Thursday, September 27, 2018

This Image Says It All

A little girl learns that she never needs to be afraid to speak up.
Just imagine what the future holds for her.
Taken by Courtney Lavery and posted on Twitter, September 27, 2018.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Premature Script Announcements Won't Happen Again!

Forget I ever wrote my last blog post. Revisiting From Sea to Shining Sea was more like a fleeting aha moment than an enduring script idea. Like my idea to revisit A Place in the Puzzle, this attempt at reviving a past story was an obsessive feeling that grew to an enormous size, then faded away.

So I've cancelled the script idea, putting the revised From Sea to Shining Sea in a box with Target, Audi, Miracle on Tryon Street aka #JustChecking, A Place in the Puzzle, and not in a box with Shea and Sheryl and Seuss. These were characters and stories that I could endure and spend time with for my whole life if I wanted to. This story, and its characters, didn't belong in that context.

So what am I going to do next?

Well, I know for sure, I will think about the sustainability of project/screenplay ideas before I start working on them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Blasts from the Past Setting the Future in Motion

As you might recall, in my post about Things You Didn't Know About My Scripts, I discussed ideas that I had never turned into scripts, such as Target Presents The Holiday Odyssey, Miracle on Tryon Street, and a proposed script based on this Audi commercial.

But what about ideas I had for stories even before I started writing scripts?

In addition to literal notebooks full of Star Wars fan fiction, there were others. There was a teen/slasher flick that was just ghastly in its writing and story. There was a version of the musical Annie that was supposed to run 6 hours. There was A Place in the Puzzle, a take on R.J. Palacio's novel Wonder that I wrote when I was 12. There was a story about a young man who tagged along on another family's vacation for personal gain but found himself doing impersonal things.

And then there was the story that defines one of Mr. Leo Finelli's key traits. Leo wonders occasionally, "Who is that female on my TV screen?" And if he figures out, Leo may wonder, "How do I reach her?" (Now I have to tell me who most TV commercial actors are. I say "most" because I'm still in the dark about one woman in a Special K commercial, but I'm working on that.)

And for over ten years, I have asked this question about many different people. They have mostly, but not all been, female. In the early days, when I didn't know these names, I would make up names. On January 1, 2008, I was flipping channels on TV when I found myself attracted to a 40-year-old woman with bouncy, curly hair. This was children's music legend (and now children's musical composer) Laurie Berkner. But I didn't know this. I called her "Rhonda Shaw" for a while in my head, until I realized her real name and invited her, to no avail, to my 7th birthday party. The same TV show that Laurie had featured on also brought me nine-year-old Jamia Nash (of August Rush fame). This was the first time I became truly obsessed with a child who I'd seen on TV - to the point that I even started writing a script about it.

From Sea to Shining Sea concerns a normal boy who becomes obsessed with a young female TV commercial and children's television veteran and meets her in Los Angeles. It was to feature this song, performed by the normal boy and the TV-star girl, embracing the fact that they're both fun-loving kids at heart, and this song, which in the link provided is performed by somebody who is trying to channel his inner Paul Simon, but in the script was performed by the TV-star girl on the playground with a bunch of other kids.

I don't remember that much else about From Sea to Shining Sea, except that there was something in the script, a plot point, maybe, about the endangered California condor. I do remember, though, that the second song I've linked to, as well as the children's book it was adapted from, was a MASSIVE factor in transforming me into a proponet of social justice. It was just such a good song, a song that the world needs to hear more than ever in the Trump Era.

So, could From Sea to Shining Sea, or a revised version of it with a different title, be my next project, or better yet, break TV ground? Rarely are TV musicals based on original stories. It hasn't been since the 1970s that a written-for-TV musical was based on an original story. (I believe the most recent example is a Rankin-Bass Christmas special entitled Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July in 1979.) All the most recent made-for-TV musicals have been adaptations of existing musicals or musicalized versions of previously existing stories.

I was all ready to work on L8-L9, a story about a robot torn between loyalties to his master and a young child who is clearly in need, but this story is being delayed due to requiring the name of the Special K commercial actress, who L8-L9's leading lady was to be named after. Since I am still working on securing that data, there is a holdup on L8-L9. Therefore, I need something different to work on.

This post is not a formal announcement of a new version of my 2009 story idea From Sea to Shining Sea as my next story. It is, however, likely that my next story will be a musical that either is about an incident that happened in my past or is based on a story I first came up with the idea for in the past.

And as for the 6-hour version of Annie I mentioned earlier, I hope I never have to make that, or sit through it. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Year of Living Fearlessly

One year.

It has been one year since Fearless Girl was released to this blog. The work is almost surely my calling card and was also distinguished as without this script, I would never have created Sheryl Strongheart or Rennie Rochester. As in, writing it was what made me start identifying as a feminist (and writing additional girl-power scripts.)

Fearless Girl, the statue, was something I knew about vaguely, but was first presented with in image form for me on a Video Daily Double on the July 18, 2017 episode of the popular game show Jeopardy! One look at this elegant sculpture, uneasy at nothing, with her hands on her hips, asking society to throw at her whatever its gender-biased nature could. The SECOND the statue came onto the screen of our TV, I immediately wondered, "What would she look like as a human girl?" Followed, of course, by the question, "What would it take for her to become a human girl?"

The story expanded over the next hour, and a few days later, it was all realized. Fearless Girl would need to be a source of inspiration, and her message resonate with, a young girl, who in the rough draft was named Madeleine (as opposed to Dakota). A kindhearted middle school boy (named Ari from the start) would help them. This is how the story looked on my 16th birthday (July 23, 2017).

However, I still felt something was missing. I wanted to tackle a specific genre of girl power, a very specific feminist message that could propel starts to talks in the household about misogyny. Then a blast from the past came - a certain Super Bowl commercial from 2015 that had moved me to tears with its message, as created by Serial's Sarah Koenig.

I then looked back at the commercial and found out that the voice behind it hadn't been Sarah Koenig at all - the site I had looked at the day after the game contained errors. The real mastermind had been Lauren Greenfield (who you can visit the Twitter of here, it's mostly stuff about her new documentary, which I assume has been consuming all her time), a documentary filmmaker born in 1966. The minute I discovered who really was responsible for that ad, I totally fanboyed out for Lauren. Her commercial, which proposed a new, stronger meaning for the classic "you run like a girl" playground insult, was the missing piece I needed.

The commercial also changed a key aspect of the story. "Madeleine" became Dakota, whose name and appearance were based on Dakota Booker, who was ten when she showed Lauren how a pre-pubescent girl who has not yet been taught by society that being female is inferior throws a ball. Booker was the poster girl for the Always "Like a Girl" campaign. (I've discovered her Instagram, which you can visit here. Dakota Booker is a healthy, proactive, strong, fun-loving 15-year-old now.)

The script was completed in one day - July 26, 2017. However, I revisited it many times. In February 2018, Dakota's climactic monologue was heavily edited to change the "better meaning" of "running like a girl" from "running like someone who is good at running" to "running like yourself, even if you're not good at it." I didn't want to put down girls who were bad at sports and/or didn't want to break stereotypes, which some accused the commercial of doing. Around that same time, I drew a picture, in character as Ari, of the boy with Dakota and the now-human statue putting their arms around him. This picture, drawn in colored pencil, now proudly hangs on the wall of my bedroom.

I am still fanboying over Lauren Greenfield - but NOWHERE NEAR how obsessed I was with her in July and August of 2017. Lauren may be a documentarian, but there is not a single other person on the face of the earth that I would give the job of director for this fictional story to. I sent a letter off to Lauren's production company, Chelsea Pictures L.A., in August, and I did get something back, saying "we love all the girl power in your writing," "for someone so young, you present as wise beyond your years," "though you were writing specifically to Lauren, we are all truly touched by your kind words about Like a Girl," - but they couldn't pass mail to Lauren directly. They did however wish me "all the positive vibes in my imminently bright future".

As a recluse of sorts, I enjoy writing my scripts. I am extremely lucky to love my work more than anything else. Ari finds real friends in my script the way my scripts are my friends.

I'm going to close with a poll for my readers. Leave your response in the comments. The question is: In Fearless Girl, which is the most important "self-discovery" made between the three main characters? (I'm willing to let you go on your own criteria of what makes this discovery "important".)

A. Ari's discovery of true friends, his achievement of self-worth, and the feeling of being loved that             friendship offers
B. Dakota's discovery of the courage and self-confidence that was in her all along, and the secret to not       losing it
C. Shea's discovery of the human world, and her realization that as a human girl, she must leave her           new world a different place than when she stepped into it

So, in your opinion, which is the most important? Let me know!

It's been one year, and I haven't really been the same as I was before I turned that statue into that story.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Poll: You Can Help Me Write My Latest Script!

Yes, you, my readers, are going to help me with an important aspect of my next script!

No, not Babes in Toyland, or the one set in northern California. I'm postponing those.

We're talking about a story I wrote as a novella before I even wrote a single script. A story I wrote at this time of year in 2014. This is A Place in the Puzzle. 

A semi-autobiographical take on R.J. Palacio's bestseller Wonder, this is the story of 10-year-old Ryan Fitch, who is growing up in Louisville in 2003 (at least in the previous version). After being diagnosed with high functioning autism and befriending two supportive young girls his age, Ryan still struggles to make his way through the fifth grade (and the world). Meanwhile, his perseverance and good heart inspire a celebrated rising music star, as well as his older sister, to create artistic wonders. After a heated confrontation with a deceitful adult troublemaker on the night of May 31, the former boaster, though now more worthy than bragging rights than ever before, displays newfound humility that his peers admire.

I am revisiting this story to turn it into a feature script, but I am making several changes. The first and foremost one, though...should the main character remain a boy or be gender-flipped in the new version to being a girl?

If the main character is a boy, it will break the stereotype that girls are more thoughtful and inward-looking than boys. If the main character is a girl, it will break the stereotype that autism is only a boy thing. So the question is really, which stereotype is more important to break?

Is this story about a boy or a girl? You analyze. You tell me.
Leave your verdict in the comments below.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

10 Things, In No Particular Order, That You Didn't Know About My Scripts

From tragedy to tourney, Seuss to Strongheart, I've created a world of colorful characters in just 1.5 years. I've explored many worlds, from New York to Los Angeles to Cape Cod to San Antonio to the Corporate Sector and everything in between. I've fulfilled my wishes by just writing them, brought a piece of public art to life, and freed an entire galaxy from misogyny. I've even told an entirely fictional story - but all the characters are factual figures! So here are 10 things you did not know about 8 scripts.

1. "The Wish Writer", "Fearless Girl", and "Someone to Bring Me Home", my three shortest scripts, were all written in a single day. "Wish Writer" was whipped up in two hours on December 1, 2016. "Fearless Girl" was written in one afternoon on July 26, 2017. "Someone to Bring Me Home" was finished just a few hours after Macy's released the original commercial, on November 20, 2017.

2. My early character-naming strategy. "Hannah" and "Luke" in Wish Writer were named for Hannah Zirke and Luke Roessler, who originated the roles of the then-unnamed brother and sister in the 2015 commercial. "Brooklyn" in The Sun Shines in Heaven was named for Brooklyn Silzer, a child actress I admired, as well as based the personality and mannerisms of the character on. "Dakota" in Fearless Girl was named for one of Lauren Greenfield's young test subjects during her "Like a Girl" social experiment that partially inspired the script. And although there is a young actress, aged 14, named Shea McHugh who resides in Burbank, CA, and she does have red hair, the Fearless Girl statue ("Shea") was NOT named for, modeled after, or based on Shea McHugh at all. McHugh does however "photographically enact" the statue's human form on my blog.

3. I rate my scripts' quality using the Harry Potter O.W.L. scale. This scale measures quality and has six grades, from highest to lowest: O (Outstanding), EE (Exceeds Expectations), A (Acceptable), P (Poor), D (Dreadful), and T (Troll). Here is how I rate the quality of each script I've written.
  • "The Wish Writer": P
  • "The Sun Shines in Heaven": D
  • "Fearless Girl": EE
  • "Surviving Middle School": D
  • "Someone to Bring Me Home": P
  • "Girl on Fire": A
  • "When You Think About Seuss": EE
  • "One Shining Moment": P
I think "Fearless Girl" and "When You Think About Seuss" are the ones I like the most because they are the two I can actually picture on a TV screen. As for the rest, I really can't.

4. I considered writing Fearless Girl as a children's book as well as a script, and now, the statue's sculptor is considering doing the same. On the statue's official website,, in addition to selling mini Fearless Girl reproductions, sculptor Kristen Visbal has declared: "Next Release: Illustrated Children's Book!" I wonder what that will look like - and how much it will resemble my 2017 script. Hopefully, I'll be able to pay Kristen Visbal a visit the next time I visit my grandparents in Delaware. Visbal's studio is within driving distance of my grandparents' residence.

5. The song "Someone to Bring Me Home" is written to the tune of a jingle from a completely different commercial. A cover of "Everlasting Light" accompanied the Macy's commercial the script was based on. However, I wanted to utilize a song, so I took the instrumental from another holiday commercial, this one for Hewlett-Packard, and turned it into my song. Click here to see the HP commercial. It may help you learn the tune of the song.

6. It says in the actual script PDF that "When You Think About Seuss" was based on the Broadway musical Seussical. However, there is no character in Seussical, or any of Dr. Seuss's works, named Lord Zashel von Mashel. In the musical, the Kangaroo is the biggest villain there is. Thinking it unfit that the musical's two main protagonists were male and the main antagonist was female, I created my own male antagonist, who truly was evil, to counteract the male protagonist of Horton.

7. Also, the young Seuss (Ted Geisel) himself does not figure as a character in the musical. He essentially replaces Jo Jo, a young Who boy (or girl) who also has a repressed imagination that people learn to see the value of.

8. I considered rewriting two scripts majorly after attending the March For Our Lives. "The Sun Shines in Heaven" seemed to imply that thoughts and prayers were enough in response to a mass shooting and that a charity single was the best that could be done. If it had been written today, Brooklyn would rally against gun violence and fight for gun eradication. Also, "One Shining Moment" very nearly had a mass rewrite because I worried that it did not talk enough about the gun control movement - far and away the biggest news story of March 2018. I went back on this, not being one for retcons, a word which here means "rewriting past work to be in line with current work."

9. There are some ideas I never really got around to writing, such as:
  • Father-daughter story inspired by 2017 Audi "Daughter" commercial: Abandoned because experimental test versions of the story's father-daughter scenes too closely resembled the father-daughter scenes in previous script Girl on Fire. 
  • Miracle on Tryon Street (bogus/working title Just Checking): Abandoned because attempts to write down a treatment were not going anywhere.
  • Target Presents The Holiday Odyssey: Abandoned first because I worried that I could not balance pro-commercialism and anti-commercialism messages, then work on this script resumed, then abandoned again because the story utilized too many common tropes.
  • Fearless Girl 2: In which a sexual misconduct case at the NYSE brings the bull statue to life. Longing to finally wreak vengeance on Shea, the bull scours the city for her. Abandoned because I realized I just wanted to write a good Shea-versus-bull fight scene (ending with Shea drowning the bull in the Hudson River), so you can see why I didn't want to write it. 
10. In my more recent scripts, even if characters weren't named for these actors, I still had certain actors in mind to play them. The main roles in Girl on Fire were written for the young stars of Sean Baker's 2017 film "The Florida Project", though I knew these actors would likely not actually play the roles - Brooklynn Prince (not Silzer) as Sheryl Strongheart, Valeria Cotto as Arianna Aspire, and Christopher Rivera as Riley Resister. I also wrote the role of space pirate Erin Energizer for #MeToo initiator Alyssa Milano. 

Christopher, Brooklynn, and Valeria...or, in an ideal world, Riley, Sheryl, and Arianna. Aren't they adorable?

And in closing, one final note...I'm working on two FULL BLOWN musicals, with all original songs, a written-for-TV adaptation of the 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland, an adaptation which will be more pleasantly sentimental (in the mold of the 1961 Disney film and 1987 Drew Barrymore made for TV movie) than the original and infamously dark operetta, as well as a written-for-TV and yet-to-be-titled fantasy set in and around the redwood and sequoia forests of upper California. These scripts will likely be in the 115-125 page/minute range, making them my lengthiest endeavors yet.

But I'm ready. 

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A little girl learns that she never needs to be afraid to speak up. Just imagine what the future holds for her. Taken by Courtney Lavery...

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