Sunday
Mar242013

Where's The Rest of Me?

I have a piece in Paraphilia Magazine. About Spalding Gray, monologues, and the movie King's Row. Check it out.

Thursday
Jan052012

TRIP TO PERU

Day 1 (Christmas eve): After a day of flying, we arrived in the Lima airport around midnight and then had to go through customs. We were met by Fernando, our driver, who was very nice, who drove us to our hotel in Lima in the hip area of Barranca.  Exhausted, we didn't get much sleep as it's a tradition in Peru to set off fireworks on Christmas eve!  But the hotel was cool.   

Day 2:  We were picked up at 7 a.m. by Fernando and Hilda, to go back to the Lima airport in time for our 1015 flight to Cusco.  Very important that we get to Cusco and the Sacred Valley so we had two days to acclimate at the high altitude before beginning the 4-day Inca Trail.  Alas, it was not to be.  Cusco was socked in with fog so we spent all day in the Lima airport.  BlaH! Not only boring and frustrating, but worrisome that our whole trip would fall apart if we didn't get enough time to acclimate and/or make the beginning of the 4-day trek (you had to start at a specific time, very regulated, etc.)  After many tries and mistries to leave, we were told the plane had been canceled.  So Fernando picked us up and we went back to our hotel in Lima.  Dejected, we did have a great late night dinner at a place called La 73. And again, the hotel was cool.  

 

Day 3/we awoke around 7. Eduardo (the head of the tour company) had told Debra that she had to go "psycho" and not to take no for an answer from the airline, that we HAD to get on the 1030 flight. So we went back to the airport and Deb did indeed go psycho :) (it was a magnificent performance although somewhat frightening to our children :) ) and we ended up getting booked on a flight at 1030 only to have it delayed until 1215.  But Eduardo told us he was in Cusco and the weather was beautiful there so not to worry.  indeed, we got out at 1215 pm!  And all was well.  Breath taking views from the air - mountains, etc.  But continued worries that we now had only 1/2 a day to acclimate to the altitudes.

We got to Cusco and were met by Martin (marTEEN) who would be our tour guide in the Sacred Valley, on the 4-day Inca trail (which was no easy task - with folks at different levels, with altitude sickness, and much of the 3rd day of the trail on the edge of a cliff).  Ernesto was the driver.  Martin showed us around the Sacred Valley - amazing views.  Sense that the Andean people really did dress the way you think they do - in Peruvian clothes.  We went to see how traditional scarves and sweaters were made from Alpaca - including seeing the dyes mixed. Most amazing: The red dye comes from the blood of the parasite that lives on the cactus.

We went to  Ollantaytambo, a small town where dogs ran free, near the beginning of the Inca trail.  Had a great dinner- fresh trout from the Urubamba river, chicken, pumpkin soup.  And yes, coca leaf tea. 

 Martin and Ernesto dropped us at our hotel - like a "real" version of the Biltmore in Santa Barbara.  Beautiful. We got our gear ready for the trek and went to bed.

 Day 4/Day 1 of the Inca Trail - picked up by Ernesto and Martin, met the other folks in our group - a Hungarian couple (Andre and Adriana) fresh from diving in spots where they were disappointed that they had only seen 1 shark instead of 12, and had just successfully climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Yes, superhumans.We liked them more and more as the days went on.  They poo pooed any ideas about not drinking the water or eating the food, said they had never gotten sick on all their world travels (jungles of Borneo, Kasmir, Indonesia, etc.)  Anyway, an inspiration. The seventh member of our group was a Japanese fellow "Kar" who worked for Toyota, who had been living in Tennessee for a year.  Not a strong English speaker, but quiet and likable.  We all fit together well.

 Besides the seven of us were the 9 "porters' who carried the camping gear and the cook.  A difficult and uncomfortable thing to explain == but you're no longer allowed to hike the Inca trail without porters - regulated by the government, they now have a union, etc.  This is side work. Most are farmers.  They spoke Quechuan - amazing, clicking and guttural sounds that we can't make.  

 So we hiked. And it was beautiful. The views are indescribable.  Mountain after mountain.  Fog and rain and rivers.  Ruins. Donkeys running free on the trail chased by farmers.  Small towns. Chickens. Dogs, Cows and Bulls.  Very steep in parts but amazing.  Martin explained the fascinating overlap between their Catholicism and their old Andean ways -- The mountains are Apu--gods and became identified with  the virgin and Jesus.  Prayers/sacrifices (including llama fetus) to mother earth  existing side by side with prayers to Jesus (who was also intermingled with the sun).

 We stopped for lunch where the cook/porters had set up a tent.  We hiked more and set up camp in the backyard of someone's home. Great dinner.  Raisa was feeling jittery.  That night, I had insomnia as did Raisa and Debra.  I was shaking and couldn't breathe/short of breath.  First signs of altitude sickness/adjustment (depending on how bad). Zane felt OK/slept.

 Day 5/day 2 of the Inca Trail Next morning after a sleepless night, we set out on day 2 of the Inca trail.  Anyone who's done the second day of the Inca trail knows it's basically "hell with a great view".  Same mountains, sun, rain, fog, but it's 5 hours of straight up to 14,000 feet (dead woman's pass) and then straight down slippery rocks that you have to step through one by one.  Zane started to get dizzy from altitude sickness. I/Dave had a pounding headache and his hand was swelling for some reason.  Debra had a pounding headache and nausea. 

 Raisa was up in front with the Hungarians - feeling no ill effects!  Go, Raisa, go! 

 martin and I talked about his more "personal beliefs" - about his mother who had healing powers (who had healed a sick baby and who had healed Martin after a traumatic experience of having to carry a dead body from a rafting tour), about "sulkas" (demons), about Martin's education as a tour guide. How his parents hadn't wanted him to learn Quechuan ( re assimilation/upper class) but that he did eventually.   Talked about whether Andeans were happy, what they aspired to, economics of the times, machismo, etc. (Felt like I learned not just about Inca ruins, but about the modern culture on this trip; really interesting).

 In any event, we made it to the end of day 2 . Did I mention we were above the clouds and the great Urubamba river.  Coca Tea/dinner.  Deb and Zane and I all felt awful. But we were assured that we would feel better as we dropped down to lower altitudes the next day. 

 That night - slept a little, less breathless, but downed Advil and some crazy Advil - kind of thing the Hungarians gave us (legal in Hungary).  Deb gave the Hungarians "moleskins" for their blisters, which they had never heard of.  The night was cold and wet.  The outhouse impossibly far and dark.

 Day 6/Day 3 of the Inca Trail - Wow.  Amazing day.  Everyone felt better.  Views were spectacular, climbing was not easy, but easier.  Many  ruins to stop and see, hot lunch cooked for us at midday.  And the highlight an unexpected llama at one of the sites. And then a RAINBOW. See the pic- rainbow, ruins, and amazing mountains.  (Really that's the takeaway from the hike- these views that you can't believe, that by the end we were joking about - each more breathtaking than the last).

 And what I neglected to mention- most of the day we were climbing on the edge of the mountain with only a foot or so between solid ground and death.  I'm usually afraid of heights, but for some reason I wasn't.  Used to it? Or just caught up in the experience?  Or there was no way back so. . . 

 We got into camp around 630.  Excitement in the air as everyone knew that tomorrow was the day we were to get to Machu Picchu.  Also many hikers all together in this campsite.  We had to wake up at 330 in the morning as (a) we had to line up by 4 to be released to hike at 530 and (b) the porters had to literally RUN to catch the "porter" train in Agua Caliente who left very very early in the morning.  Imagine carrying 70 lb. packs while running down the side of a mountain/cliff in sandals in complete darkness. 

Day  7/ Day 4 of the trail after a sleepless night in the tent for me (more because the tent was too small / mattress too uncomfortable than because of altitude sickness) , we awoke at 330. The cook had made us a cake! And hot chocolate.  And then we scrambled to get in line.  We waited under the beautiful starry night until 530>  and the sun rose.  Again- stunning views of clouds in the valley below. And then it was a GO.  As we all came out of the camp site onto the final leg of the trip, we were greeted by sunny skies. The hike was still on a cliff with people trying to pass you. We had to navigate "the gringo killer" -- a steep slope of rocks you had to crawl up) amongst other things, but mostly it was just sunny and beautiful.  Around 645 a.m. we made it to the Sun gate and there across the valley was Machu Picchu.  Amazing.  So beautiful and more than that a sense of accomplishment having survived the trail.

And then it was 45 minutes down to Machu Picchu itself. 

Around 730 - got there. And OK, the site was beautiful/breathtaking, but soooo many tourists that it felt like Disneyland.  And we were exhausted. So actually day 3 ended up being the best day, communing with each other, with hikers, and seeing rainbows and llamas. martin did his best- took us through a tour of the place, and pointed out that this had been a pilgrimage for all of us -- starting back in our home countries (and also in terms of arranging, had extended back in time) but our legs were exhausted (it's as if our bodies knew we had arrived and then shut down only to be told that you now had to keep climbing all these stairs). But of course it was amazing too.

After a few hours we took the bus down to Agua Caliente. Bus ride was fun - switch backing along the cliffs.  I met a fellow who had sold his bar in England, bought a barn in Peru, rented it out as apartments, and was traveling around.  Agua Caliente--  Cute tourist town. Had a great lunch with martin and Kar and the Hungarians (Andre and Adriana, but they were known as the Hungarians, and we were known as 'the family." :) ) and Kar.  Drank Peruvian dark beer Cusquena (wished we had it here!) that was GREAT (Along the way learned about the other Peruvian alcohols). Debra, Zane and Raisa were dying to go to the hot springs, but not enough time, so we ended up having  a leisurely lunch.

I should mention - this trip was an great opportunity for Raisa and Zane to use their Spanish.  Very proud of them! And so useful to have Spanish-speaking children :)

And Debra and I tried. And we all had fun learning a few Quechuan words.

 Didn't mention the bathrooms -. On the trail - a hole in the ground. And like other countries with poor water systems - you had to put the tissue in a trashcan not the toilet. Anyway, we all got used to squatting, etc.  Very much roughing it! 

 And then we on the train (this is the train that the tourists take UP to see Machu Picchu, the tourists who don't hike the trail). Wow!  Plush and fun!  Comfortable and glass ceilings so saw the mountains above.  Along the way - poor children would run up to the train asking for food.

 And then we were there back in Ollantaytambo. And funny story:  We were supposed to have had duffel bags to pack our clothes in that the porters were to carry, but that didn't happen so we ended up having them in trash bags!  We brought the trash bags on the train and as we were leaving , we noticed two were gone. It turns out the train personnel had thought they were trash and were in the process of loading them on a trash truck> Zane had to run and retrieve them before it was too late.

 Ernesto picked us up and walked us back our nice hotel to retrieve our bags and then drove us to Cusco.  Another amazing hotel.  Plush!  More discussions about porters, the economics and ethics of tourism, etc.   We talked about our experiences as Americans in Doha.  About disparities between wealthy and poor in Evanston, etc. 

 Day 8  martin and Ernesto picked us up for our tour of Cusco.  All we can say is: We LOVED Cusco. Raisa said she wanted to live there. Small and exciting and beautiful.  First it was to a set of ruins about the town.  Interesting and great view of the city.  Then to a giant statue of Christ.  Then down to the city - for a tour of ancient ruins around which a monastery had been built (that's the story of Peru - how the Spanish tried to squash the Incas/Andeans and how the two cultures intermingled.  Martin showed us the monastery and religious paintings done by Andeans trained by Europeans.  How they had painted the usual subjects (Jesus, Mary, etc.) but with Andean details - dress shaped like a mountain.  Andeans symbols, etc. hidden in the paintings.  Then to the cathedral which was surprising - a BLACK Jesus known as Jesus of the tremors or Jesus of the earthquakes since people had prayed to him and the earthquake had stopped.  And a painting of the last supper by Marcus Zapata (sp?) which showed Jesus and his disciples eating Guinea PIG and Judas a Pissarro (the conquerer).  Hard to explain but the whole tour of the cathedral was surprising for all 4 of us. Again, intermingling of the different cultures including a painting of God and Jesus and "Jesus’ brother" rather than the holy spirit. I kept thinking and asking Martin: Does the Pope know what's going on here?  

 Should also mention the constant conversation about coca leaves, about how its intertwined in all aspects of Andean lives. So US wants to wipe it out re cocaine, but US doesn't get the importance it plays.

 And yes we tasted guinea pig.

And yes we tasted alpaca.

And of course we drank Pisco (named after the town of Pisco) and liked it!

In general, food was mixed:  from wonderful stews to avocado and potatoes and eggs that always seemed to have mayonnaise all over it and/or cheese.  And rice And potatoes at every meal.

 Also on the Inca Trail - forgot to mention that Martin described Andeans up in the mountains dealt with not having doctors. From spiritual healers to using urine as a cure all - urine soaked scarf around the throat, in the eye to cure cataracts, drinking it, etc. Fascinating.

Mid - day we had lunch with Eduardo the tour organizer in a touristy restaurant.  Eduardo and Martin knew each other from the university where they both studied tourism.  We talked more about porters. Martin and Eduardo said the average take home salary for many Andeans is 600 soles ($200) per month. The porters end up making 1200 soles (free housing, meals, no taxes) and this is work on top of their farming and the farming tends to be harder.

 After lunch, Martin took us to the local market/bizarre- from fresh pig and chickens to souvenir crap to llama fetuses hanging for ritual ceremonies.   Foods to eat.  Ceremonial objects. Interesting. 

 And then we said our goodbyes.  

 So the Tolchinskys without guides walked around the city (new year's eve).  Yellow everywhere as it meant good luck for the new year.  And then back to the hotel for a nice dinner.  10 p.m.  Raisa wanted to go back to the square where it was going to be wiiiilld!  But Zane, Deb, and I were too exhausted.

 indeed, the first night that I could sleep. Head hit the pillow and I was out.

 Day 9 Ernesto picked us up, and drove us back to the Cusco airport.  Sad to leave Cusco. Wanted to stay longer, but couldn't arrange the extra day.   Took a plane without mishap to Lima airport. Got there around 1030 and flight didn't leave until midnight. So we decided to go back to lima.

 We were dropped at the main mall.  Kinda yucky - English language stores, etc.  But the weather was unnaturally perfect for the time of year at 72 (except for the first day, our weather had been great!), and the view was like Santa Monica - looking out on the pacific ocean. Had paella type food for lunch and lingered over coffee.  Then we walked down to watch the paragliders (the thing to do in Lima).  Then some shopping . Deb and Raisa did more shopping and drinking of coffee. Zane and I went to see Mission Impossible with Spanish subtitles.

 We met back at 645 where the cab picked us up and took us back to the airport.  Then a long grueling night of waiting and flying until we finally got home

Day 10 around 4 p.m. in the afternoon. 

So the bottom-line:  the Inca trail - seeing the views, the ruins, and surviving it - was life changing. We all felt a great sense of accomplishment. Cusco was amazing.  loved the Quechuan/Andean culture, language. Wished we had more time to acclimate.  Loved the Sacred Valley too.  People we met were all nice.    Love the interaction of Andean culture with Catholicism.  Lima didn't like.  Food went from great to awful. 

Disappointed didn't have time to go to Amazon.  Next time!  

DT et al.

Wednesday
Dec072011

WORLDS

One of you wisely asked :"Dave, you mentioned "worlds" a lot in class- did you mean the second screenplay should be centered around a larger world, as in, the ten pager we just did was character based and the new screenplay should be "the protagonists' actions affect the world" based?"

My answer: I meant you take us into a world. a screenplay where setting is important. Would think it would be hard to affect the world (like Spiderman 2 :) ) in 10 pages, but sure, if you can, sure. I'm intrigued 

But minimally, just take us into a specific world. . . high school, prison, science fiction, an army base, etc. Same rules apply though: You can't take 3 pages explaining the world. Line 1 (ideally) what's the problem and go from them. So we just have to assume the world OR discovery aspects of the world as you're dealing with a specific problem.

Now if you're tricky (like the Twilight Zone): We think we're in one world but in fact we're in another. So the question is not just the "normal" question (i.e. how do I survive this person holding a gun to my head) but also there's a hidden, bigger question -- i.e. wait -- i thought we were on earth. But are we? 

but mostly just enjoy setting your story in a world you want us to be introduced to OR that you'd enjoy creating (all in 10 pages :) ) .

 

I watched the 2009 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Thought about: Why do I care more about the dragon girl story than the reporter's story. Answer: Because I see her brutalized over and over whereas I'm not sure what's at stake for him, and he seems a little creepy obsessing about some dead girl. MIDPOINT: the two of them realize they need each other and get together. I liked him a lot better after that, as he tries to get inside this girl's head, he seems to care about her. I also liked the second half of the movie more.

I also thought about: in a shorter movie, we wouldn't have seen the brutalizing, it's just her unspoken backstory that informs her character. What would that movie have been like? . . . And did she have experienced SO MUCH brutalizing. Then again. . . it's not like I didn't buy it. . . just difficult to watch. And if she had been a black box not just to him but to us as well.. . what would that have been like?

So backstory vs. flashback vs not putting anything (just informing the character by what isn't on the page).

And then I thought about the midpoint of Jurassic Park 2 (welcome to my brain which has many loose synapses) -- the evil company come to rape the dinosaur land and the "greens" wanting to photograph and preserve the dinosaur land. They are both attacked (one is literally thrown over a cliff, all supplies gone, destroyed, "over the edge"/no turning back) so . . . at the midpoint they need each other, they need to work together.

Enemies needing to work together is another common way you divide your script in half and turn it at the middle. first enemies, then coming together, but still the potential to turn on each other again once things get better.

African Queen I think follows this structure as well.

 

Wednesday
Dec072011

WANT

saw Want by Zayd Dohrn. Thought it was really good and thought about our class:

1. Because people are upset, anxious, angry, lustful in screenplays no one should be sleeping.

2. And if people are sleeping in your screenplay then I'm sleeping.

Note that the central image in the play was the couch. Marley "slept" on it but mostly she couldn't sleep, had sex, did drugs, etc. And when she was sleeping someone else was wandering around the house. Again everyone was anxious/activated in someway.

Thought about the cuts in the action - at a turning point, a piece of new info/new conflict. In other words, don't finish a scene and go onto some other scene. Finish a scene with something unfinished - a question, a conflict, etc.

Saw Blue Valentine - sad, but really liked it. Deb and I were talking about the various symbols and metaphors in it:

they stay in the future room at a motel, but really it's about the past and when he wakes up she's gone. IE They have no future.

The daughter and father try to make a house for the dog, but the dog won't go in/there's something missing.

and the mother leaves the gate open, allowing the dog to escape. Either she's not ready to make a home (or this home)/she wants to leave and/or again something broken about this home.

Deb and I spent a long time talking about exactly was the nature of the problem. Which is good - simple situation, bought the characters, but at the same time complex/doesn't fit into a box. And who do you like? And how does that change?

(And the sex scenes - told us something about the characters. Not just watching sex.)

And the conflict definitely gets worse as the story goes on. 

DT

Wednesday
Dec072011

POV

POV:

 Thought about POV this weekend:

 How do we build a sense of POV, that a particular character is our main character, that it is through that person's eyes that we are seeing the world.

 Take a look at the first 15 minutes of Heavenly Creatures. Pauline doesn't sing while everyone else sings, Pauline makes different eye contact than the other girls. (like Jody foster in Silence of the Lambs - who's also separated). Pauline watches and reacts as Juliette acts. We see the world through her eyes.

 And take a look at the first 30 minutes of Brubaker. Robert Redford appears to be just another inmate, but we keep cutting back to his reaction each time a prisoner is tortured or mistreated. He doesn't really talk or do anything, but he looks, watches, reacts. Right at the 30 minute mark (end of act i / 120 minute movie), he reveals his true identity.

 And Training Day -- Ethan Hawke has a clear motivation: to do well and impress his new boss. He has one day to do it in. We see Denzel Washington through his eyes.

 Speaking of Training Day:

 Ethan Hawke has a very strict set of rules:

I'll do anything you ask me to do (to impress Denzel)

Smiles and tears - (are the things you preserve for yourself; keep off the job)

Don't talk about my family.

And then he proceeds to break each rule.

no, he won't do ANYTHING that Denzel asks him to do. (He hesitates, he does, and then he doesn't)

He ends up crying. (Denzel has gotten into his brain, his emotions, his soul)

He uses his family as leverage against a criminal - please I have a daughter.

So structure/movement.

Also the reason this movie works is because it's not clear that denzel is evil. He might be telling him good advice. So at each moment either Ethan's morality or Denzel's "street smarts" might be the correct path. It keeps going back and forth. Each time Ethan is convinced that Denzel is evil, Denzel says something that sounds wise. In your movies, at each moment - each path should seem possible/logical until it's finally tipped. It's like telling a good argument, we show understanding on each side. It's also a power struggle where the power is equal.

Also other structural devices that give the piece shape:

When Denzel and Ethan meet, Denzel (showing his power) says tell me a story.

About Half way through, Denzel meets the three wise men who tell DeNZEL to tell them a story - showing the power they have over him. it's at this point that the "plot" is revealed - Denzel's need to get a million dollars by midnight or he'll be a dead man and how he's been setting up Ethan.

And as i was watching: i noticed that every place they visited -- all the minority neighborhoods seemed to be filled with nothing but gangbangers and everyone seemed to have a gun. Now is this racist? Or is it a vision - that the volume is turned up and that extraneous elements are gotten rid of ? Or is just that of course these are the neighborhoods that cops visit and this is how the cops see those neighborhoods (again POV)? As an aside, I went to school in South Central LA and I visited Watts - you see just people, living, walking around, going to work, etc. Anyway, thoughts about ethics, truth, vision. No right or wrong answer. just something to think about.

And I noticed that Denzel was connected to Christ imagery. Why? How?

Anyway, POV. Think about why we care about your main character and how we know that your main character is in fact your main character. 

DT