For those of you who still go through the fruitless ritual of checking my blog to see if I've written anything new, I apologize for those twelve seconds per day you've been wasting the last two weeks. Anyone who still has their receipts please send them in to the site and I'll reimburse you for time lost. It's occurred to me on many an occasion that I should write a new post, just as it's occurred to me on many an occasion that I should go to the gym.
Instead, I usually just wrap myself up in the afghan I knitted from used Heath bar wrappers and curl up in my bed and consider whether I am suffering from maladies real or imagined. My doctor, whom I refer to as "the Fish" for reasons I will not explain, has suggested to me in the past that I have "hypochondriacal tendencies." The conversation went something like this:
FISH: Well...I do think you've got some hypochondriacal tendencies.
ME: Does that mean you don't want to go through the list I brought you?
FISH: I've looked at the list.
FISH: And...I'm not sure what you want me to do about some of these. At least three of them, especially number seven there, should really be dealt with by a urologist.
ME: Fair enough.
FISH: And item number two...I thought I told you I never wanted to talk about item number two again.
ME: I just think it's gotten bigger, or moved.
FISH: Your whole body has gotten bigger. Especially the fat parts. Item number two is a fat part.
ME: Or cancer.
FISH: Or a fat part.
By the way, the Dumb Fucking Lesbian referred me to the Fish. Here's how:
ME: I think I need a doctor.
DFL: I've got one for you. Go see (the Fish).
ME: Great. Is he your doctor?
DFL: No. But his son was the first guy to feel my boob.
ME: Works for me!
So I've been a little under the weather and it's been tough to shake--mostly for the reason that it's probably all in my head and can't be cured with 5mg of two-year-old Ativan and a cola flavored Emergen-C drink. (Which, while having no effect on me, must be a cure for somebody's problems.)
Unfortunately, it's also come as quite a shock to me that no one actually PAYS you for these blog thingies, and frankly I don't even like to roll out of bed without being on a weekly. However, it's my opinion (and perhaps that of my accountant) that while it's hard to make money writing a blog, if you give out advice in the post you can reasonably deduct the time spent writing it as a charitable expense.
So I'm back.
Now where was I?
Oh yeah. I was outside pooping my dog this morning when I ran into a guy who I always run into while pooping my dog. He doesn't actually live in the neighborhood but always drives to my street and parks in front of my house so he can take his dog for a walk--even though my dog absolutely hates his dog and lunges after him every time he sees him. Now why he won't park his car up the street from my house or on another street entirely is a mystery to me and one that I can't figure out without getting into it with this guy at 6:30 in the morning. And I don't want to talk to ANYBODY at 6:30 in the morning.
But today we end up talking. The guy used to be in the entertainment business but as a lawyer--he then worked as an investment banker with various companies. It's his opinion (and on this general point I agreed with him) that the entertainment business is the most fucked up business in the world. I often say this to people, but since I've never worked in another business it's hard for anyone to take me seriously. But this guy's worked with lots of different companies in lots of different capacities.
So I'm thinking hey this guy's not so bad even if he buses in his dog to crap on my lawn and run from my crazy chihuahua. I ask him why he thinks Hollywood's so messed up.
GUY: Well, that's easy. Most other companies are driven by the R&D guys, the marketing guys. They decide who needs what product and how to make it. In Hollywood, they need more creative guys who come from marketing. Let the marketing guys have more control.
ME: Oh my God I'm going to fucking kill you right now.
Actually I said:
Because let's not forget it's 6:30 in the morning and as a rule I won't commit manslaughter until I've eaten. Furthermore, since the guy's no longer in the entertainment business, killing him wouldn't really accomplish any of my New Year's resolutions. Which by the way, were:
1) Revolutionalize the film industry through sheer force of will and creative brilliance, turning the screenwriter into the most powerful voice of the business
2) Join a gym
But me and the guy and the bused-in dog agree on one thing: The film business is just about the most mentally challenged industry there is and American films, while including some of the best in the world, also include most of the worst in the world. There are a number of reasons for this but unfortunately most of those reasons are too serious and thoughtful for a forum such as this.
So I'd like to focus on two reasons which really dovetail into one:
1) too much violence
2) not enough sex
Note: Now I know that in War of the Worlds we killed, like, A BILLION people and about half of those are onscreen, but just remember something...
All of those people deserved it.
For years people have been saying that movies are too violent and you've always got filmmakers standing up and telling you why movies AREN'T too violent and why there's no connection between people getting blown away in a movie and people getting blown away in real life. Whether or not this is true is something that I couldn't care less about--the reality is this: movies are too violent--but not because people may or may not be inspired to commit violence in real life.
Movies are too violent because violence in movies is easy to do and boring to watch. And by easy to do I don't mean easy to commit to film--the people who coordinate fights and car chases and plane crashes and alien attacks are absolute stone cold geniuses at what they do.
The people who are fucking lazy are the writers. Honestly, what does an action scene do to move a story ahead? Nothing. What does it do for a characters' journey? Nothing. What does it do for the movie itself? Take up a chunk of time that now doesn't need to be filled with character and story.
And you know why? Because character and story are hard things to write. And it's easy to write an action scene. I know. I've written hundreds of them. They bore the crap out of me. But at least I know they're gonna take up some pages in my screenplay without me having to figure out the hard stuff. Action sequences are the junk food in any writer's kitchen. That's not to say there aren't good action sequences--ones that literally take your breath away--but those are few and far between. For me, when the tripod in WOTW comes out of the ground and starts blowing shit up with no mercy--my jaw dropped open and my heart actually raced. And I bring that up exactly BECAUSE I was involved in the movie. I knew it was coming and yet it still got me excited.
And shouldn't the point of action sequences be excitement? No one wants to admit that--but violence in film is supposed to be EXCITING. It rarely is. But that doesn't stop people from jamming a movie full of it for no reason other than lazy writing.
And thus boring the shit out of us.
Which brings me to part number two: sex.
It's fascinating, really...In real life, very few of us want to be in a car chase or be shot at by alien invaders, and yet our movies are full of this stuff. On the other hand, all of us want to have sex--but you can't find it on film. Not good sex, anyway.
Now there are various reasons for this, many of which include our country's inability to come to terms with our private parts, but we'll leave the fact that we've time-traveled back to Queen Victoria's era out of this.
Many years ago I did an uncredited rewrite on Return to Paradise with Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix. At the time I was dating Girlfriend Before Wife, a lovely but tightly wound woman who I'd known for many years, dated for a majority of them, but could not see my way around to marry. GBW was a writer and a director who made very personal, if slightly abstract, art films while I was tripping my way across town being the monkey that I was.
She kind of loathed me.
Now while writing my draft of Return to Paradise I came upon an opportunity to write a very hot and heavy love scene between Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche (a hilarious sentence now, I admit).
At the risk of, well, my reputation, here's what I wrote:
"Then her hands reach out and he takes them. She enfolds him and kisses his lips so light he barely feels it on his mouth. He tries to say something so softly that it's lost in her mouth. And then another kiss, one that flushes the cheeks.
She kisses him again and this time he kisses back, hard. She grabs for his waist as he moves his hands to her breasts, slipping them inside of the robe as she pulls his shirt up and over his head.
Back against the bed, jeans pushed down by a foot, tongues exchanged for hands, and fingers, and tongues again. He moves into her or she into him and it doesn't quite hurt but it's just close enough.
The red skin of an arm gripped tight, and an ear bitten, and the low sounds get louder but as they do the lovers drift away from us. It's so much more for them and less for anybody else right now that it seems right that the room darkens and darkens and fades to black as two desperate people pass together through a window of want and need and loneliness."
Here's what Girlfriend Before Wife said when she read the scene over my shoulder:
GBW: So. Who is that?
ME: Whattya mean?
GBW: Who is that you're thinking about when you write a scene like that? Because that's clearly not us.
GBW: I mean how do you conjure that up? Just out of nothing? What's in your head? It can't be all about craft, can it? Just an exercise? You must have some sort of memory, or fantasy--
Thus demonstrating why she was Girlfriend BEFORE Wife.
But her point, however annoying to me at the time it was, is an interesting one. Because certainly when you sit down to write an action scene no one expects you to bring to the computer your vast experience as a victim of an alien invasion or your work as a ghostbuster. (I, for one, have taken my ghostbusting completely off my resume as it was an internship and I got asked too many questions about it.)
But most of us have, at one time or another, alone or with a good friend we've paid forty dollars to, had sex. And it's this very sexing which CRIPPLES us when it comes to writing a good sex scene. Because even if it's not your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse or parent, someone who reads that sex scene is gonna wonder how you thought it up. And whether it's subconscious or not, very few of us want to have this discussion:
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: So, Josh. This sex scene. It...it got me very sexually stimulated.
ME: It got me very sexually stimulated while I wrote it.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: I always wondered if that happened.
ME: Of course it does. These types of sex acts described or acted out always get me stimulated.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Me, too. I'm hoping we can find a director who also gets sexually excited by the same things.
ME: I hear Ridley's available.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the effect we should be going for. Because what are we here to do, people? Engage, interest, involve, EXCITE...But most of us are much more comfortable exciting people with kick-ass action rather than, well, ass action.
So what we're left with are sex scenes that are written suggestively, but aren't particularly suggestive. It's the one part of writing where we completely surrender our author's rights and leave them to the director and the actors. Which, if judging by results, couldn't be stupider--as we are left with an erotic cinema full of Sarah Jessica Parker sex--close ups, arching backs, fake tans, ridiculously positioned sheets and stars who will only have sex with their expensive underwear on while all of their lesser co-stars are forced to go topless.
The other day I took an informal poll, asking people if they could think of a truly sexy sex scene in a recent Hollywood movie. From those poll results I tried to figure out if there was anything common in those scenes. Now obviously there's no saying what turns one person on and not another. I recently heard of an art curator who got an erection every time he looked at Velaszquez's The Toilet of Venus. (If you go to the National Gallery in London you can recognize the curator. He's the one standing in front of Velaszquez's The Toilet of Venus.)
But believe it or not, patterns did emerge. So in order to fulfill my requirements for a tax deduction I now give you the following advice on how to write a sex scene based on my in-depth almost Kinseyian research.
First, the setting. Whatever you do, don't set it in the present. Almost all good sex scenes are set in the past. A number of people referenced Dangerous Liasons, there was one vote for that scene in the English Patient...The word bodice was used quite a bit and it seems (at least amongst my friends) that sex in repressive times or during a war was quite a turn on. (Which does argue for the present but we'll ignore that.) For my money, I'm a big fan of any sex scene which takes place in a covered wagon.
When I was a kid I had a copy of the novel Jaws which included photos from the movie. I often found myself looking at a particular still of the girl from the beginning of the movie as she runs naked into the water to skinny-dip. The moonlight hits her ass in just the right way and if I remember correctly you can almost see the curve of her breast.
Then she gets eaten by the shark.
Which brings us to our next element: Sex that is slightly "wrong."
A number of people referenced Diane Lane's hallway sex scene in "Unfaithful." I've never seen the movie but when I asked about it the three women who all said it was "hot" also all said it was "wrong." I'm not sure what was wrong about it but it seemed to have something to do with the way she was standing.
Not only did everyone agree that the sex scene at the beginning of Jaws is "wrong," they were all very disturbed I even considered it a sex scene.
Many people also felt that film titles that were sexy often made for films that were sexy. There was an overall tone of sexiness created that people seemed to like. Again, Dangerous Liasons was mentioned...Wild Things...(Again, one vote for Jaws...) Unfortunately I had to spend a few uncomfortable minutes explaining to one of my research subjects why Dirty Pretty Things, while a sexy title, was actually not dirty or pretty.
Finally, there is the topic of actors. I believe there is little we can learn about sex scenes from actors--despite the section of Us Magazine entitled "Stars--They're Just Like Us", which shows stars ambling around town carrying small dogs, shopping for liquor in their pajamas and smoking at Starbucks--stars are not like us. They're prettier than we are, shorter than we are, and gravity does not affect them the same way it does us. However, actors are the ones who get to have sex in movies. So perhaps we need to take them into account when we write sex scenes. According to my research here are the two we need to reckon with:
Angelina Jolie. At one time or another just about every Angelina Jolie movie came up. The amazing thing about Angelina Jolie is that women seem to find her as sexy as men do. For some reason the women were also less terrified by her and were the more likely to try to have sex with her if they found her drunk and helpless in a bar. What good is this information to us? Well, I would suggest after writing a sex scene, paste a picture of Angelina Jolie in the margin.
Mickey Rourke. At one time or another almost all of his movies came up, too. 9 1/2 Weeks, Angelheart, Wild Orchid...It's creepy, actually, the number of times his name came up. One person, especially, was fixated on his monologue in Diner about getting a handjob through a popcorn box at the movies. That person was not me.
I would not suggest pasting a picture of Mickey Rourke in the margin.
I would, however, suggest feeding him to a shark.