Let’s Do Lunch. Really.

NAOMI HIRAHARA

As a native Angeleno, I swore at different times of my life that I would never fulfill certain stereotypes:

1) Get a mobile phone. (I made this vow in the early 1990s, when the cell phones were the size of a small man’s dress shoe–remember the "Get Smart" schtick? My news staff then proceeded to get me a mobile phone in the early 1990s. I guess they wanted to keep tabs on me.)

2) Join one of those obnoxious glass-walled gyms where passing drivers can see your butt while you exercise. (I joined one in the 1990s. I guess the 1990s was my downfall decade.)

3) Say to someone, "Let’s do lunch." (Did this repeatedly while I worked in Hollywood for a p.r. company for three years.)

4) Get cable and a big-screen TV. (This dirty deed was done this January–but no HBO or Showtime. Yet.)

5) Attempt to write some sort of screenplay.

I’m currently treading dangerously into this last stereotype. I’m not working on a real, real screenplay, it’s actually a media piece for a museum’s upcoming exhibition in the summer of 2007 on Japanese American gardens and gardeners. The thing is, they are not requesting a standard documentary film that usually accompanies their exhibitions. This time, they are trying something different. I’m writing a short mystery script that’s about 15 minutes (or pages) in length.

I’m having great fun in writing an original script. A friend who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild had lent me a few Oscar-nominated adapted screenplays and the good ones are a joy to read. I read Charlie Kaufman’s "Adaptation," which made me laugh at loud a number of times. I’m employing the dreaded "voice-over" technique, and Kaufman does it so well. (Somehow reading the script was even more enjoyable than viewing the film the first time, so I’d like to see the movie again.) I’m reading the screenplay adaptation of MYSTIC RIVER, and I wonder how the screenwriter knows how all the scene cuts will make sense to the viewers. "The Hours" is beautiful, but with such a slow beginning, how were the producers able to pitch it to financiers? (I guess having Nicole Kidman and Merryl Streep attached to the project probably helped.) I find it interesting how the narrative descriptions in these screenplays are so muscular and powerful. I thought movies are all about dialogue, but the scenes without dialogue are important as well.

I’ve also watched a number of helpful films, including Wayne Wang’s debut, "Chan Is Missing." Shot in grainy black-and-white film, it took place entirely in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The movie is as much about the real and imagined Chinatown as it is about the search for the mysterious Chan.

On November 3-5, the national Sisters in Crime will be holding a special conference about "Selling Your Book to Hollywood." (Registration is still opened until the end of October, so if you’re traditionally published and a SinC member, you might want to sign up. The Author’s Coalition will reimburse everyone the $100 registration fee.) I was looking forward to the conference mostly to see mystery writers from different parts of the country, but now I’ve become more curious in script, movie and TV show development. On Saturday, November 4, the pilot and episode of Showtime’s "Dexter," which is based on the books by Jeff Lindsay, will be shown at the Writers Guild Theatre, followed by a discussion with one of the show’s writers and producers.

As I mentioned in my above list, we don’t get Showtime but a couple of weeks ago the cable channel gave us a free preview, ostensibly to hook us into the programming and have us sign up. My husband wanted to check out "Dexter" and we saw the Crocodile episode. First of all, just the titles of "Dexter" are worth checking out for sure. (Don’t watch while you’re eating unless you have Hannibal Lechter tendencies.)

Dexter is played by Michael C. Hall, the actor who played the gay Christian brother in "Six Feet Under"–my favorite character in that series, hands down. Here his hair is longer and more disheveled, but he still has the edge in playing a forensic scientist, specifically a blood splatter analyst, who does his own serial killing on the side.

"Dexter" is beautifully filmed and captures the flavor of Florida a whole lot better than CSI Miami, in my opinion. But like many mystery shows, there are multiple plot lines and my husband, who was watching the program while reading the sports page, was plenty confused. With flashbacks as well, you do have to pay close attention.

That’s the challenge of mysteries in television and movies, isn’t it? How do you unfold the puzzle and make it both surprising and understandable for the viewer. That was the beauty of "Sixth Sense." It was so well constructed–taut, suspenseful, surprising yet totally clear at the end.

I completed my first draft of my script, tentatively titled "Three Riddles: Mystery of an L.A. Gardener’s Life." It was critiqued at a meeting yesterday and have now the task to determine the motivation of two "spirits" in the piece. The script takes a paranormal turn and the spiritual world needs its own logic and rules. And since I’ve used voice-over in places, I need to figure out who my main character is talking to–himself, a relative, etc.? Since the purpose for this project is not only entertainment but education, I’m treading a fine line here. I’ll be also assisting in casting (hey, any actors in L.A.?) and location hunting, so this will be fun to watch as it develops.

Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll ever try to write a real screenplay or teleplay, but my respect for those who can write a good one has certainly elevated, for sure.

Now back to my NOT TO DO list–what personal rule can I break next? Plastic surgery and botox are definitely out and I’m unwavering in that. And we were smart enough to stay away from SUVs when gas was less than two bucks. But sitting in a Starbucks with a Mac notebook? Hideous image, I know. Does writing in a Peet’s or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf count?

ALL IN THE FAMILY: I’m a proud older sister, so I have to make mention of what my brother Jimmy has been secretly working on this past year. I don’t totally get it, but I know enough that it’s a big deal. From movie special effects to high-tech production design, pretty darn impressive! Gardener’s kid done good. Again.

WEDNESDAY’S WORD: kattenahito (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, page 153)

I know this word looks scary, but just cut it up. First of all, we have katte, which means selfishness, and the na turns it into adjective which in turn modifies the noun, hito, or person. Selfish person.

10 thoughts on “Let’s Do Lunch. Really.

  1. Elaine

    Hmmm…you’ve given me pause here, Naomi! I’m wondering how many rules I made and ended up breaking. At my age – that’s too far back to remember. 🙂

    Best wishes with your film – it sounds fascinating. Any chance PBS might pick it up?

    Reply
  2. Naomi

    I doubt it. But this is a wonderful opportunity for me to try a new medium.

    What’s interesting is the liberties we have as book authors. We can easily go into our characters’ heads if need be. Right now I’m thinking of eliminating or at least cutting back on my voice-overs. But then how will I be able to convey my character’s backstory and feelings in such a compressed time? (One page of a script approximately equals one minute of film.)

    Reply
  3. Carstairs38

    Yes, but how much of your character’s back story do we really need to know? Sorry, but it is one of my beefs when an author stops the action to tell us backstory that we don’t truly need to know, or at least not in that fashion. And, having no idea what your story is about, I can’t say whether it is important or not.

    As to your list, I still don’t have a cell phone, don’t belong to a gym, I’ve only said “Let’s do lunch” as a joke, and have no desire to write a screen play. I have had cable for years, but don’t have a big screen TV and have no desire to have HBO or Showtime.

    Am I really a Los Angelian?

    Mark

    Reply
  4. Naomi

    Yes, the whole voice-over phenomenon is interesting to think about. It seems like a lot of TV shows driven by female characters use voice-over, probably popularized by “Sex in the City.” But Carrie Bradshaw was a newspaper columnist, so it kind of makes sense that she would be talking outloud.

    “Grey’s Anatomy” uses voice-over and I think “Veronica Mars” does, too. Dragnet used it as well, but I guess Joe was filing police reports; he didn’t give us a rundown of his feelings and the situation with the wife and the kids.

    I’m going to have to wrestle with this. Damn. Writing in any form is hard. And I have to continue doing the rewrites to the beginning chapters of the new book while working on the script.

    And as to you being a true Angeleno, you’re hanging by a thread, Carstairs. You’re too thin to go on Atkins or any other fad diet. How about pilates? High-powered yoga in a 150-degree room? At least skateboarding or surfing, man. Beach vollyeball? Give us something.

    Reply
  5. guyot

    The VO was done three decades ago by Magnum, P.I., and for a female character, MY SO-CALLED LIFE did it long before SEX. It’s much easier to get away with in TV than film.

    I suggest also reading original screenplays, as opposed to simply adapted ones. An adaptation is a whole ‘nuther fish from original.

    Reply
  6. Naomi

    Thanks for your input, Guyot. I was hoping that you would chime in.

    Any recommendations for good original screenplays? Shorts would actually be the best. Are any online or will I have to go to the WGA?

    Reply
  7. pari noskin taichert

    Naomi,I love how much you’re experimenting with your writing right now. It’s great to see. It’s inspiring.

    As to those vows you’ve broken, well, I’ll be interested to learn which one will shatter next . . .

    Reply
  8. JT Ellison

    I agree with Pari. Seeing you moving into new areas is so exciting.My mom always said never say never, and I laughed at her. Now I realize why she kept telling me that.

    Reply
  9. Carstairs38

    Athleticism is right out. Ultimate Frisbee is the sport I excell at, and I use the term very, very, very loosely. (The women are better than me.) While I love to swim, I’m not a strong swimmer. I’d love to surf, but I don’t think I’d ever catch a wave, much less be able to stand up.

    I keep my hair short. Does that count for anything? Or do I need to bleach it?

    I’ve never thought too hard about the voice over on Veronica Mars. It works on the show, and I love the show so much, voice over and all. Are we listening to the thoughts in her head? Do I really care? Nope.

    Mark

    Reply

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