'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Friday, September 20, 2002 ]

We interrupt the whole "Counting Down" thing to bring you the following review from the Capital Times:

In your FACE, Isthmus!!!

When reached for comment, all Matsushita could say was "Holy ka-RAP, dude."

posted by Rob on 9:23 AM | link
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[ Friday, September 13, 2002 ]

Six Things To Know About
Orange Murder Suit.

1. This is my first drama.
This is also my sixth show for Broom Street Theatre.

I had an idea in my head to do a smaller show, and I wanted to do something really actor intensive. I've come to categorize all-female cast shows in two ways: "Steel Magnolias shows" and "'Night, Mother shows."

But I'd never seen any all female show that hit me like "Down The Road," or "Bash," or "Trainspotting."

Plus, it's a crime drama.

2. What it's about.
I've been kind of coy with describing the story, but that's really only because it's hard for me to describe it without ruining it.

I want people to get more out of it the more they pay attention.

Plus, I also think I sound stupid describing it.

The big thing is that it's told in reverse, there are only two women in every scene, there are three scenes, and it's violent and scary.

3. Who's in it.
Molly Vanderlin, who plays Lynn, the lawyer, worked with me on my first show, Yoshi's Heroes. This is my second time working with Molly--although I've tried to get her in almost every show I've done. I actually wrote Lynn with her in mind.

Marcy Weiland plays Nina, the mother, and this is her return to the Broom Street stage after a long break...it's actually a very big deal that she's doing this show. Marcy amazed me by doing this show, and, I think, amazed herself as well; she keeps saying that she took it to cure herself of being a chicken liver about violence onstage. I guess she picked the right director.

Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris plays Joy, the stripper, and this is my first time working with her. If she looks familiar to those who come to this site a lot, it's because she was in Blitzkreig 3-D. I really dig Sameerah, and she's really amazed all of us, not only with her performance, but her ability to reach the levels she's reached while being really sick for most of the rehearsal. (I'm starting to get it now, too.)

Jill Kachur plays Julie, the daughter, and this is also my second time working with her. She was in ILV2k, which means she's one of the few who has a right to be bitter about that show besides me. Jill, known for her winning smile and distinctive laugh wins points from me for playing, quite possibly, the only nice person in the show. She also gets points for also working in a bank. Seriously, though, her last scene's a heartbreaker.

4. Scott Feiner designed the lights and sound.
I mention this mainly because I seriously think this is the best work I've seen him do.

Scott's always tweaking everything, always ready to go that extra mile, always ready to sleep in the theater overnight just to get that last cue right. His sound design is amazing for this show, and the lights were a hit with the cast.

5. Random facts.
The title is taken from a line from the movie "Freeway."

A lot of the other characters referred to in this show are from other shows or stories I've written: "Pierce, Hyde, and Gammon" is the law firm that Lynn works for, and one of the senior partners, Edward Hyde, is the father of the main character of a screenplay I wrote called "The Big Later." Lynn also mentions that she slept with Harry from "Tech," and went to college with Lester, from "Meeting Jerry Springer."

The stage blood in the show was made by my wife, Betsy, who used laundry detergent as a base, so if you get hit (I'd avoid sitting in the right-hand section), it's not a disaster.

The bar in the first scene is inspired by my favorite Madison dive bar, "Le Tigre."

A lot of my mom is in this show. Lynn is named after one of her friends, whose late husband was a police officer I looked up to as a kid. Nina is named after Al Hirshfeld's daughter, because my mom pointed out to me that if you look at his drawings, you can spot "Nina" hidden in most of them. My mom did compare "Reservoir Dogs" to Shakespeare, like Nina does. She does like Treat Williams (but, admittedly, not as much as she likes Brian Dennehy). A lot of the conversations about divorce are based on her and my discussions.

The t-shirts worn in act three alternate--they're all my t-shits from home, by the way.

Julie is named after my friend, who used to be a stripper (even though the character is not a stripper).

When I was in my early twenties, my mom and I were talking about her friends children, and I pointed out that, by comparison, I didn't turn out so bad. Her response: "'Didn't turn out so bad? Robert, you were a dream! A breeze. I got lucky--you were a joy to have as a son." Hence, why I named a character Joy.

6. It opens tonight.
And it runs until October 20th.

Be there, or be square.

posted by Rob on 3:30 PM | link
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[ Wednesday, September 11, 2002 ]


1. Where were you?
Since people will, no doubt, be talking today about where they were when it happened, I quickly mention that I was, as always, at work, at the other branch.

My manager walked in and asked me if I'd heard about the World Trade Center.

When he said a plane hit the building, I thought it was a little plane, like one of those private things.

We all figured it was an accident.

This was at about 8:30 am.

The second plane hit, and when we discussed the possibility that it was an attack, one of my co-workers said: "Two planes and they hit both towers. Do the math."

2. Wear one or bear one. Your choice.
My manager (different manager) just walked in and asked me if I wanted a flag pin.

"Or are you boycotting?" she said. Not in a judgemental way, she's just checking.

Boycotting? No. I am not boycotting.

"Okay. Did you want a flag?"

Uh...no. I'm wearing red and blue. That's two of the three.

"Okay," she says, and heads back upstairs.

3. Seth.
My friend Seth lives in Boston.

When I heard that's where the planes came from, I sent him an email to see if he was okay.

We communicated for most of the day via email.

After mentioning the worry of witnessing some kind of attack first hand (the bank's right across the street from the Capitol building), I wrote:

I said to my manager, "I don't think they're thinking: Okay, first the pentagon, then the trade center, then...Madison!"

Then he said: "Well, where was Oklahoma City?"

Seth wrote back:
We sort of have the same thing here. They've shut down the financial district and evacuated federal buildings and schools. We haven't heard any threats, but with at least two of the planes hijacked out of our airport, you get a little worried.

You know what I just noticed? There are no planes in the sky. No helicopters--no nothing. I don't know if you get a lot of air traffic in Madison but this is eerie.

4. A paranoid is simply someone in possesion of all the facts.
Looking back on those emails, I was pretty paranoid at the time.

I was pretty sure that Dubya had something to do with 9/11, then.

(Just my typing of that sentence, I'm sure, got this site red flagged.)

Now, I'm just aggrivated at the stupidity of how this whole thing has been handled--it's all designed to keep this going as long as humanly possible.

"Cold War II," as Scott Feiner put it.

So I don't think Dubya did this.

He exploited it, but he didn't do it.

Besides, a conspiracy is just too interesting.

Rob's Law Of Probability, and you can quote me, is that the most boring answer is usually the solution.

But, as I said to my friend Matt, back in September, 2001: These days, there's no such thing as paranoia.

"Or rational thought," he added.

Or as Seth said: "Sometimes you'd like Dan Rather to just go apeshit. Has there ever been a better time?"

5. The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
As I type this, a chorus on the tv playing in the lobby is singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

As wrong as it is, I can't help thinking:

Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher
We have broken every rule
We have marched down to the principal
To tell him he's a fool
The school is burning down.

6. Turn and face the strain.
The other day, I heard a person on the radio comment that one year ago, we were all talking about how the world had changed.

The point was that we really hadn't changed all that much.

I remember there was a worry about--well, not a worry, really, so much as a statement: Reflexive irony is dead.

To which I say:


There were days without irony, but it came back--it just became too much strain to hold it any more.

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with irony.

A sense of irony is a terriffic quality to have, but some people just have too much of it, to the extent that nothing is ever taken seriously.

That said, there are a few things we also take way too seriously.

One prominent director--I think it was Altman--called action movies to task after 9/11, saying that the movies taught whoever did this how to do it.

This is an arguement that's been going on for a while--even P.T. Anderson jumped in--about how movies promote violence, and how they give people ideas.

I've talked about this before, but what I haven't mentioned is the underlying arrogance of that statement. What you're basically saying is: "Watching these things makes you violent. Not me, of course, because I am smart and most people are not, hence, we need to baby-proof the nation."

If you read American Psycho and see it as a how-to manual for how to live your life, well, jeez, aren't you already there?

I went to see the movie "The One" with Steve Van Haren, and when Jet Li kicked a guy into the air, then grabbed him, pulled him in front of the gunfire flying at him, and then discarded the still-alive-but-barely shmoe by tossing him to the ground, I cheered loud, yelling:

Movie violence, it's good to have you back.

7. Work.
For those of you reading this at home because you were scared to go to work, just so you know, I'm typing this at work.

I just realized that as I write this, I am behind bullet-proof glass.

Oh, actually, maybe it's bullet-resistant glass.

The difference is that bullet-proof means that the "glass" itself is bullet-proof. Bullet-resistant means that it's regular glass with bullet-proof coating on it.

Anyway, I'm probably safe.

I can see the sky.

That's nice.

I just realized now, that I almost never look at the sky any more.

It really is a beautiful day.

posted by Rob on 9:03 AM | link
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[ Monday, September 09, 2002 ]

Now, these aren't the best screenplays in the world (though some are), they're just some screenplays that I think are worth talking about.

So, here are...

Eight Movie Scripts.

1. The Silence Of The Lambs.
This is one of my favorite movie scripts, ever.

There are so many things about it to love, and this is easily Ted Tally's finest hour (he won best Oscar for his script).

My favorite moment in the script is a little after one of the greatest fake-outs in film history (when Gumb answers his doorbell):


as he continues his rummaging.

No, nothing at all. Has the FBI learned
something? Because the police here don't
seem to have the first clue...

Out of the folds of his kimono crawls a Death's-head Moth. It creeps slowly to the center of his back, raising its wings.

MR. GUMB (contd.)
Do you have his description yet, or
some fingerprints...?


unaware, is still glancing around the room. For several agonizing moments, we think she won't see the moth - but then she turns, does see it, and her eyes freeze. A beat of pure fear.

A tremendous struggle to keep her voice calm.

No... no, we don't.

Very carefully, she drops her notebook back into her bag, lowers the bag to the floor. With her fingertips she brushes back the edge of her blazer, loosening its drape.


turns back towards her cheerfully, holding out a business card.

Ahhh. Here's that number.


keeps her distance. They are about ten feet apart.

Good, thank you. Mr. Gordon, do you
have a phone I can use?


is about to reply when the moth suddenly flies up from behind him, flutters past his face. He turns, looking at it. He looks back at Clarice, his mouth still open.


are unmoving, locked on his.


stare back at her, widen.

And they know each other.

This version I've linked to is a little different in some ways to the script I initially read--the end is different from the theatrical version (and was changed, I think, for the better--although this ending is more fun).

Another noteworthy difference is the following note at the beginning of the script:


For legal reasons, the names of three of Tom Harris's characters have had to be changed. It is my hope, and certainly Tom's, that the original names can be restored in time for the making of this movie.

For the purposes of this draft, however, Jack Crawford has become "Ray Campbell," Frederick Chilton has become "Herbert Prentiss," and Dr. Hannibal Lecter is called "Dr. Gideon Quinn."

In case you're wondering why, it's because, as people are suprisingly just finding out now, "Silence Of The Lambs" is actually a sequel to another Harris book, "Red Dragon," which was made into a movie for DeLaurentis in 1986 called "Manhunter."

Since DeLaurentis owned the rights to the characters listed (as they were in the previous film), they eventually had to get permission.

Side note: DeLaurentis also owns the rights to the "Evil Dead" films, and essentially blackmailed Universal for a sequel to "Silence Of The Lambs" by holding up the release of "Army Of Darkness." Eventually, they relented, and currently the right remain with DeLaurentis (who went on to eventually do "Hannibal").

For those wondering why the book "Hannibal" is such an attrocity, it has been suggested that Harris wanted to sabotage the series just so people would stop bothering him about it.

Can't say as I totally blame him.

2. Taxi Driver.
Yeah, yeah, okay, so here's another great script.

It's great for many reasons, but not the least of which is this passage, after Betsy tells Travis to stop calling her, and he shows up at Senator Palantine's rally, looking like...

Well, read for yourself:

TRAVIS looks like the most suspicious human being alive.

His hair is cropped short, he wears mirror-reflecting glasses. His face is pallid and drained of color, his lips are pursed and drawn tight. He looks from side to side. One can now see the full effect of TRAVIS' lack of sleep and sufficient diet -- he looks sick and frail.

Even though it is a warm June day, TRAVIS is bundled up in a shirt, sweater and Army jacket buttoned from top to bottom. Under his jacket are several large lumps, causing his upper torso to look larger than it should. He is slightly hunched over and his hands shoved into his pockets.

Anyone scanning the crowd would immediately light upon TRAVIS and think, "There is an assassin."

Screenwriter Paul Schrader finds a lot of really cool way to describe Travis. Another selection:

Others would notice the breasts, the asses, the faces, but not TRAVIS: he notices the girl's hand that rubs the hair on her boyfriend's neck, the hand that hangs lightly on his shoulder, the nuzzling kiss in the ear.

People think that "Taxi Driver" is about violence, or fame, or even racism...but really, it's about loneliness.

Which may speak to why this movie touched with so many people.

3. Being John Malkovich.
This is one of those weird cases where I personally think that the script is four times funnier than the movie, but I agree with all the changes made.

This was a strange movie anyway, but the original script is even stranger.


--The three other jobs that Craig takes before working at floor 7 1/2.
--"My God, I'm Hitler in the bunker! Aaaahhhh! Aaaah! Oh, I'm just the actor in that Twilight Zone episode."
--The truth about Captain James Mertin. And refrigerator magnets.
--The puppetry smackdown between John Malkovich and a sixty-foot puppet of Harry S. Truman. With British accents.
--The inevitable Chares Nelson Reilly cameo.
--The inevitable Satan cameo.

The script starts differently than the movie, and then pretty much is the same thing, up until the final half when it goes berserk.

As screenwritiers go, Charlie Kaufman is a true original.

4. The Big Lebowski.
This script makes me laugh and laugh.

It's not my favorite Coen brothers movie (it's hard to pin down one favorite, really), but I never fail to chuckle out loud at this one.

Every conversation between The Dude, Walter, and (Shut The Fuck Up) Donny is worth its weight in white gold, but I like this one:

Walter sadly shakes his head.

Fucking Germans. Nothing changes.
Fucking Nazis.

They were Nazis, Dude?

Come on, Donny, they were threatening


Are you gonna split hairs?


Am I wrong?


They're nihilists.


They kept saying they believe in

Nihilists! Jesus.

Walter looks haunted.

Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism,
Dude, at least it's an ethos.


And let's also not forget--let's not
forget, Dude--that keeping wildlife,
an amphibious rodent, for uh,
domestic, you know, within the city--
that isn't legal either.

I also gotta mention that I absolutely love John Goodman in the movie--I was actually hoping he'd be nominated for a best supporting role in the film. It's not like he's in it for all of it, but he brings so much to it that it saddens me that we'll probably never see a "The Further Adventures of Walter And The Dude."

5. Die Hard.
This really is a classic script, and a helluva good read.

What many people don't realize is that "Die Hard" is actually a sequel to another film called "The Detective," based on the book by Roderick Thorp.

Years after that film, Thorp was asked to write another book with that character (who, logically, would be much older--it's mentioned that he's a WWII vet). I think the idea was that Sinatra wanted to get back into acting. Anyway, he wrote Nothing Lasts Forever, and then Sinatra changed his mind and decided to keep singing, instead.

Cut to fifteen years later, when producer Joel Silver decides he wants to put together a film that's his, all his.

What he figures is that he can save money by finding a script or property already owned by Fox, just to cut cost down. He looks through the library of stuff in 20th Century Fox, and, of course, finds Nothing Lasts Forever.

They asked Sinatra again, who said no, and then they went to Robert Mitchum, who also said no, adding that he was much too old for this kind of thing.

They then had the idea to change the age of the character, and get someone who people liked, but wasn't a movie star.

Enter Bruce Willis, the funny Mickey-Rourke-looking-guy from "Moonlighting." They figured he'd be relatively cheap (by movie star standards, that is--if this had been Stallone or Schwartzenegger the price would be bigger), and that people would respond to the story, stunts, and effects no matter who was in it.

Big gamble, looking back.

Anyway, you know how it turned out...Willis became a huge star, "Die Hard" spurred on a series of imitators, and Silver became very powerful indeed.

Not sure how much of a happy ending that is, actually.

6. Rush Hour.
Okay, so the only reason this is here is so you can see just how different the script is from the final product.

In this case, it's quicker to list which parts are the same:

--One of the main characters is named Carson.
--There is a kidnapping.
--It's set in L.A.
--The Chinese government is involved.

That's pretty much it.

So, how is the original script?

It's okay--it's got a great chase scene in the middle of it involving two motorcycles, a blue Geo, a helecopter, and the Capitol Records building.

It's also got some really dumb dialogue: "You've heard of 'fuck me' pumps? Well, these are 'fuck YOU' pumps!"

This original script is kind of a fun idea: A married couple cop-buddy movie, like Nick and Nora Charles except with a much higher body count. The main storyline involves the two children of a Korean delegate who are kidnapped, strapped to bombs with detonators connected to motion and sound detectors, and are somewhere in the city. If they're not found, it's just a matter of time before they blow up.

And, of course, since the kids are connected to someone having something to do with the government of a foriegn country, their death would--of course--mean nothing less than nuclear war.

It's damn goofy to say the least, with some nice touches here and there, as well as a twist ending that only unexpected because it makes NO FUCKING SENSE.

Still, it's a fun read.

You will probably be laughing more at it than with it, though.

7. Natural Born Killers.
I read this script before I saw the movie--this is one of the few times in my life when I've done that.

About halfway through the script, when I got to the courtroom scene (which is on the deleted scenes but not in the movie itself--it's the scene with Ashley Judd), I slammed shut the script and threw it across the room.

After calming down, I finished the script.

After which, I slammed it shut and threw it across the room again.

After thinking about it, I realized that it had been a long time since I had felt that strongly about a script and that perhaps it deserved a second look.

My largest problem with the finished film (which I hated) is that at no point did it make me feel the same way.

The original script makes no apologies for any of its characters. Mickey and Mallory Knox are who they are for no given reason. They kill the rude, yes, but they kill everyone else, too. Many die who don't deserve it.

Oliver Stone has said that he really had no interest in making the film as it is in the original script.

But what film did Stone want to make?

In the supplimental tape for "Natural Born Killers," Stone says that he cut the Ashley Judd courtroom sequence because, "that was the old Mickey and Mallory" and he wanted to show "that they were having a sense of consequence for their actions."


It's funny that Stone is credited with being cutting edge, since all the changes he makes to the characters seem designed to make Mickey and Mallory Knox more palatable and more forgivable.

And when he's called on that, Stone says "well, that's what I intended."

Okay, whatever, Oliver.

8. American Beauty.

This script is so good that it's almost a screenwriting class in and of itself.

That's all I'll say.

posted by Rob on 12:11 PM | link
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