Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Writer/director Riley Stearns and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead on FAULTS: Part III - Making your first movie

Part I - Origins of the story
Part II - Complex characters and roles for women

In this installment, FAULTS writer/director Riley Stearns and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead talks about how one gets the chance to direct their first feature, and how it's no easy task to get a movie made even when you have a known and acclaimed star attached.

BSR: So I want to get back to talking about Ansel’s character. I’m curious – are we supposed to think he genuinely was a genius about cults and deprogramming at one point, or was he kind of conning people and that eventually caught up to him? It seems you can read it either way.

Riley Stearns: I know that people can read certain things either way, and that’s nice because people can make their own opinions about things. In my mind, Ansel was really good at his job, was one of the better guys at doing what he did, good enough that he had his own TV show for a while... the biggest fault in Ansel is that he doesn’t take responsibility when things go wrong. Even though he was great, because he couldn’t take the blame for things going wrong, that was the bad part about him.

BSR: And he never really recovered.

RS: Exactly.

BSR: We touched on this earlier, but as you’re writing the script and realizing you’re spending so much time in that one room, is there a point where you’re going stir crazy, like “I don’t know how I can keep them in here another fifty pages?” How do you keep that interesting?

RS: What’s funny is that I was worried about a lot of it being in one room. As I was writing I – I don’t do a really long outline, I do abbreviated versions – and I knew this scene needed to be about “this thing” and that scene needed to be about “that thing.” I didn’t really think about it as a stir-crazy kind of thing. I knew what it needed to accomplish. So I never felt like I needed to get out of the room, or whatever. The information the characters needed to dole out in each scene made those scenes not-boring to me.

There was [one script reviewer] who used the terminology of, I had an “outside instigator,” which is where we need to leave the motel at one point. Now I’ve never read a screenwriting book in my life, except to learn formatting, so this wasn’t a thing I was consciously doing, but maybe leaving [that one room] was one thing that I knew I needed to do at one point. That moment when we leave the motel – either you love it or you hate it, but I think it works in the movie. I think it’s one of those things that gives you a sense of space for a second. But there are people who watch the move and are like, “I hate when they leave because I want to be just in this one story.” For good or for bad, I think it lets you miss that story for a moment.

BSR: And it lets you reset, because he comes back and stuff has happened that he’s not aware of.

RS: That’s the thing. I feel like she uses it against him, so when he leaves, she’s like, “I wasn’t expecting this. What can I do now? Oh, I can manipulate him this way.” It wasn’t me thinking “I need an outside instigator at this point, but unconsciously I felt that we needed to leave [that room] for a second. I never felt bored writing the characters, which was pretty nice because I’ve had other scenes in other scripts that I’ve written, where I’ve been like “I just need this scene right here and I’ll have to figure out what they’re gonna say.”

BSR: I want to jump to talking about actually making the film now. I’m sure some people are gonna see the movie, see that Mary’s involved and go "Okay, this guy had it easy. His wife’s a famous actress, she says 'I want to do it' and boom, it gets made." Tell me how that assumption is wrong.

RS: For one thing – and Mary won’t be offended by this because we’ve talked about it – but Mary’s not as big as people think she is.

MEW: Yeah, if that was easy to do, I’d be working a whole lot more! (laughs)

RS: Exactly! And from the get-go, Mary was the only person I wrote the script for—

BSR: Who was your second choice?

(Riley and Mary both laugh)

RS: That’s funny to think about! The problem is, with a script like this, you need at least one person to be involved so someone else will read it and say, “At least they’re involved.” Or you need a first feature so they can say, “Okay, at least I saw that and what they can do.”

We had a big problem with casting, especially with Ansel. It was a tough role. We ended up with the right person for the part, but it was a long road getting to that point. At least with Mary, I knew I had her. I also knew that if I’d written something Mary didn’t like, she wouldn’t have felt obliged to do it.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Right.

RS: She would have said, “It’s not the right thing for me, but I can see So-and-So doing it.” I felt like I’d earned it. I wrote the script, I had a vision for it, and I’ve done some shorts that led up to it. So I don’t think anything was handed to me. Keith [Calder] and Jess[ica Wu], who produced it, they’re the reason it got made.

BSR: How did they come into it?

RS: I did [my short] THE CUB in 2012. It played at a few festivals at Sundance, but really ended up premiering at Sundance in 2013. So I did that in the Summer of 2012 and around the same time I was doing the cub, I had the idea for the deprogramming thing and I thought that would probably be my next feature. At the time it was more of a dramatic thing, it wasn’t as darkly comedic. I was still figuring out my voice and what I wanted to do. After I did THE CUB, I realized that’s the kind of movie I want to keep making. I like to laugh and for things to be a little subversive and darker… funny, still.

Once I thought about the FAULTS script in those terms, that was when it started moving forward. I started working on the script – at least in my head – in the summer of 2012. Around the time that THE CUB got into Sundance, I was talking to Michael Mohan, who’s a friend of mine, a director, and he said, “You have to have a script done when you go to Sundance.”

BSR: Because people are gonna see your short and say, “What else do you have? I’d like to work with you.”

RS: Exactly. So I worked really hard to figure out how to write it. Part of that was outlining it. I just knew all I could think about was Sundance. At that point, I didn’t know if this movie was going to get made anyway. It wasn’t real, but THE CUB getting into Sundance was real. I was focusing on the now. “I’m gonna go to Sundance and have fun with THE CUB. Mary’s got a movie there too and that’ll be fun and when I come back, I’ll write the script.”

I went to Sundance with the outline, just in case anyone wanted to read it. Nobody wanted to read it, obviously. I didn’t get those types of meetings off of it, but Keith and Jess saw THE CUB on a video link and contacted me – they’re friends of friends – and said, “We should meet up and talk about if you have any feature ideas.” I was like, “Great! I’ve got one that’s 85 minutes long! It’s two people in a room. Low budget!”

When I got home, I told myself, “You’ve got a day when you’re home to relax and rest, and the next day, you’re writing.” So I wrote it in two weeks. My goal in my mind was to get that ready in time for that meeting I had set with Keith and Jess. The morning we met for brunch, I was able to pitch them the entire thing because I’d just written it. At the end they were like, “Great, let me know when you have it for us to read.” So I was like, “I did just finish it yesterday. Let me just [proofread it] and I can send it to you in a couple days.”

A couple days later I sent it to them and a week later they said they wanted to make it.

So it really was the first people I sent it to wanted to make it, ended up making it. I didn’t have a problem in that way, but in other ways it felt complicated, like getting the actor and figuring out what our budget was gonna be. So going back to Mary being involved, I really feel like it was just the script that got it made and that I knew what I wanted to do. It was nice we didn’t have to worry about casting Claire, but I don’t feel it necessarily helped or hurt us.

MEW: Yeah, and also Keith and Jess have been producers [for a while]. They’re not just gonna hire somebody because they’re someone’s husband. That’s not how it works when you’re working with legitimate producers. They want to hire talented people and from the script being as good as it was and the short being as good as it was – that combination told them, “This is somebody we can trust.”

RS: And they love Mary. They’ve been looking to work with her for a while, so for them it was kind of a win-win. But I do think that had the script gone with somebody else, they’d have said the same thing.

MEW: And there are plenty of other scripts I’ve loved that I’ve tried to get made - just because I love the scripts - that Riley’s not involved in, that have not gotten made. I’m always attaching myself to little projects, trying to help a filmmaker that I like who’s trying to get something made. They’re usually told, “You have to cast somebody more famous than her.”

BSR: They pull out that book of what everybody’s worth in each territory and say, "Can you rewrite this for Dolph Lundgren? Then we can get you money from here."

MEW: Exactly, so I’m usually a hindrance to them, to be honest, having me involved, because I’m not big enough to get things greenlit. So the fact that we got this made I think is much more of a testament to the script.

RS: It just is what it is. I don’t put Mary in my stuff because I think it’s gonna help or hurt. I put her in my stuff because she’s my favorite actor and I want to work with her. I’m writing my next thing for her even though I have no idea what the budget’s gonna be, but it’s just because I want to see Mary in this movie. It’s not because she’s my wife and I feel like it’ll help get the movie made.

MEW: I think we both have different opinions now on directors who use the same casts. Especially me as an actor, I’d be like “Why don’t you give somebody else a chance?” And now [we realize] if you’re able to do that, it’s so awesome. Why wouldn’t you want to?

RS: I think some people do it even though they shouldn’t.

MEW: Right. Trying to force something.

RS: And there are some directors out there who do it because they know it will help get their movie made. But the Wes Anderson reparatory group… that’s because he works really well with these people.

MEW: And they click!

RS: And I feel that we click really well.

BSR: It’s a strength, not a weakness.

RS: People should know too that most people don’t want to work with their spouse. It’s not an easy thing for a lot of people, but for us it is. I’d rather work with Mary than somebody else because we get each other so well. It’s all for the betterment of the film.

BSR: And you haven’t yet had the experience of coming home to say, “Well Mary, I had to cut that ten-minute scene.”

MEW: Right.

RS: I don’t think I cut any of your big stuff. There were things where, Mary’s doing an amazing performance and I’m choosing to stay on Ansel—

MEW: I think that was the only time you showed me the dailies and I was a little like, “awwwww.” But then when I saw it—

RS: She could see what we were doing with it.

MEW: Especially in context with the whole film, I was happy with it, but in that little moment I was kind of bummed.

RS: That was hard for me too. Once you see it in the film it works, but that was probably the hardest thing about being there, wanting to see her more but realizing that for the betterment of the movie, it has to be on him.

Faults comes out this Friday in selected cities and on VOD

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Writer/director Riley Stearns and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead on FAULTS: Part II - Complex characters and roles for women

Part I - Origins of the story

I continue my talk with FAULTS writer/director Riley Stearns and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

FAULTS is a hard movie to talk about without touching on a few character revelations that expose themselves over time. We do our best to talk around the biggest spoilers early on in this part, but those wishing to go in totally fresh might want to skip ahead to later. I'll put a big, bold "END SPOILERS" at the point where it's safe to scroll too.

In this part, we talk about writing and performing characters with layers, and Mary's thoughts on issues with the writing of many roles for women. If you want to know what it takes to attach an actress like Mary Elizabeth Winstead to your film, you won't want to miss this.

BSR: It’s funny you say you weren’t aware of the complexity of the role. I hate using the word “twist,” but there are layers here that aren’t apparent on the first viewing.

Riley Stearns: Yeah, it’s what you choose to present to the audience.

BSR: And you’ve done it in a way where we’re watching the first layer, and then after it flips, we can go back and see how it fits. It’s not like you cheated because there are a lot of movies where on a second viewing, the artifice collapses. “Oh, you were lying to make sure we didn’t figure it out,” in a way. When you’re writing, is it tricky to remember, “here’s what they’re experiencing on the first watch, but when they go back, the scene then has to play on this level” and being true to both streams?

RS: I don’t know that I thought about it that way. You have to keep certain things away from the audience obviously, certain bits of information, but I feel like a lot of the stuff the parents do, on second viewing, that was like my hint to the audience. The mom and dad and the way they perform things is a little more over the top and I talked about that with the actors. Everyone’s playing a part in the movie and that was the kind of trick that I wanted to play. Like you said, it is a twist, but as I was writing it, I don’t know that I could think about it in that way.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: To me, it was like you were thinking of it as a slow unveiling of truth as opposed to “let me hide this in this moment.”

RS: That’s a good way of putting it. Exactly!

MEW: By the end you see what’s going on, but you’re slowly giving away the truth.

RS: I had a meeting with an actor who I wasn’t going to cast anyway and that actor called it an M. Night Shyamalan twist, which I was kind of offended by because with our twist, the movie doesn’t hinge on that. I feel like even if you know what’s gonna happen in our movie, it doesn’t affect the final product because you don’t know how it’s gonna get there.

BSR: Now as far as playing that, Mary, how are you layering your performance? It would be easy to just play Claire’s deception as sincere up until the reveal, but in watching it, it feels like you were very aware of “real Claire” and “fake Claire” and letting us get a hint that she’s wearing a mask. How do you do that?

MEW: I’m trying to remember! *laughs*

RS: Did you think of it as two characters? In your head you kind of had to compartmentalize—

MEW: I wanted it to feel very sincere in the beginning. I kind of realized as I was doing it how much I was enjoying all of it. At first I was worried about it, like, “Should I be having this much fun doing these emotional scenes?” Then I realized that was a good thing because ultimately Claire is having fun with this whole situation. She’s just like getting a kick out of it. I was going with sincerity, but also enjoying it.

BSR: Letting a little of that bleed through so on a second viewing the audience goes “oh!”

MEW: Exactly, and letting the joy of it build and build until the end of it she’s just in the happiest place because she wanted this whole thing.

RS: Mary was the one who figured out that Claire was a sociopath. Once she figured out that the character gets enjoyment out of hurting other people, that opened up the character for her.

MEW: It’s more the power she gets from being able to control other people. I bring it back to – I always forget – I think her name was [Diane] Downs? She was this woman in the early 80s or late 70s who murdered all of her children and who tried to claim it was this man who broke into her car. Farrah Fawcett played her in a TV movie. But Diane’s interviews, she’s laughing, she’s enjoying having the spotlight put on her. She’s giddy.

BSR: “I have a story people want to hear!”

MEW: Yeah, she’s she’s trying to contain it, but you can see.

RS: Claire is like, “I’m so good at hurting other people, it’s great!”

MEW: What she gets from it is she gets worshipped, and anyway, that’s the long way of saying I just had fun with it.




END SPOILERS

BSR: Do you often get offered roles like this, with this complexity?

MEW: No, I don’t think that kind of material comes around very often in general. Just look at the landscape of female roles out there. I just think it’s really hard to find material that’s exciting and roles that are gonna showcase everything that you can do. And I wasn’t even sure going into this if I’d be able to bring the complexity that would make this a great role for me. Not even until I saw the movie was I like, “Okay, I can take a deep breath.”

RS: And in a way, I think I didn’t know what I wrote until we got there and started shooting. Like, I saw what you were doing, but I don’t think you knew until the first cut, like, what it was. Which is cool and exciting! I kind of want to keep working that way, doing stuff you’re not totally aware of.

BSR: It’s always weird when you give someone a script and they come back saying “Oh, I see you’re doing this” and you’re like “I didn’t mean to, but I’ll take it!”

RS: People see stuff all the time that you didn’t intend in your work. It doesn’t make it any less that you didn’t put it there on purpose. Own that shit! I might not have realized what it was I was doing, what Claire was, until Mary started showing me.

BSR: Mary, I don’t feel like you’re typecast in the sort of roles you do, but do you feel like you’re typecast in the sorts of scripts you’re sent?

MEW: That’s interesting… I think it’s changing now. The past couple years it’s been different than it was before. It’s really interesting how one project can kind of shift the perception of how people see you, even in terms of looks and stuff. I used to get “the cute girl” and now I get “rough, haggard” because of Smashed.

RS: Or after The Thing where they thought of you as really tough.

MEW: You can always tell someone saw something else I did and thought “She’d be good for this.” I still get heroine roles or action roles, and then I get more indie, rough-and-tumble, kind of messy...

RS: Once Mary was sent a TV script and her agent said, “I asked them what they were looking for and they said, ‘A Mary Elizabeth Winstead-type.’” Mary was like, “Okay I’ll read it.” And then she ended up not getting it!

BSR: Considering you’re an actress a lot of people would like to work with, what would you like to tell writers to stop putting in their scripts for female characters? Like you’re reading it and going, “No, no.”

MEW: One thing – I think you were tweeting about this the other day and I was like, “Oh my god, you’re so right!” Character descriptions – like detailed descriptions of how they look, and how hot they are, when it’s unnecessary. If it’s important to the plot that they have blue eyes or whatever, of course, put that in there. But if it’s your vision of what the perfect woman is--

BSR: Yeah, but with the NORAD scientist we don’t need to know how large her cup size is.

MEW: Especially for me, the majority of things I get sent are “cute, but doesn’t know it, blah, blah, blah.” It’s just like, how many times can I read that? It’s become a cliché at this point, so don’t do that. When there’s a sex scene, don’t talk about how the camera lingers on certain body parts. It’s not your job, you’re not directing it, and even if you are, it’s probably best not to do that.

RS: You don’t need to put it in the script.

MEW: Stuff like that. I think you want to avoid clichés. I’m really surprised how often writers are not trying to actively avoid cliché. And it can be to a point where I can’t even finish [the script.] So it can really be the difference between getting your script read and not.

RS: At least by the person you want to read it.

MEW: I also just have a real hot button with derogatory things against women or any sort of minority person, like if you think something’s funny and you put it in there… it can really turn people off, so just make sure it’s important.

RS: That SNL bit about the Romantic Comedy Girl was one of our favorite bits, every single thing they did in that was the best commentary on that type of thing.

BSR: Especially when you lay it out like that it’s like, “oh, I did that...”

RS: I probably did that in my first script! Also, touching on the character description thing, I in general just don’t describe the characters. I say how old they are and that’s all I put in there. You want other people to envision what that character is, but you’re doing yourself a disservice when it comes to casting because you could be singling out one group of people as the type [and excluding an entirely different group] just outside of that because they weren’t your “type.”

BSR: Or they get the script and go “That’s not me.”

MEW: And that happens all the time.

RS: Or being so specific on age, so people look at it and say, “I’m not fifty so I’m not gonna read this one.” But in your head you’re thinking, “Well, it’s probably fifty but it could be younger.” There was something in FAULTS even that was, like [age] thirty to fifty. If it’s on the page, somebody reading it thinks it has weight.

Part III - Making your first movie

Monday, March 2, 2015

Writer/director Riley Stearns and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead on FAULTS: Part I - Origins of the story

Writer/director Riley Stearns made his first splash in the film world when his acclaimed short THE CUB debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. That ended up opening the doors for him to write and direct his first feature, FAULTS, which premiered at last year's SXSW in Austin, Texas.



FAULTS stars Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who also happens to be Stearns's wife. If you don't know Mary from her acclaimed performance in Smashed, you need to rectify that immediately, but I'm willing to bet you've seen her in films as diverse as Sky High, Live Free or Die Hard, The Spectacular Now, the Death Proof half of Grindhouse, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

I saw FAULTS at last year's AFI Fest and was a big fan of it. Honestly, it'd be an impressive work even if it wasn't the product of a first-time director. It's a tense movie about a disgraced cult deprogrammer who's hired by desperate parents who want him to deprogram their daughter, who was recently taken in by a cult.

It's been playing the festival circuit for months and is finally coming out in limited release and on VOD this Friday. Recently I sat down with both Riley Stearns and Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a chat that spanned the writing of FAULTS, the issues surrounding good roles for women in film, the challenges of making a first feature, and much more...

Bitter Script Reader: Why FAULTS? Where did this come from?

Riley Stearns: The boring answer is that I’ve always been fascinated by cults—

BSR: If that’s the boring answer, this is going to be very interesting.

RS: What’s funny about that is even as a kid I was fascinated by cults and I don’t think a lot of kids are, but there was something about the idea that you could be like a really intelligent person, very strong minded and you can get sucked into something that somebody else can indoctrinate you into, so the idea of cults was definitely the impetus of that.

There was this COPS episode that I was watching with my dad when I was a kid and there was this deprogramming where the girl called the police and said, “My parents have kidnapped me and are holding me in this room.” The police came and interviewed the parents and were able to discern what was going on. And at the end they said, “Your parents know what’s best for you so you should stay with them. We’re not gonna file a report or anything like that.”

BSR: This made it to air on COPS?!

RS: I feel like this was an episode I saw when I was a kid. I tried to do research on this episode because I knew I was gonna be asked about it after I put it in some director’s statement I did and I can’t find any evidence that this episode actually exists. But in my memory it’s so real and I remember my dad saying, “They knew what was best for her,” like the parents are trying to help her. But as a kid, I realized there’s something really weird about an adult being told what to do.

And I can’t find any evidence that episode was a thing, so I’m trying not to talk about it as much, but as a kid I realized that deprogramming was the craziest, coolest thing and as I got to be an adult, I realized not a lot of people had done a story about deprogramming, at least not the way I wanted to do it. By the time I was ready to write a feature script, that idea was still there.

BSR: Is this your first feature script then?

RS: No. I’ve probably written five or six feature scripts. All of them are shit. FAULTS is the first feature script that I actually think is good. Mary would say otherwise--

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: They’re all good. They get better and better, as they should.

RS: Yeah. My first feature script ended up being 40 pages long. Since I was 18, I’ve written five things other than FAULTS. The other thing about those scripts is they were all copying other people’s styles. I’m glad I wrote them now, but the thing about them I don’t like is that they’re like [me doing] Garden State, mixed with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My second one is a Tarantino rip-off. It still wouldn’t make a good movie, but as a writing sample it worked out well. My next was a Scott Pilgrim-style script that I still think is funny, but I don’t think it would make a good movie.

BSR: I see them going in line with Mary’s career there.

MEW: I know! Yeah! [laughs]

RS: It totally is! Those are the scripts that I was reading.

BSR: It kinda seeps in.

RS: Exactly! You write what you know, people say, but in this instance I was just copying what I knew. It led to me finding my voice, which is what I think was important.

BSR: My first feature was a procedural and when I took it into my screenwriting class, they were like, “This is great. I can totally see the LAW & ORDER cast in it!” Yes, yes, you nailed me.

RS: You have to do that though. It’s very rare for a writer to come out and have it but just their voice. And even now I feel like I’m probably copying somebody.

BSR: It’s like a synthesis. The Tarantino thing. He takes a little bit from different people and mixes it into something new. With FAULTS, did you set out deliberately to write something that was low-budget and easy to produce?

RS: Definitely. I wrote it thinking that I would have to Kickstart it, because we did that with THE CUB. We got like $5000 for THE CUB, thinking for the next thing we could get $50,000-$100,000, thinking I could do this on my own, not realizing that had I done this on my own, I wouldn’t have been able to find the motel room. [We wanted to make the motel room] its own thing. It’s very brown, and a lot of production design. If I was doing that on my own it would have been not as good.

BSR: Does working within the limitations of a low-budget kind of define how you’re gonna create the characters and the themes you’re working with, because you’ve gotta have something compelling enough to stay in that room?

RS: I felt like the story itself could sustain being in a small, contained location. I’ve always been good at character. I feel like I’m good at each character has their own voice. A lot of scripts you read, every character sounds like that writer’s version of the character. I feel like one thing FAULTS had was, here’s this weird, eccentric deprogrammer and the subject who he was deprogramming. It wasn’t necessarily budget-driven at all. I feel like even if I had a lot of money, that would have been the same thing that I wrote. But location was the big thing about budget for sure.

BSR: Now Mary, I had a question for you. As Riley’s writing this, I assume you know you’re gonna act in it. Were you feeding him “I’d love to play this kind of part” or “Don’t do this because I hate when I see this in scripts?”

MEW: I don’t know... I was so excited as I was getting the pages of what he was writing but I was also really scared because the character he was writing for me just seemed really, really hard. She’s sort of enigmatic and doesn’t give much away, but also has to be really complex and I was sort of like “I don’t know how to do this.” I loved Leland’s character so much, Ansel, and was like “this character’s sort of flashy and fun!”

BSR: “Can you make him a woman in his twenties?”

RS: The only thing that Mary said that influenced the script in any way was we got to a point where, like 40 pages in… she said, “Ansel’s so cool and eccentric. Can Claire have any of that?” And so the next day I wrote the scene where she does the screaming thing, just because I wanted her to do something weird, and it ended up being one of my favorite parts in the whole movie.

MEW: At that point, Claire was just doing a lot of explaining about what the cult is, so I kind of was poking him a little bit, “give me something.” And I still was scared to play the role even at the end, but then once we were doing it, it was like the most fun I’ve ever had in a role, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it until we were really going.”

RS: What I love about that is that it is a hard part and I didn’t realize it was such a hard part. Like I knew she could do it, so I didn’t even think about it as being a difficult role, which is why it was funny to me when she read it and was like “This is really hard!”

MEW: And I was worried he was trusting me too much, even when we were shooting it--

RS: I never give her notes because it’s always what I want. I’m like, “That was perfect!”

MEW: We usually do one or two takes and I was like, “Are you sure? Are you sure!?”

BSR: “In a month you’re not gonna be sitting in an editing room cursing me, right?”

MEW: Exactly!

Come back tomorrow as we delve a little more into the plot twists of FAULTS and I ask Mary what kind of writing it takes to interest an actress of her caliber... and what she hates seeing in scripts.

Pre-order FAULTS on iTunes or Vimeo.

Part II - Complex characters and roles for women
Part III - Making your first movie

Friday, February 27, 2015

Farewell, Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy is dead at the age of 83.

I have been a Star Trek fan since about the age of 10, when my occasionally viewing of TNG led me to discover the original Star Trek series and the films. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Kirk. I'm pretty sure I've spoken somewhere in this space about how so much of his attitude was incorporated into my still developing philosophy, the least of which not being "I don't believe in a no-win scenario."

But make no mistake, there's a lot of Spock in me too. When it becomes necessary for me to consciously detach my emotions from a decision and look at it from cold hard logic, I know I'm am summoning that inner Vulcan, much as I have for many years. And yet, I find that Spock aspect to be remarkably little comfort as I pen this tribute.

We don't have many living icons, and after yesterday, there's one fewer in the world. Star Trek is on the verge of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Nimoy is the only cast member who was there from the very start, all the way to the failed pilot that starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. Over the three seasons of the original series, Nimoy made several contributions to his character, including the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan neck pinch. When you've read as many Trek memoirs and behind the scenes books as I have, you emerge with a strong picture of which actors were deeply invested in the integrity of their character, which ones were concerned with screentime, and which ones were there just for a paycheck. Nimoy consistently was driven by the integrity of the story and of his character.

Though - like many actors in his position - it seems there was a time when he wanted to leave Spock in the past, but the time of the films he'd come to embrace Trek fandom and I've never heard any story of him being less than gracious to the fans. After that, he never seemed to take for granted the opportunities that Star Trek had brought him. He was also a philanthropist, and among the efforts he donated to were the restoration of Los Angeles's Griffith Observatory. There's even a lecture hall and theatre named in his honor there.

When invited to return to later incarnations of the series, his concern was less the size of the part and more the value of the character to the story. I'm grateful he lived long enough to participate in the J.J. Abrams reboot, which saw Spock's actions prove essential to creating the "new" timeline the films follow.

I'd always hoped that he and William Shatner would share the screen one last time as Kirk and Spock. There were rumors that the new Trek film could produce such a scene, bringing them face to face with their successors in the role.

The reparte between Shatner and Nimoy is always a highlight of any behind-the-scenes look at Star Trek, and earlier today, as I looked for something to brighten my spirits, I lamented I did not have either of the Shatner-penned memoirs Star Trek Memories or Get a Life! on hand. Both feature numerous accounts of Bill pranking Leonard, like the class clown tweaking the stern headmaster. Fortunately, in looking on YouTube, I found a delightful retelling of the incident, from an old convention appearance.



There's some wonderful footage on the bluray for the 2009 J.J. Abrams-directed STAR TREK film, which featured Nimoy returning to the role for the first time since 1991. In it, the often-stoic Nimoy becomes moved when he speaks of how Abrams and his collaborators approached him, hoping to lure him back to play Spock one more time. He had assumed Star Trek had long left him behind and this appeal - one that made Spock essential to the story - touched him greatly.

Later, we see Nimoy on set, filming a scene meant to take place in an assembly hall at Starfleet Academy. The hundred or so costumed extras in the seats relax between set-ups, likely already becoming bored after hours on set watching Kirk be awarded command of the Enterprise. And then J.J. Abrams, standing in the mezzanine above, gets on the "god-mic" and announces "Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock, is here." The extras rise like attendees at the opening of a rock concert and applaud long and loud as Mr. Nimoy flashes the Vulcan hand symbol and gives an inappropriate-for-a-Vulcan beaming grin.

It already was emotional seeing a man in his twilight years being shown respect from those who grew up watching him. After today, it will be especially sad to watch that footage. But also happy, for we can see tangible proof that he knew how beloved he was. He was appreciated while we still had him, and that should make us happy.

We should learn from Spock's logical mind, but also aspire to be like Leonard Nimoy: gracious in our success, paying forward our good fortunes, and cherishing our short time on this planet to make an impact as far as our reach extends. He lived a good life, and he knew it was a good life. Even as we grieve, we should celebrate that.

It is, as Spock would say, only logical. As Dr. McCoy once said, "He's not really dead as long as we remember him."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter outdoes AGENTS OF SHIELD at almost every turn

ABC has been experimenting with ways to keep the time slots of some of its biggest shows "warm" while those shows take necessary breaks during the season. This season it commissioned short runs of two series that briefly replaced returning shows. Once Upon a Time was briefly replaced by the musical fantasy show Galavant, and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a ridiculously, unnecessarily long title I will not be typing in full again) found its Tuesday berth occupied by Agent Carter for seven weeks.

I'll cut to the chase. If ABC wants to serve up 22 eps of Agent Carter next season and order only 8 episodes of SHIELD to act as a temporary relief pitcher, I'd have zero complaints with that. Seriously ABC, can we keep her? From where I sit, Agent Carter is the superior Marvel spinoff by far. With only five episodes having aired so far, the series has found its voice with incredible ease. There's barely been any shakedown period for the show and the writing staff (led by creators Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas) seems to have understood the kind of show they wanted to make from Day One.

Strangely, despite the fact it's set nearly over 60 years from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (save for its "parent," Captain America: The First Avenger), it feels much more like a part of that universe than SHIELD does. Part of this might be that Captain America did just that good a job of world-building. The 40s-era setting also makes the show visually distinctive on network TV. You won't find another series set in this era, and the production design and costuming teams deserve huge kudos for their part in making the show look gorgeous. There's a color and style that really makes the images pop, and helps match Captain America's aesthetic to boot.

(And let's also throw some love to the VFX team. The show's VFX Supervisor Sheena Duggal said last week on Twitter that, "We have over 1000 VFX across 8 EP's. That's crazy for network TVs limited budget." That it looks so good is a testament to their professionalism.)

SHIELD doesn't have that sort of visual continuity with the films. Nothing we've seen on the series really feels like an outgrowth of the SHIELD environs glimpsed in The Avengers, for one. Thus, we've gone from the really intricately-designed Helicarrier of the films to the cramped and relatively unadorned jet that our heroes use. Even when the show has utilized guest stars from the other movies, those characters have felt out of place, and it's difficult to associate them with their feature counterparts.

And then there's Agent Carter's best asset - Haley Atwell as the eponymous character. Peggy Carter doesn't take any shit, particularly since she was so vital to the war effort only to find herself treated as a mere secretary around her government office post-war. I think in a lesser actresses hands, Peggy's clashes against her sexist co-workers could come across as petulant. There's a fair amount of charm there, but even more significant is the confidence behind every action and statement.

A good example is a recent episode when she pushes to be sent on a mission to Russia. Her boss isn't keen on the idea, claiming the heat he'll get if "a woman" is killed is not something he wants to deal with. (There's also more than a subtle implication that he doesn't consider this spy craft to be "woman's work" at all, despite the fact Peggy is the one who earned this lead by cracking a Russian code where their male code-breakers have failed.) So Peggy trumps him, asking if his concerns would be allayed if the Howling Commandos were recruited to join them on the mission. He agrees, clearly not believing there's a snowball's chance in hell that the Commandos would do so. Peggy might as well be asking for McArthur himself to be part of this campaign. Peggy steps out of the room while the two male agents discuss business and re-enters not three minutes later saying she's already made the call and the Howling Commandos are in.

Bad. Ass. Honestly, that's almost a Tony Stark move there.

Notably, when Peggy is reunited with the Howling Commandos (whom she fought alongside during the war) they give her partner, Agent Thompson, some grief about not putting as much trust and respect in Peggy as these war buddies clearly do. It's a recurring theme in Agent Carter that Peggy is ridiculously undervalued despite being the most capable person in her office. There are usually several instances a show where we're reminded of the sexism of the time. I won't say it's not laid on a little thick at times. The show's treatment of this isn't subtle, but perhaps it's not inappropriate to the time. I've chosen to rationalize it as Carter's insistence on kicking in those doors has had the reaction of the men doubling down to compensate for her strength.

Since Peggy is seemingly so talented at every thing the show has thrown at her, there's obviously the risk that she could become a "Mary Sue." It's a fate that befell SHIELD's Skye last season, and one they only recently seem to have figured out how to dial back. The reason why Peggy's savant skills in everything from code-breaking to fighting in a skirt don't become ridiculous is that no matter what she does, no one EVER seems to give her credit for it. Even when her co-workers are aware of her feats, it doesn't earn her any respect or have them falling at her feet. It's a neat trick that keeps her as an underdog, despite being the best agent on her team by far.

If there's a weakness from this, it's that the net effect is that Peggy's co-workers still aren't terribly developed as characters. Gradually they're gaining distinction from each other, but week-to-week I sometimes have trouble even remembering their names. At the moment, they're mostly defined by their work relationships with Peggy, but since this is not an ensemble, it's not a fatal error. It's also an issue that's likely to be mitigated as her relationships with each of the men gains some depth. We're clearly on a path where she's going to win the respect of a few of these guys in different degrees, and that'll allow the writers to transform the knee-jerk sexism into something more.

This season has also benefited from having a very focused story through just eight episodes. It's a lot easier to tell one story in that time, using Carter as the main protagonist. If this arc was stretched out across 22 episodes, it would probably be more necessary to develop the supporting characters more. It takes a lot to fill up 22 hours of TV. SHIELD spent much of last season delaying progress in a number of its arcs, perhaps most frustratingly demonstrated when it came to addressing how Agent Coulson (killed in The Avengers) was alive and well there.

I felt the show made a misstep in dangling that mystery in front of the audience, but not giving Coulson or any of the characters much awareness of the mystery for nearly 10 episodes. Every few episodes we'd get a reminder that something wasn't right with Coulson, but no forward momentum. There was nothing driving that plot to a resolution for a while. Accurately or not, it felt like the writers were kicking that reveal down the road until after they could come up with an answer.

SHIELD's also stuck in a weird place where it appears the movies won't acknowledge Coulson's resurrection for fear of confusing the film-only audience. Thus, the writers are stuck adjusting to any large-universe changes from the films, but have to craft excuses that will keep the film characters from learning of Coulson's continued existence. That disconnect only furthers the estrangement between SHIELD and the movies. I like Clark Gregg as an actor, but I kind of wish SHIELD was built around a more dynamic character, and one who didn't bring so much awkward baggage with him. Coulson might have fared better as a supporting "Chief O'Brien" type character rather than the anchor of the ensemble.

In the match-up between Carter and Coulson, there's really no contest as to who's the most compelling lead. Agent Carter makes the very smart decision to give Peggy a private life, a "secret identity" if you will. The occasional scenes at the boarding house she shares with several other women adds some necessary tension. Not only are these people who don't know Peggy's more qualified than most male spies, but these are people who don't know she works for the government at all. Just as Alias was more interesting when there were people who didn't know Sydney was a spy, forcing her to maintain a double life, Agent Carter wrings a lot of life and humor out of Peggy's current residence. A series of mission after mission can run the risk of getting old fast, and it's nice that this aspect lets the writers do some world-building. I wish SHIELD offered similar opportunities for Coulson to let his own hair down.

I hesitate even offering this much criticism of SHIELD because I've never seen a fan base so defensive about criticism of their show. I've literally had people use the defense "It gets really good after 17 episodes!" While it's true that the show reached a turning point when it dealt with fallout from The Winter Soldier, it never reached the heights of Agent Carter. I stuck with it through the first season to give it a chance, and honestly, the only thing that lured me back for season two was the presence of Reed Diamond as the main antagonist. I'll concede the show's gotten better since its launch, but I think this is where I get off the ride.


One area where Agent Carter isn't coming out ahead of SHIELD is in the ratings. Carter has a season average of 1.59 in the coveted 18-49 ratings demographic, while SHIELD has a 1.7.  As I understand it, renewal isn't a certainty for Agent Carter, so if this sounds at all like the kind of show you'd like, I beg you to support it. There are only three episodes left, counting tonight's.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Five early '90s movies that would make great TV shows

This was a depressing TV development season for new ideas. Over 30 scripts that were bought were based on movies, all part of the latest trend of hedging bets by banking on a familiar title to grab the attention of an audience. If you're interested in a complete accounting of all of these projects that were purchased last fall, check out this Slashfilm ranking of the 31 properties that were being rebooted in one form or another:

A number of these just sound dubious on their face. The fact that the 1990 film Problem Child apparently has more value 25 years after its debut than a fresh idea would is just a kick in the balls to creative television. Look, I SAW Problem Child in theatres - TWICE. I was also ten, and let me tell you, you age out of that humor fast. (This is backed up by the grosses for the sequel, which only made half as much just a year later.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer will always be the rebuttal to a concern that a weak film can't make a good TV show... but is anyone really dying to see the further adventures of Junior?

Even in 1991, would this have been a good idea for a series? Hell, Uncle Buck (another property ordered to pilot) wasn't even a good idea for a series IN 1990!

I don't think all of these ideas are terrible (The Truman Show could be pretty interesting, and as a fan of Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce, I'm pulling for their Big limited series.) Still, looking at that slate, my heart goes out to the original ideas that were passed over in favor of Bachelor Party. It's really weird when a network is trying to adapt a show based on a film old enough to be in the desired ratings demographic.

Lest you think I'm picking on the film's age, after giving the matter some thought, I came up with five early nineties movies that might actually make for good TV series. So if you're looking to get a jump on the next development season, start tracking down who controls the rights to these:

Dave (1993) - A normal guy becomes the President. Yeah, you could go the single camera route with this, sort of a The West Wing meets Scrubs, but the real money probably comes from doing this as a three-camera sitcom. Cast it with Matthew Perry, Tim Meadows or Bill Hader. (My first pick would have been Stephen Colbert, but he's not going to be available.)

The Distinguished Gentleman (1992) - The only thing with more comic potential than sending a normal guy into the White House is sending a con-man there. I've always thought this Eddie Murphy movie was under-rated and had a lot of great bits buried in an admittedly-predictable plot and character arc. I don't think Congress has ever had a lower approval rating than in recent years, so why not embrace that with a sitcom that hangs a lantern on all the scum nursing at the government teat? So who can replace Eddie? I keep coming back to Neil Patrick Harris, who can play sleazy with just the right amount of class you'd want from a con-man. Or to go in a totally different direction - J. B. Smoove.

Sister Act (1992) - There's a ready-made story engine here - a lounge singer hides in witness protection as a nun, doing good deeds while trying to stay under the radar. It's case-of-the-week storytelling with a backgrounded mytharc. You could go the sitcom route with this, but maybe the more interesting way is to make it a Ryan Murphy-esque dramady. You can't do Sister Act without the singing nuns (which is one reason why Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit is a terrible film), and with them interpreting classic hits anew each week, you've got a ready-made iTunes cross-promotion. All of this adds up to it being a good fit for Fox. My picks for Sister Mary Clarence? You need someone who can sing, so if you're drafting from GLEE: Naya Rivera. I also really like the idea of Jane Krakowski, but I feel like there's a really good option I'm not thinking of.

Guarding Tess (1994) - A Secret Service agent has to guard a widowed First Lady who's beloved by the country but a total pain in the ass. It's another one that could completely adapt to the three-camera format. It's fairly easy to confine most of the action to the First Lady's estate, and when you're making a film where the lead was played by Nicholas Cage, using a format that encourages "bigger" acting isn't bad. I'm seeing Carrie Fisher as the First Lady, with Jason Segel as the beleaguered Secret Service Agent.

King Ralph (1991) - A boorish American turns out to be the last heir to the British Royal family. Culture-clash makes for a great engine for comedy. I say get John Goodman to reprise his role, perhaps with Ioan Gruffudd as the British Prime Minister who regularly butts heads with him. not for network TV, but would fit great on Amazon.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

This blog turns six! - There's still much more work to do

Today this blog is six years old. Honestly, I'm kind of surprised it's lasted this long and that so many of you fine people still drop by to read every new post. It's funny to think that when I started it, I wondered if I'd have enough material to keep me going six months.

Some of you have possibly noticed that the blog output has slowed a bit. That's largely due to the fact that I've exhausted a lot of the common topics and questions I could cover related to screenwriting. I've been able to compensate for that over the last few months as it's Oscar Movie season and I've had a full buffet of great movies to discuss.

The other big sea change is that it's become more and more common for people to use Twitter as an output for their musings and advice. I still like the idea of a permanent archive on the blog, partly because it allows new readers to discover those nuggets long after the fact. Even so, I know I've had plenty of times where I've tossed off a good rant on twitter and found that got it enough out of my system that I didn't feel the need to come back here and flesh it out. I'm trying to be better about that.

Ah, Twitter. I really can't believe that I still have yet to plateau in terms of followers. As I write this I have over 27,700 followers and the last time I checked, only a few percent of those were deemed "fake." It's flattering to see evidence that people are still discovering me and interested in what I have to say.

I bring this up because even more than through this blog, I've made a lot of great friends and contacts through Twitter over the last six years. It's absolutely been one of the best things I could have done for my career. I've made some good friends, including fellow aspiring writers, actors, and working writers - including a showrunner or two. I definitely recommend trying to build your own social network. It takes time but if you use Twitter right, you might find a few doors opening up for you.

As it's Awards Season, it feels appropriate to conclude this look back with a few thank yous.  There's not enough space here to acknowledge everyone whom I've met and become friends with due to this blog, but there are a few in particular I want to call out.

I did my best to put this list in random order, but I have to start with Scott Myers. About five months into the life of this blog, Scott was the one who really put me on the map when he featured me and gave me a very generous plug on the only must-read screenwriting blog, Go Into The Story. For almost five years, my relationship with Scott was completely through emails and tweets. I met him just over a year ago and it was a genuine delight to find he was everything you'd expect. Scott is the screenwriting professor I wish I'd had in college, running the sort of blog I could only dream of reading when I was taking my first steps into screenwriting. As I implore you often, please visit Go Into The Story regularly.

Hollywood has a reputation for having a lot of assholes. Some of that is earned, but my first-hand experience has been that there are a significant number of sincerely giving people. Over the years, a very high percentage of the working writers I have met have been some of the kindest, most helpful people out there. There's this myth that working writers are out to screw over aspirings. I've never seen any evidence of this, and the people I'm about to name-check are the furthest from that:

Eric Heisserer was one of the first working writers whom I got to know through Twitter, following his reaction to a tweet about the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET reboot. He later consented to an interview about the film and also authored a guest post about the life of a script in the studio development process. Even today, that post stands as my third-most-popular post of all time. On a one-on-one level, Eric has also been giving enough of his time to read some of my work and offer help where he could. He didn't do it so I'd blog about it, he's just that kind of person. Publicly he's very giving in offering the occasional screenwriting knowledge drops on Twitter, and I encourage you to follow him for his regular insights.

If you just know John Gary from Twitter, you probably have this image of him as the cranky pessimist who's the first one to say why the latest screenwriting development is a half-empty glass. But you'll have to look hard to find a more passionate advocate for writers, and someone more determined to make sure that naive aspirings aren't taken advantage of by charlatans and scams. He also regularly takes on what he calls The Hope Machine - the parent of the pie-in-the-sky fantasies that writers have about how easy it'll be to gain fame and forture from their writing. John doesn't tell you want you want to hear - he says what you NEED to hear. Like me he's seen the business from the inside as both a reader and a writer, and you would ignore the wisdom from that experience at your peril.

Along the same lines, I consider Geoff LaTulippe a must-follow. You can never accuse Geoff of not speaking his mind and while his blunt and aggressive nature sometimes gets him into trouble, he's very open to answering questions from aspiring writers on Twitter, on his podcast Broken Projector and on his personal website. If memory serves, Geoff might have been the first pro writer to reach out to me with an offer to read my script, and I know that's a courtesy he's extended to a few, perhaps many, others.

Justin Marks is a working writer who I first came to know via Twitter. We seem to approach things from a similar point of view and it's rare that there's a significant gulf in our opinions. (Justin once quipped that "we could pilot a Jaeger together.") I finally met him last year and it was a relief to learn that our rapport extended to our face-to-face interaction. Justin's got two big projects in the future: The Jon Favreau-directed Jungle Book movie coming in 2016 and the sequel to Top Gun, still unscheduled as far as I know. He's another one whose tweets can be a good insight into the business, so give him a follow.

F. Scott Frazier was one of the first writers to reach out to me to meet in person, and I'm glad I dropped the mask to do so. Scott tends to do his good deeds without advertising them, but I know he's gone out of his way to be a mentor to some writers. Like many others I know, he definitely believes in paying it forward, and frankly, he's prolific enough that it would be understandable if he didn't want to take the time to do so. I'd be remiss if I didn't plug my interview with him.

When people come to me asking for a coverage referral, I point them at Amanda Pendolino and ONLY Amanda Pendolino. Like me, Amanda's gotten a number of years as a script reader under her belt while trying to build her own career. She gives really sharp notes, and in a manner that always feels constructive. I recently gave her a script that I'm pretty sure wasn't her cup of tea, but she made a passionate, persuasive case for her opinions without making me feel like I'd been eviscerated. That's rare. On top of that, she's a great writer who deserves to be on staff somewhere. I know if I was a showrunner, she'd be one of my early draft picks.

Speaking of showrunners, Jeff Lieber is another favorite twitter-buddy. Currently one of the showrunners on NCIS: New Orleans, Jeff is one of the creators of Lost, as well as the creator of Miami Medical and was a showrunner on Necessary Roughness. He's used those assignments and others as fodder for his Showrunner Rules, which he regularly doles out on Twitter. You can find the whole archive here and his feed is always a valuable read.

The people I've named already are all great writers, but one writer whose work just knocked me on my ass was Brian Scully. I gave a spotlight post to his brilliant script MERCIFUL last year and soon after that, Brian landed management with Verve. I'm currently in the weeds on a very dark script of my own and I can honestly say that MERCIFUL has been like that rabbit they use to get the greyhounds to do laps around the track. I've read plenty of scripts that have inspired me and taught me, but MERCIFUL is one that really pushed me to be better and to not be scared to take chances.

Through my association with Go Into The Story, I also came to know Nate Winslow. Scott Myers calls him "future super producer Nate Winslow" and not without good reason. Nate is a savvy guy who's worked on a number of film projects, most recently at Defender Entertainment. If someone's smart, they'll snap him up to be their Creative Executive because he's got a great eye for projects. There are some people who you can just tell when you meet them that they have what it takes to make their own good fortune. With Nate, I know it's only a matter of time before he puts together a project and becomes one of those guys everyone is trying to get their scripts to. He's another one who keeps me motivated, if only so I don't feel like I'm standing still next to him.

And last, but certainly far from least, I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know Black List founder Franklin Leonard. I take a very dim view of most services that ask screenwriters to pay for them. I don't typically trust coverage companies because you can't really trust who's reading those scripts, and it's rare to find such a company where the person in charge has a significant amount of credibility to put on the line. When Franklin told me he was expanding the Black List's mission to including hosting and review services for aspiring writers, I was skeptical. After he laid it out for me, I became a believer.  A few half-wits have accused my endorsement of the site of being the back-scratch that was redeemed by payola. I can assure you I have no official affiliation with the site, nor have I ever taken any sort of money, bribery or whatever you want to call it. I endorse the Black List because I believe in it and in what Franklin Leonard is trying to do.

I've been fortunate to meet many successful people. I've worked for a number of industry pros who were very good at their jobs and have been able to produce films for most of their adult lives. I want to tell you what sets Franklin Leonard apart from them. Those men and women are very adept players within the existing system. Franklin Leonard is a guy with the will and the forethought to change the system. The Black List is constantly evolving and expanding, carving out partnerships with management companies, studios and producers. More than that, Franklin is possibly one of the most above-board and intelligent people I've met out here. There's nothing phony about him, and if we had more Franklin Leonards, that wouldn't be a terrible thing for our industry.

Franklin is smart enough he could probably be very successful just playing the game as it is. Instead he's forging his own path. I'm glad that writers - both aspiring and professional - have such a driven advocate. I know he's going to continue to push to make the Black List better. I once said to him that he must be proud of everything The Black List has become and his reply was, "There's still much more work to do."

Those who succeed are often those who are rarely satisfied.

These people I have named all have a few things in common. In one way or another they have all provided support and inspiration, and I've been lucky to get to know them. And there are still plenty more whom I don't have the space to name here. I also would never have met ANY of them, had I not started this blog six years ago and stuck with it even when I was getting only 50 hits a day the first few months. I would be a poorer individual for not knowing them.

If you have good fortune, pay it forward. When you deal with others, know there's little to be gained from being a dick. When you reach a goal, start formulating the next one, pushing yourself even harder than you did before. Most of all, don't let yourself become too satisfied with whatever you accomplish.

Thank you all for six great years. There's still much more work to do.