have several ingredients: a car chase; some explosions; lots of bare female breasts; and scenes taken from the producer's airplane. Everything else -- characters, story -- didn't matter all that much.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Put in about 6 or 7 hours on the splay today, have the first two acts cranked up, yet to tackle the conclusion, where a lot of action happens. Exhausted. Time to vegetate, then in the morning get ready for Music Theory class. Back at the splay over the weekend.

Found a replacement actor, one I've worked with in two shorts. A solid cast now. (I cast the writer because he looks perfect and could do it -- but his attitude is all to hell. Don't have time for it.)

Rewriting, recasting

Printed out a new version of the splay. Red ink time! Lots of terrific changes, probably need more.

Had to "uncast" one of my hyperdrama actors. He's a writer first and I sensed in his attitude during email exchanges a situation that might be a problem later in the heat of shooting -- so I'm going to recast with someone with more experience now and avoid dealing with the guy later.

First read through is March 9th.


3 hrs of rewriting, a ton of progress ... moving into the third act.

Blues harp

An interview with Brad Crooks.

The rewrite

The rewrite is going this way: the first 60 pages just need tweaking, a cut here, an addition there; the last 40, throw them out and write new pages.

Long, long, long overdue

Little Walter is being inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.

Political humor

What do you call someone at a Ralph Nader rally? Ralph Nader.

Today's task

Front burner, rewriting the screenplay, cranking it up. Next, get down the new song on the banjo. And practice piano for Friday's class. If I could actually rewrite the entire screenplay, so I can let it sit for the weekend and another look, that would be great but it may be more than I can do in a day. We'll see.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

They're giving a concert in Portland in April.

Adventures in politics

clipped from


Ore. mayor poses in underwear, loses job

ARLINGTON, Ore. - The mayor of an Oregon town who once stripped to her underwear and posed on a fire truck has been stripped of her office.

Voters in this town of about 500 voted narrowly Monday to recall Carmen Kontur-Gronquist. The tally was 142-139. City officials said the recall is effective Tuesday.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An unusual Wednesday

Tomorrow I have no student scripts to look at -- they have a week off from assignments in order to work on rewriting. This also gives me a rare mid-week moment to work on something of my own, like cranking up the screenplay. Following my agent's lead, I took good notes on the script in my office this afternoon. I might as well jump right in and start making the script changes tomorrow. Some of the changes are easy, other require new scenes and characters. The "romantic thread" requires far less work than the "thriller thread" in this romantic thriller. But I already can see that the changes definitely will be for the better. I'm excited about doing them, even though this is a pretty unusual kind of writing for me. Looking forward to tomorrow.

Also working on a new banjo tune that's going pretty well.

Good ideas

Went over the 2 pages of single-spaced notes from my agent ... damn, he has great ideas for cranking this sucker up! I feel very fortunate to be working with and repped by him. I can't figure out how to blow up any buildings but by the gods I think I can get a high speed boat chase in there ha ha! And in Nicaragua, no less!

Cranking it up

Going to campus early. Will read over my agent's notes on the new splay and take my own notes in the script about what and how to "crank it up". See if I can double the budget ha ha. All caution to the winds.

Strokes II

So you do your work and for weeks and weeks, don't hear a peep from a soul about it. It's like working in a vacuum. Then you hear from someone who likes something, you get a stroke.

Strokes seem to come in cycles. Got the first in a while last week and today two more ended up in my email box. Always nice to learn somebody is responding.

That's what is particularly satisfying about playwriting -- the live response of an audience. You write a good funny line of dialog and by the gods, an audience laughs at it! They applaud like hell at the end! But it can be frustrating, too -- something doesn't work, or an actor makes a mistake so something doesn't work (most of the time, actors add much more than they subtract from a script!). Playwriting permits the writer to experience live response to the work. Nothing like it.

I love watching my plays from the light booth, where I can spend as much time watching the audience as watching the play. You learn a hell of a lot doing this.

Preparing to shoot

I've been giving a lot of thought to how I'll name the video and html files that become the pieces of the online hyperdrama. I've learned the hard way over the years that a detail like this, which may seem unimportant to the uninitiated, actually can cause headaches later, or make the job easier.

Here's what I've come up with.

Both .html and .wmv files will follow the same naming strategy.

A file name V03-R.htm will indicate the web home for scene 3, Robert's narrative path.

Let's say scene 3 is a two character scene, Robert and Hollie. I shoot a two-shot and then angles on each of the characters. The video files would be: V03-R-aR.wmv, V03-R-aH.wmv etc. For different takes, V03-R-aRt1.wmv, V03-R-aRt2.wmv. A two-shot,

I have to brood about this more to see if it needs refinement. The key is, the file name must reveal all the important information I need at a glance, so I'm not searching for a particular video file later. The .html pages, in contrast, will concentrate on the character paths through the hyperdrama. There will be one web page hosting one video file.

Note that the names of the video files above are for raw footage. After each scene gets edited, the file name will denote the character path: V03-R01.htm, V03-R08.htm, i.e. the first and eighth web pages (with video file embedded on each) in the sequence of Robert's narrative path. And the corresponding video files will be V03-R01.wmv, V03-R08.wmv, etc., these the files that get uploaded to YouTube.

Yes, this is complicated. But if you don't have a clear organization of file names, man, it is a major nightmare later!

Monday, February 25, 2008

4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days

A very powerful Romanian film! Grim, compelling, tense. Effective use of static camera: lots of static 2 shots, long silences. It all works in context. About as un-Hollywood in its film story strategy as you can get. An art film, I suppose it's called -- but this one is full of tension and suspense.


Some years back, I met a woman in her 90s who had decided, on her 75th birthday, to quit voting for politicians. She hadn't voted since. When I asked her why she'd stopped voting, she said, "I don't want to encourage them."

Watching this ugly Clinton-Obama duel, I can understand what she was talking about.

Chinese curse

"May you live in interesting times."

Neuberger Hall on campus, where both my office and classroom this term are, is evacuated due to a bomb threat. I'm not on campus today, but this is the first time I remember an evacuation. Ah, me.


I have a very useful free program called STORYBOARD. Next step is to go through the script on Sophocles, numbered scene by scene, and transfer the basics (where, who, what) to Storyboard, which then will give me a scene by scene outline from which to more easily make a shooting schedule. The program also lets me make notes about shooting and/or editing each scene. Very useful and less material to handle than the actual script (i.e. an outline, fewer pages).

Script to actors

Just emailed the hyperdrama script to the actors. Hope to schedule a read through soon.

Fearing the possible

I've mentioned this before: how the Obama phenomenon brings back memories of the 60s. It's inevitable if you lived through those times: any inspiring, progressive leader becomes a target. What a world.
clipped from

In Painful Past, Hushed Worry About Obama
DALLAS — There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?
In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence.

Mr. Obama has had Secret Service agents surrounding him since May 3, the earliest a candidate has ever been provided protection. (He reluctantly gave in to the insistent urging of Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and others in Congress.) As his rallies have swelled in size, his security has increased, coming close to rivaling that given to a sitting president.

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Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
. Best Original Music. Once.

Diablo Cody
. Best Original Screenplay. Juno.

A year ago, these artists were as unknown as the thousands and thousands of their colleagues who do good work but get little recognition for it. Then lightning struck. Two small indie films catapulted them to fame. It can happen. But it never happens if you don't first do the work -- and keep doing the work.

Marketa Irglova:
Hi everyone. I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, who helped us along way. Thank you.

Glen Hansard:
Thanks! This is amazing. What are we doing here? This is mad. We made this film two years ago. We shot on two Handycams. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people. It's been an amazing thing. Thanks for taking this film seriously, all of you. It means a lot to us. Thanks to the Academy, thanks to all the people who've helped us, they know who they are, we don't need to say them. This is amazing. Make art. Make art. Thanks.

For me, the highlights of the Oscars.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Three amazing students

Last Thursday three students gave me the second draft of completed feature-length screenplays they began at the start of the term. The first drafts were excellent. I've read two of the three so far and they are even better, as they should be. This is an extraordinary accomplishment for 7 weeks of class.

A few years ago, I was a judge to select ten scriptwriters (playwrights, screenwriters) whose work would earn them a $7000 fellowship. Each of the scripts by the students above would have been on that list.

Juno won Best Original Screenplay. Hear, hear! I teach it in the spring. No End In Sight did not win Best Documentary. However, my joy in Michael Moore's failure to win more than eases my disappointment.


There was a guy in the Army who had a talent for delivering spontaneous one-liners. Once someone was quoting Dr. Johnson, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," and L. piped up, without missing a beat, "True -- but fashion is the first!" I've used the line ever since: Fashion is the first refuge of a scoundrel.

Which makes it scoundrel time in Hollywood tonight. All that money spent on all those gowns and tuxes on the red carpet.

But dressing up can be fun, I must admit. When my first hyperdrama, performed at the Pittock Mansion, sold out opening night in a few hours at $100 a pop, astronomical for Portland in the 1980s, I knew this was going to be a special event. I ended up arriving in a white tuxedo, and for a few years after that this became my opening night costume, arriving to my play premieres in a white tux. I have a very ugly story about how this tradition ended but this isn't the time to tell it.


Another polish and I think I'll have the script close enough to distribute to actors. I'll give them a couple weeks, then have a read-through. Then make a shooting schedule. I hope to use one of the actor's condos as a primary location, and we can get most done during a three or four hour shoot there, I think. Then maybe a couple more days to pick up things away from the condo. Last summer, the shooting went surprisingly quickly, primarily because the actors had done their homework. I am setting an arbitrary date, April 15, when I want the shooting to be done, and if it's earlier, excellent. I want a full month to edit, though I think it will take less than this. One has to prepare for something going wrong.

In the meantime, I'm going to start parts one and three, where I don't need the actors, sooner rather than later. I'm already gathering image material for them. And -- what fun! -- I'm going to write an original score for it all. This will get me tuned up in Finale before my spring class in its advanced features.

So the major programs I use on this project, in order of primary use, are: StorySpace for structuring the hyperdrama, Sophocles for writing the script, The Flip Video for shooting the scenes, Adobe Premiere Elements for editing the video, Audacity for recording narration, Finale for composing and recording a music track.
And probably a few other things that come up, using VitualDub, Prism, and what not. I couldn't do this without these great tools.


When I'm in the heat of working on a new project, I don't give thought to what others may think of it -- unless the project is blatantly commercial, like a screenplay or certain kinds of journalism. But most often these days, I work on projects that I am passionate about and that's enough justification to keep me going. At the same time, when a project like this is finished, there can be a let down. I may ask myself, Well, that took a lot of time and energy -- does anyone except myself give a rat's ass about it? Sometimes one never knows.

So it's nice to be surprised, as today, with evidence that sometimes someone does give a rat's ass. A link to today's stroke.

Structure of the hyperdrama

Click for larger image.

Using StorySpace (by far the best tool for doing this sort of thing), my first step was to get a handle on the structure of the hyperdrama within the locations I'll be using. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with developing the story movement. This done, I then went to Sophocles, my screenplay software (if this were prose, I could write in StorySpace itself, but Sophocles is easier for formatting a screenplay), keeping the StorySpace structural image at hand to keep me grounded.

The first draft of the script came in at 22 pages, which means a single character path through the hypertext should run 5-7 minutes, somewhere in there. Which is about what I was shooting for.

Doing this on video actually is easier for actors than in live performance because now all the actor stress of going on, off, and back on book is entirely removed. I'll be shooting clips and all the assembly happens in editing (making my job harder, tit for tat). As it happens, some of the most magical moments in hyperdrama are improvised, which will be lost here. All the same, this still should be great fun to wander through. Each actor is still "the lead" (in hyperdrama, the major-minor character distinction makes no sense whatever: a democratic form!), so each will have lots of camera time.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Prep work

Got a start on designing the website and making the top pages that will host the hyperdrama video. I'll save aches and pains later if I design this right and name all the many files right. I've been there before.

I actually can start writing and shooting the first and third parts of the overall video right away; only the second part uses the actors. Those two sections would be maybe five minutes each. Ballpark guess. I don't want them too long.

I love my agent

Feedback on the new splay. First, a nice compliment:

you are a reader’s / producer’s dream —- lean, clean descriptions, action lines, sharp dialogue with humor and irony.

And then the other shoe: CRANK IT UP! Well, I predicted just this. What's great is that he gave me 2+ pages of notes and suggestions that make sense to me and still leave me room for adding other "big" things as well. So I'll get back to it and crank it up.

But I love this guy, he's so straight ahead.

I have a cast

All seven actors I asked, most of whom I've worked with before, are "in" on the new hyperdrama project. This is fantastic -- I can write their roles to my take on their strengths.

A typo in a NYer cartoon!

Hypertext 08

Here's a summary of my participation in the June conference:

A hyperdrama video and lecture-demonstration
By Charles Deemer


In “Changing Key” I will introduce the dramatic principles of hyperdrama, illustrate them with a short dramatic video, and discuss the “nuts & bolts” of writing and producing hyperdrama both for live performance and for film. The entire package will be a structured video accessed through a website with embedded videos that are hosted at YouTube.


Changing Key is organized in three parts.

• Introduction: I’ll begin the video by comparing the differences between traditional dramatic storytelling and storytelling driven by the new dramaturgy of hyperdrama.

• A Short Drama: The new dramaturgy will be illustrated by a short video drama called “Changing Key.” It’s the story of an aging and addicted jazz pianist who has placed himself under house arrest at his sister’s home in order to get straight but then decides he must escape in order to participate in a special gig in New York. The story features 7 actors, each with a unique narrative path through the hyperdrama.

• Nuts & Bolts: I’ll conclude the video with a discussion of the techniques of planning, writing, directing and producing hyperdrama, including the use of specialized software.


Changing Key will be accessed from a website hosted by Ibiblio at the University of North Carolina, in my archival area. Each video link will be embedded at the site, and the links will be structured in a user-friendly fashion for moving through the narrative. Along the way, the user will make particular choices that define a unique path through the overall video presentation.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Off and running

Started writing script on the hyperdrama this morning. I can already see this is going to be a most fun short piece to write and direct -- and the real work will be in taping and especially editing. Well, put planning high up there, because I need to make sure I have all the clips to assemble the hyperdrama.

More progress

I've got a scene outline in StorySpace for the short hyperdrama video. I can start writing script at any time. Seven characters. Moreover, I've heard from many of the actors I contacted and thus far every one wants to participate. May the gods bless actors! This is going to be fun. I'll start working on the script this weekend.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hyperdrama progress

Well, I think I have the characters and concept to get me started. I'm going to develop this with the outstanding hypertext writing software, StorySpace. One of the invaluable specialty writing tools out there.

The story is about an addict jazz musician under virtual house arrest, living at his sister's, trying to get straight; and how a couple figures from his past help him fake a relapse in order to escape and catch a gig in Mexico. Several reversals in the narrative, should work out for my purpose, which is to demonstrate how hyperdrama works as dramatic narrative. A sudden and exciting project! Best, "my actors," the ones I worked with last summer, are enthusiastic to participate in this.

I might even be able to write the script this weekend, it will be so short. Maybe 10 or 20 pages. The difficult part of this project, the really difficult part, is thinking through the hypertext structure correctly, making the clips right, and then editing and weaving everything together and coding a web page right to deliver it. But I love doing this stuff.

I don't think there are too many hyperdrama videos out there.

Brainstorming with myself

Music Theory was great, as usual, and now I have a couple hours before class. Going to do a free writing exercise around finding a concept for the short hyperdrama I want to video. I know a few things about it: I need to start smack dab in the middle of a crisis; I want very few settings, maybe only one location; and I want a surprise ending, so that some narrative paths reveal what's going on more quickly than others do. This should be challenging and fun. Let the free associations begin. Onward.

Portland theater

Bob Hicks, drama critic for 30 years in Portland, defended our city's theatrical reputation last week. Someone called us a "first rate city to see second rate theater." Hicks responded, in part:

The city has a long history of excellent visual and new-vaudeville performance, from Ric Young’s old extravaganzas as Storefront to the continuing fine work at Do Jump and Imago. Storefront and other companies were Johnny-on-the-spot during Sam Shepard’s brilliant years, putting up feverish productions of his plays almost as soon as they were out of his typewriter. The great Peter Fornara’s moving theatrical circus created some scarily good work. I remember a hilarious version of Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” (in the John Mortimer translation) at Portland State University’s old summer stock, and a superb version of Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” at either New Rose or early Artists Rep. New Rose and playwright Charles Deemer produced some terrific things together. The likes of Gaynor Sterchi, Mary Marsh and Edris Morrison pushed the history of excellence even earlier. And for roughly 60 years, the old Portland Civic Theatre was recognized as one of the finest community theaters in the country.

Nice to be remembered.
Read full response

Of course, in my upcoming essay on Fornara, I argue the 1980s were stronger than now, an opinion Hicks agreed with in my interview.

Breaking the ice

This morning I had my first sale of the CD-ROM version of Screenwright, my electronic tutorial on screenwriting. This ten-year-old program, which has been a success over the years, originally was installed on a computer's hard drive. Now one can take it on the run and use it on any computer, a convenience. Only took me a decade to get around to offering the option -- well, actually, is what makes it possible because only then could I do this without an incredible expense, which I was reluctant to do. This generates a steady income but it's by no means making me rich, so I watch my expenses with it. But I did all the production work myself, so was able to get it up for no upfront expenses. I make a little less per unit than I make on the standard installation version but that's fine. I didn't want to make the CD-ROM price higher than the other. As it is, Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum, in a very positive review, mentioned its "amazingly low price," which is true compared to similar screenwriting products in the marketplace. I charge $25. When I started this, an "advisor" suggested I charge $199 and thereby undercut other screenwriting software products. But my motive wasn't to get rich but to spread the word, so to speak. The teacher in me more than the capitalist.

One on one

Exchanging emails this morning with a couple of students who are behind where they should be at this point. A lot of students are in good shape, so I can concentrate on helping those who aren't. Each needs a break through, when everything will fall into place and they then can catch up in a hurry. I expect this to happen, as it has in the past. Some "get it" quickly, others not so quickly.

Once v. forever

If Hollywood had made Once, the title would have been Forever and the young man and woman would have ended up together, going off into the sunset to live happily ever after and become famous musicians together. But in the film, each returns to a prior relationship.

Here is the difference between truth and fantasy. To be sure, I wanted, and I believe most audience members wanted, them to end up together. We like happy endings. If we identify with a character, we want them to be happy. They were so good together, why shouldn't they end up together? Because the real world has real obligations, which can be ignored in fantasy but not in reality and a true story pays attention to the difference. Not that the ending of Once is unhappy. Each character has grown to a degree, has learned how to live better within the parameters of the real world with its responsibilities and stresses. I return to the brilliant closing image of the film: the young woman at the piano, looking out through a small open window in a massive brick building. Here is her lifeline, here is her salvation within the restrictions of her roles as mother and wife.

Once won the audience award at Sundance, helping to propel its eventual commercial success, so stories do not need the fantasy of a Hollywood ending to be popular. Of course, here much of the attraction is the music. And most "true" movies actually have darker endings, some tragic endings. Such is life.

One thing I identified with in Once was the gift of a piano. In the past, when I was relatively wealthy (on a roll of getting grants and awards), I bought my girlfriend at the time, a talented musician and songwriter, a piano. It blew her mind! In fact, it blew her mind so much that it immobilized her, she felt pressured to produce now that she had a piano. It's as if not having one was a convenient excuse, and now she had to put up or shut up. So the gift actually didn't work out too well -- though now, many years later, she realizes the sweetness of the gift.

I've let a couple people see Oregon Dream, and the response has been gratifying. One used words like "uncomfortable, heartwarming ... lovely and pithy and engaging." I especially like the response, uncomfortable.

One understands why I don't want it produced in my lifetime but another does not and thinks I should market it. If I were to change my mind, I wouldn't go the whole hog (as Pinter might say): it would be done anonymously or with a pseudonym. But I'm more comfortable not doing that. I don't need to see it, though I would like to workshop it with actors. I might do that myself down the road. Blessed to spend much of my playwriting career as a resident playwright, I am used to developing scripts with actors.

And now that I'm taking a course in Finale, and will be really up to speed to compose come summer, I'm thinking of storylines for a music drama -- and indeed, THREE LOVES, the posthumous play I'm now working on, has possibilities here, and so do other stories I'm considering for this series. I'd really like to start a music drama, finally, this summer. The Finale course is the perfect kick in the pants.


I'm teaching the script of this fine film in the spring, and just in the nick of time I learned today that the DVD will be out in spring, too, so I can show it at the end of the term. Cool.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


There's a down side to reading blogs. Just when you get attached to one and look forward to the routine of dropping by, the blogger changes rhythm and stops writing and you feel like your favorite neighborhood coffee shop has just closed down.


This indie film from Ireland, what so many Hollywood agents would call "a nice little film," blew me away the first time I saw it, and it blew me away even more tonight, watching it for the second time. So many things work on so many levels here.
  • The music, of course, is wonderful.
  • It's that rarest of breeds today, a moving love story without sex, yet retains much sensuality.
  • It is beautifully filmed. And the film sequences are put to dramatic use, as when much of the story is told visually without dialog with a song in the background.
  • It's title is perfect: some relationships, some moments, happen only once in an individual's life.
  • The closing image is perfect, an angle from outside focusing on the young woman at her piano, an extraordinary gift from the guy, looking through a small open window in a large brick building, as if through the single passage to freedom in her brick prison of responsibility, back with her husband, but with music her salvation.

This is a remarkable achievement. Simple and brilliant.

Come on, Spring!

I'm so damn excited about this course in Finale I can hardly stand it. Got someone to cover First Wednesdays for me, got the clearance from the professor that I meet pre-requisites, get a ten percent faculty discount ... I'm ready to roll! Man, this should have me entering the summer with great compositional speed. This is going to be great.

A course in Finale

Hot damn! PSU is offering a course in "Intermediate to Advanced Finale" ... this is the music composition software I've been using. It runs Spring term, is taught by Jon Newton, one of the truly gifted composers in this area, is not all that expensive, is on a Wednesday night when I'm free -- hell, I can't think of a reason not to take it. I'm going to enroll early and secure my spot! This is perfect timing since I was thinking of starting a music drama project this summer. I'm getting very itchy to do this. This is great. I'll have to miss hosting First Wednesdays but I can get someone to fill in for me for April, May and June, I'm sure. That's the only hitch.

Fireball crashes in eastern Oregon

Meteor streaks over morning sky

watch video


I've been invited to speak at the Hypertext 08 conference in Pittsburg in June. These academic affairs don't pay you, usually, and so it's too spendy for what I'd get out of it at this late date, needing nothing on my resume ha ha, but I made a counter-proposal they are interested in: I give a video lecture-demonstration on hyperdrama to the conference, which I could do from here. So they want a formal proposal.

As part of that, I may do what I've been inkling to do, write and produce a video hyperdrama ... short dramatic clips that end with the observer having to make a choice about which narrative thread to follow, which then leads to the next clip. You could do something really interesting with six or eight actors. 30 sec to 1 min. clips before the narrative branches. I'd have to shoot it this spring but that's doable. Very seriously considering this.

Taking a break

Since winter term classes consistently have been my least interesting -- lower energy, fewer good screenwriters -- this term's "exception to the rule" is all the more fascinating. This is one of the better classes I've ever had. Already three students have written complete good drafts of a feature (typically, I may get two a year), many other students are writing with skill to the syllabus requirements, it's just a fine class indeed. Makes the term zip by.


A VERY high stack of student scripts to read today. Don't expect to get anything else done and might not even get all these done.

The fine print

TV is back! But who won the writers' strike?

What did the writers lose? First, their revenue gains were de-clawed. The agreement includes the provision that writers will receive no online money from advertising for the first 17 to 20 days--you know, when most people will download a popular show.

The writers also lost another battle. Wanting to make their influence more powerful, the WGA tried to get writers for animated television and reality TV unionized. But they gave that demand up, making it harder for a more effective strike down the road.

Because of the strike, networks were legally able to drop a lot of new show development deals with writers. These are comparatively high-income jobs that WGA members will now have to find again.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


In the office, trying to bring down my anxiety level before class. Class will be fun: workshoping student scenes. Still much to do to get my computer back to where it was but I recovered a whole bunch before heading off to the university. Two major things to get right, then I can slide and fix problems as I discover them.

I also had a big crash last June. Windows.

The ghost in the machine

My computer crashed at 3 a.m. A nightmare. But I am on the road to recovery ... just tons and tons of software to reinstall.

Monday, February 18, 2008


In 1963, historian Richard Hofstadter published his important book, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, documenting what a careful observer would see as the obvious. I'm delighted to learn this book is still read: all library copies are checked out, with a waiting list for their return.

Now the message gets a new champion in a recent book, The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby. Well, it's an age that's been around for centuries, though Jacoby finds the situation particularly troubling now:

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

Well, it probably doesn't matter to this new humanoid creation, Homo consumerus.

But perhaps the situation looks more extreme than it used to look because today we are bombarded more frequently by media that usually follow the anti-intellectual party line. Maybe we were just as stupid in the past as now.

First Wednesday

Here's the March 5th lineup.

Comin' at ya, Mr. Agent!

Printed the new screenplay and will mail it to my agent in a bit. See if the usual "crank it up" reply comes.

A busy, productive morning, including some piano work. Gets harder, the playing part, but it's the theory I'm taking a liking to. I have no desire to perform, just to be proficient enough to compose.

A literary giant, or Happiness III

And Zorba has yet another definition of and recipe for Happiness.
Nikos Kazantzakis and Zorba

On this day in 1883, Nikos Kazantzakis was born, in Heraklion, Crete. Kazantzakis was a philosopher, a doctor of laws, a politician, and a prolific writer in almost all genres. He studied under Henri Bergson, won the Lenin Peace Prize, missed the 1957 Nobel by one vote, translated Goethe and Dante, wrote a 33,333 line sequel to the Odyssey, and traveled the world for much of his expatriate life. Notwithstanding, his most famous novel, Zorba the Greek is a rejection of intellectualism and a return to his birthplace -- though Zorba may be a Cretan like no other. By precept and example Zorba educates a British academic to folly, passion, and the Arcadian basics: "How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea."
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Holiday, what holiday?

One of those holidays that doesn't feel like one. Of course, if I had a 9-5 job and the day off, I'd dig it. What's amazing, in retrospect, is that in the past half century, I've had a "9 to 5 job" for less than ten years. As a writer, I worked project to project rather than in an office. My teaching gig is part-time. So I have very little "employment experience" in the package that most folks work within. My last 9-5 job was in the 80s, managing editor of Oregon Business Magazine. No wonder I'm so ornery, with such little experience at having a boss ha ha.

Student work to look at today, plus my own chores and projects and music practice and such. And the sun is out! Maybe I should try and get out into sunshine. Supposed to rain tomorrow.

Actually, from another perspective, I have a sense of working 24/7 and always have.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Happiness II

In a recent study, the U.S. was ranked the 23rd most happy country on the planet. And #1? Denmark. The happy Danes were featured on Sixty Minutes tonight.


From Oregon Dream:

Let me try this another way. Where I'm coming from.
When I built this, when I was with your mother
early on, living together, even before we got
married, I was happy. I truly was happy. And so was
she. This is the real issue. She refuses to accept
that she was happy with me. She refuses to accept
that she experienced ecstasy with me. With a man, I
suppose it is. What is it, politically incorrect
for a lesbian to have a past of pleasure with me?
But that's not really what I'm getting at. I was
happy then, truly happy. And you know what I
thought at the time? I thought it would only get
better. I was only 25, my life ahead of me, and
already I knew what happiness was. I knew what
ecstasy was. I knew what passion was. And I had my
life ahead of me. Everything would only get better.
What an incredibly energizing thing to feel as a
young man. Never for a moment did I think that this
was it. This was my allotment of happiness. This
was my share in the universe of ecstasy. After this
ended, there'd be nothing more. It would never get
better. After 25, well, after 27, when the shit hit
the fan, after that, everything that followed would
feel empty in comparison. My life of ecstasy was

Dad, it doesn't have to be this way.

When you're my age, I think you'll see it

God, I hope you're wrong.

I wish I was wrong, too. But I'm not. When we're
happy, we think we'll always be happy. And we're
always wrong.

March Madness

Only a month away. Key dates:

March 16: Selection Sunday
March 20 & 21: First Round
March 22 & 23: Second Round
March 27 & 28: Sweet Sixteen
March 29 & 30: Elite Eight
April 5: Final Four
April 7: Championship Game

Probably my favorite sporting event because of its "playoff" structure and the large number of possible Cinderella teams that get into the mix. I love rooting for the teams with the highest GPA ha ha.

March Madness On Demand, FREE video and audio of all games on your computer!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New screenplay

Worked on the new script this afternoon and have it in good enough shape to show my agent. I'll mail it off tomorrow.

If You Feel Sorry

If you feel sorry for yourself
this Valentine's Day, think of
the dozens of little paper poppies
left in the box when the last
of the candy is gone, how they
must feel, dried out and brown
in their sad old heart-shaped box,
without so much as a single finger
to scrabble around in their
crinkled petals, not even
one pimpled nose to root and snort
through their delicate pot pourri.
So before you make too much
of being neglected, I want you
to think how they feel.

--Ted Kooser


My closest friends were anchors. To have outlived them is like pulling up the anchor and finding yourself adrift. It's hard to replace almost half a century of shared experiences, mutual history. My oldest remaining close friends are in L.A., not here. Friends from the 1960s. Lately I see them about once a year. I exchange emails with one of them more frequently than that. But it's not the same as when I had anchor.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Peace Like A River


Everybody gets a blah day, and this is mine. I totally sucked in piano class, after doing the piece fine here at home. No energy, minor depression, feeling rootless and disconnected. Watched Dead Poets Society, which remains a fine film. The screenwriter's agent on first reading it: "This is the best thing you've ever written. I don't think I can sell it." The very mantra of Hollywood! Fortunately, the agent did sell it, though it took him many years.

If I print out my screenplay draft, the day will be even more positive. Then start getting into it tomorrow. Blah.

The stress of hope

Anyone who lived through the sixties knows what it feels like to have hopes dashed. Assassinations, one after another after another after another, pretty much rid the popular arena of politicians whose rhetorical idealism lifted the hopes of citizens not used to having much. So it's stressful to see hope in the nation once again, in the rhetorical idealism of Barack Obama, because the experience of seeing idealism wiped out in the flash of a gun is still fresh even though the sixties are long behind us. It's not an experience of literal overkill that is easily forgotten. You can push it aside but then a figure like Obama comes along and the old ghosts seep back into your pores. And hope becomes a very stressful emotion.

The existential writer

Has any writer ever followed the "I write, therefore I am" mantra more vigorously than Henry Miller? His career is extraordinary and says much about our culture. I prefer Miller in smaller doses, such as "Henry Miller On Writing" and the Norman Mailer edited edition of his works, "Genius And Lust."
Henry Miller's "Gob of Spit"

On this day in 1986 the original manuscript of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was auctioned for $165,000, then a record price for a 20th century literary manuscript. This is Miller's first novel, written during and about his penniless, bohemian years in Paris in the early thirties. The diaries of his friend and lover, Anais Nin, inspired Miller to rewrite his conventionally-structured (and unsellable) autobiographical novel, Crazy Cock, in diary form. With this new approach, Miller said that he found his writer's voice: the new book went down on the back of the old book's pages at a madcap pace -- twenty, thirty, sometimes forty-five pages a day, the author's chain-smoking keeping up with the typewriter, Beethoven or jazz or an African laughing record at full volume on his victrola.
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

A new novel by Michael Hollister

Hollister is the author of the Hollywood Trilogy, Holywood, Follywood, Hollyworld, a story (several stories, really) set against the rise of the film industry, an achievement I greatly admire. Now he has a new book, Salishan, epic and political in reach by the sound of the press release:

Five generations of Bowmans help to build the West. Nat Bowman, a logger half Salish Indian, studies forestry and becomes a double agent in the culture war between environmentalists and timber workers focused on owls. Known only as Owl Man--spotted or barred?--he exposes crooks and penetrates an eco terrorist cell after 9/11. Dramatizes the conflict over forests, effects of the Endangered Species Act and urban versus rural politics, with a cast including over thirty tribes.

A retired English professor, Hollister also is a writer on the downhill side of a literary career, which means he's been around long enough to see the changes in the publishing industry after the corporate buyouts and consolidation of media power. These changes, which have turned "literary novel" into a more pejorative term than ever, have run parallel to developments in technology that can be liberating to writers who don't have to establish reputations or seek validation. A lot of writers are taking their good work into their own hands, and Hollister is among the best of the new breed. He deserves your attention.

Michael Hollister Website.

Student scripts

I have an extraordinary class this winter term. Typically winter is the worst of my three terms, making this term even more unusual. Two students have written complete drafts of features so far (I require much less than this), accomplishment enough, but the drafts are in great shape for a first draft. One is edgy and commercial, the other artsy, erotic and serious, both with unique voices and engaging narratives. Additionally, two others have fine first acts (the requirement for the term) in draft -- and I've only seen half the projects this week, from the "forest" folks, the "tree" track students submitting next week. The sink-or-swim writers and the planners: I give them two writing track options (almost all writing teachers require planning, which is absurd since many professional writers use the discovery method instead).

It's always more exciting to teach when you have so many good screenwriters in class. Others, of course, have the usual beginning problems but this class has an unusual number of students who "get it."

Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's about time

Hooray! Of course, the case would be stronger if she won and refused the prize. But these affairs are crap shoots. I've won a few and I've judged a few others, and the latter experience especially made me realize how little these affairs have to do with writers. They are about the personal tastes of particular judges. It's a crap shoot. You win by getting the right material in front of the right judge at the right time. It is terrible that literary careers and reputations get judged by these affairs. Do we think a winner of the lottery is especially gifted? Of course not. S/he is LUCKY. Same with literary prizes. LUCK above all else. I speak as a prize winner and a literary contest judge: winning is a result of good fortune, the accidental meeting of the right material before the right judge. Blind luck. Call it what it is and move on.

Zadie Smith speaks out against literary prizes

The Telegraph (U.K.) reports that author Zadie Smith has come out against literary prizes, saying they are not really about literature at all.

The always vivacious Smith weighed in on something called the Willesden Herald Web site: "They (literary prizes) are really about brand consolidation," she wrote, "for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies and even frozen food companies." It was quickly noted Smith has won many major literary prizes, including the Whitbred First Novel Award for "White Teeth." Ion Trewin, organizer of the Man Booker prizes, told London's Sunday Times: "Why has she been happy to accept money from these prizes and sponsors?"

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Today's plan

I pile of student scripts to evaluate, early drafts, so I doubt if I'll get anything else done today. That's fine -- it's teaching mode time. All new projects are in good order, and this weekend maybe I'll take a peek at the completed splay draft and see what needs to be done. I also have a story nudge to incorporate into the new splay. Something I've long wanted to do: have a character who plays jazz piano. This will be the old dude. He led a trio that was pretty well known. He'll look up his former drummer on his adventures. And he's going to get in a hell of a lot of trouble through no real fault of his own. I can hear my agent now: "Crank it up! Make it big!" Yes sir, yes sir. (And for relief, there's the posthumous play, which I can make as "small" and "subtle" as I want ha ha!)


I believe it was Will Rogers who said he belonged to no organized political party; he was a Democrat.

Will be interesting indeed to see how this primary horse race shakes down. The worst scenario for the Democrats, perhaps, and one not at all unlikely, would be for neither candidate to secure the nomination by the convention, which Obama would enter with a lead both in pledged delegates and popular vote. But then the back room political machinery in which the Clintons excel would get into gear, deals and promises would be made, and Hillary would come out the nominee. This would infuriate the Obama folks, the old politics defeating their sense of a new politics, and many would bolt the party. Thus the Republicans would win.

Now maybe the Obama momentum will turn around some old guard superdelegates so this scenario doesn't happen. It's all going to be fascinating to watch, at any rate.

As for me, I believe in the secret ballot. Unlike H, I don't put up lawn signs or bumper stickers, ever. I never tell a pollster whom or what I'm voting for. I once was approached by someone doing an exit poll: I said, None of your damn business! I believe in the secret ballot and behaving as if, in fact, it matters that it's secret, which to me means keeping it secret.

The magic hour

3ish a.m. has been an almost magical hour in my life for over half a century now. As a teenager, I belonged to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), run by Harvard Observatory, one of the few high school students in the land to be accepted into the organization. I had passed a field test with my telescope, a six-inch f12.5 reflecting homemade model, and was assigned three variable stars. My job, which I took most seriously, was to estimate their brightness on a regular basis and send my data to the observatory. These stars were scattered through the havens, so usually one of them was best observed after midnight. Through high school, I was frequently crashing early so I could get up around 3, set up my telescope in the back yard, and make my estimations.

When our family camped under the stars in the Mojave desert, as we often did on summer weekends in the 1950s, I'd get up at 3 to use my telescope. What extraordinary skies out there! In the late 40s and early 50s, camping was pretty rare. Some of my parents friends thought they were strange indeed to drive out into the desert to sleep on the ground. We did the same thing when we'd drive from California to New Jersey to visit relatives, camping as much as staying in a motel. We almost never put up a tent. We usually slept under the stars.

In the Army, as a Russian Linguist we worked on shifts and my favorite shift became "Mids", midnight to 8 a.m., for a variety of reasons. Before work, the mess hall was virtually empty and we could order meals from a wider variety of choices. Want steak and eggs? The cook would make it for you. Want some strange concoction assembled from dinner leftovers and whatever? The cook would comply.

I also enjoyed getting off at 8 and going downtown to party. Through my life, I've often preferred partying in the morning rather than at night. In the bars, I found a more interesting assembly of drinkers then, with more interesting stories, than at night. You found the hardcore drinkers in the morning, the social drinkers at night. I found more material to steal as a writer from the former. I was able to mix with them without joining them.

Today I usually crash around 10, get up around 3, then crash again for an hour or two around 5 ... between 3 and 5 I do the day's first work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008


And here we have a modest first try at playing clawhammer banjo.

Hanging out

What a good few hours! First, hanging out at a Starbucks at Beaverton Town Center while H did her exercise class. Got some work done on the AlphaSmart, brainstorming the new splay with myself, and then reading the student script, which is damn close to being first rate and very commercial. Then H picked me up, we saw the art show where she has a piece, then to lunch at a fine Vietnamese restaurant. Fun leisure. Not really in the mood to work now that we're back. Hmm.


After writing, I got a start on two tasks that need doing: considerable Music Theory homework, which I got a good start on; began reading draft of complete screenplay by a very ambitious student. Hope to help him get it together to enter in Nicholl before May 1. Lots of strengths in the script.

Off with H to read while she has her exercise class, then to see some art together and have lunch. An afternoon with the wife! What a concept.

His Last Fling

This is the working title of the new splay. 12 page start this morning. Don't have the tone right yet but I can fix this later. First time through, focusing on getting the action movement right for the story.