An Imitation of Life

images-1Over the weekend, I was invited to go through another battery of tests; nothing major, just a revisit of my insides, in order to find out why I was going tock instead of tick. As I scooted onto the hard, cold surface of the x-ray table, the attendant brushed back my hair, and I was hit with an indelible sense memory from just one year before.

Sense memory – or “emotional recall” –  is one of the greatest tools in the actor’s arsenal, and, I believe, the writer’s as well. It is a sensory experience – for me, usually a smell – that triggers a memory, an emotional response from the past. When I was in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I wore White Shoulders and Chanel almost exclusively, for they were scents that were evocative of the 50s of the South. I remember my great aunt Lucy, and her love for Chanel.

This time, tt was not the floral musky scents of Chanel that drove my mind into the past. Instead, it was a decidedly different smell. Something much more assertive and direct. It was the odor of hand sanitizer.


117162-soloGermaphobia is an unspoken side-effect of cancer treatment, and one that is completely understandable, for the most mundane of things can kill you. When you are going through chemotherapy or radiation, your immune system is under attack; ordinary dusts and dander can trigger a series of responses that result in pneumonia, which, for the cancer patient, can be a death sentence.

A year ago this time, I was in the midst of my radiation treatments. I had my own little routine – get to the Oschin Cancer Center, travel by elevator far, far underground, and sign in. As I signed in, I would use the dispenser of sanitizer, one of many located throughout the center. I would get my cup of french vanilla coffee, change into my hospital couture, and wait for my turn, during which gamma rays were shot through my body in five minute sessions.

The waiting rooms become their own microcosm, for by day three, you begin to know everyone’s names. Treatments are daily, and almost always scheduled at the same time. The patients share their experiences, what day they are on, how many are left, etc. The most poignant patients are, of course, the children, who sit there as stoic as SEALs. They are the ones who teach the rest of us not to be afraid.

Relationships are spawned from the depths of the treatment centers; instead of friendships, they are more like affairs, for the relationships are brief, torrid encounters, and ones that are not without tears, for there are times when one half of the relationship disappears – not because their treatment has ended, but because the patient has not survived.

That’s how I met “Penny.”

Penny was a tall, graceful woman, who reminded me both in beauty and wit of my beloved friend in Oklahoma, Billie. Penny was a frequent flyer at Oschin’s; she had been battling various forms of cancers for the past 6 years. This time, it was Stage 4 lung cancer that had taken hold of her slender form, and she announced, without a trace of remorse, that this was her “last go” at treatment. She said she was humoring her husband, by going through all of this, but she knew that her time had come.

I grew to look forward to Penny’s visits; I’d scan the room for her magnificent bald head, locate her, sit down, and we would start our chat. I began to get to my treatments earlier, so I could spend a little extra time with my secret friend. I panicked one day when, upon arrival, I could not find her. I stood there. heart pounding, terrified that Penny had succumbed early, only to hear her call my name. She had gone out for lunch, and she had, for reasons she later said she could not understand, decided to wear a wig.

Days turned into weeks turned into a month, and after another week, I was nearing the end of my treatment, as was Penny. On her last day, we hugged. There was no reason to exchange emails, for there would be no need of that soon. She was going home, and she was preparing to die. As we said goodbye, she grabbed hold of me. “You’re going to write about this, you know,” she said. “All of it. And not just once, or twice, but forever. Everything’s changed for you. You’ll know when you are ready.” Then, my name was called, and I walked towards the doorway, pausing briefly to turn and wave good-bye.


It took almost a year for me to assimilate what Penny meant. When I was first diagnosed, I was urged to write about it. A friend generously offered to edit my work, and get it to her publisher…. and yet, other than my blog, I could barely write a word. I was in the thick of it; I was still battling death – not just the physical death, but the death of my life before cancer, the death of physical grace, the death of friendships, and the death of my career.

And so, I found myself thinking of Penny one day, as I read through an old short play of mine. In it, a character was terminally ill, and had made the decision to end his life. It was a stage play, so there were a lot of words. He talked about his illness; she talked about her love for him, they talked about talk, and so on.

It all felt so ridiculous, so immature. And so, I drew a deep breath, closed my eyes, and thought of Penny and what she had said. I typed “Fade In”, and eventually typed “Fade to Black”, and there I had it. The first draft of what was to become TIDELANDS.


A flashback moment for Conor and Lelia in TIDELANDS

The script has gone through rewrite after rewrite. My husband thought me insane, for taking on such a polarizing subject – that of death with dignity. That polarization was precisely why I felt – and feel – so strongly that this story needed to be told. The subject is highly personal. Death is an uncomfortable subject in modern society; we have emotionally regressed in regard to this most human and universal experience. And so, I wanted to dive deep into my own experiences, as well as those of others. I did what Penny told me to do. I wrote from the truthfulness of one who lives with cancer. Art imitates life, which, in turn, will someday imitate art, as I will have this conversation with the one I love one day. I did what the storyteller is obligated to do. I allowed my experience to influence my work. I embraced my experience – the good and the bad of it – and I will continue to do so, not only now, with TIDELANDS, but in the future.

Without cancer, I would not have this new perspective, one that is deeper, more layered, with a palette far richer than shades of grey. I give cancer thanks.

As I do Penny.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

To learn more about TIDELANDS, and to support the project, please visit the film’s Indiegogo page.


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Things That Go Bump In the Night

I run this every Halloween; not because I am lazy, but because I still list these as my favorites. Happy Halloween to all! ~ 

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed by some to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Thus begins one of the most masterful ghost stories of all time, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Halloween is upon us, “Oooooh, scaaaaary, kids!” as Count Floyd would say, which prompts me to rattle on about one of my favorite horror archetypes, that of the Haunted House.

Here. Take my hand. We’ll walk together, this night, and, as we do, I’ll whisper in your ear. It’s lovely to be with you again. In the dark. Alone. We are alone… aren’t we?


Directed by Robert Wise

Screenplay by Nelson Gidding; adapted from the novel by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting is one of those rare films that few storytellers craft these days – a ghost story in which we never see the ghost. There are, of course, plenty of nail-biting moments: doors that swing open and shut, cold spots in which one’s breath becomes an apparition, wooden carvings that resemble masks of rage, messages of “Help Eleanor come home” appearing on the walls (“it knows my name!” Eleanor cries), moanings, mutterings and things that go boom in the night. In Hill House, statues move just out of the periphery of sight, and its guests come to realize just what Hugh Crain did to and with his little girls… and finally, all bear witness to that terrible moment in which the door to library breathes.

The Haunting is the ghost story as great film literature, scultped from magnificent source material. Flawlessly cast, the film is chock-full of atmosphere – gothic gloom and doom at its paranoid best, with Jackson’s dreamlike narrative quite intact. It still frightens the shit out of me.

ALIEN (1979)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, from a story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett*

“In space, no one can hear you scream” is perhaps one of the greatest film poster taglines I have ever read. I would argue that Alien is indeed a haunted house story; this particular house – the commercial spacecraft Nostromo – just happens to reside in the suburbia of deep space.

Like The Haunting,  Alien relies heavily on tone and the imagination of the viewer; although, in a post-Vietnam era, Scott tosses in enough viscera to make the most stoic moviegoer squirm in his seat and cry out for his momma.

Alien offers great iconic moments: the notorious chest-burster scene, the rising conflict between Ripley and Ash (movie geeks take note of just what is on-screen in Ash’s lab as Ripley arrives to check on Kane’s condition), Lambert’s cries of anguish when she realizes that Dallas is going the wrong way – and her gut wrenching vocalizations as she is being eaten alive, Sigourney Weaver making her debut as Ripley, the trailblazing kick-ass final girl, and the alien itself – a Freudian articulation of what Robert McKee calls a horrific “vagina dentata.” But, ultimately, it is the Nostromo, floating in the silent ethers of space, and guided under the tutelage of Mother, that looms foremost in my mind as the principle character. The ship is a cosmic Bad Place, built of corporate greed and corruption, and literally fed by the blood of its crew. The franchise sequels range from great shoot-em-up fun to maddeningly ponderous, but the original draws its power from the masters of cinema who wrote and created it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a big screen re-release.

And yes, Stephen King. I’d save the cat, too.

* follow up – O’Bannon and Shusett received credit for the screenplay; however, the final draft is credited to (title page credit) Walter Hill and David Giler, based on the O’Bannon/Shusett draft. My apologies for the omission.  HRH


Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson; adapted from the novel by Stephen King

What’s worse than a haunted house? Try a haunted hotel – where bad events number in the thousands – and there you have the Overlook, the nightmarish destination conceived by Stephen King.

Being offered the job of the off-season caretaker of the Overlook seems to be a dream come true for struggling author Jack Torrance and his family. While the Overlook’s employee quarters are a wee bit small and drab, the Torrances have the full run of one of the most luxurious hotels in the world – and all the prime rib they can eat. However, at the Overlook, things come with a price.

Moments of glory: scenes of Jack hard at work on his Great American novel – but Wendy discovers that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, Jack’s one-sided conversations with the otherworldly barkeep, the woman-turned-corpse in the bathroom, Kubrick’s tracking shots of Danny as he pedals throughout the Overlook, the little boy’s Big Wheels clacking, going silent and clacking once again… the tsunami of blood and other visions that plague that same prescient child,  and the sense of Wendy’s worry turning to frustration, then dread, and, finally, naked terror.

We discover that Very Bad Things happened at the Overlook – apparitions pepper the place: creepy, blood-soaked twins, parties that appear out of nowhere, the incongruous sexual creep show of two men in a hotel room – one sporting a dog suit. Insanity makes its inevitable appearance, and Jack is thrown into a downward spiral of homicidal madness. He’s the anti-father, the pater that applies Draconian discipline. “I’m not going to hurt you, ” Jack hisses at his petrified spouse, “I’m just going to bash your brains in.” For Jack Torrance, the Overlook is like another hotel, one where, as the Eagles have said, “You can check out anytime you like. But you can never leave.”

The writers take liberties with the source material, most of them spot on, although I would have loved to have seen them try to execute King’s topiary garden of animals which, like the statues of Hill House, move just as one is looking away from them. That being said, they still manage to capture the eerie poeticism of the book, and, with talent such as Kubrick, Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall at the helm, The Shining delivers a nightmarishly potent roller-coaster of a film, featuring a carnivorous dwelling that gleefully feeds upon the hearts, the minds, and the lives of the American family unit.

It also provided fecund ground for the trailer mashup that launched a thousand quips.

Oh, my. Look at the time. The witching hour is almost upon us… and I’ve so many other films to discuss… But, it is late. Take my hand again, and if, as we are walking home, you hear something ahead of us, well, it is most likely the wind, isn’t it? After all, we are alone…

Aren’t we?

What I’m Reading: Stephen King’s ode to horror, Danse Macabre. The book is a love letter of sorts to horror in television, literature (including pulp), radio and film. It’s a fascinating journey, and King covers the genre from the greats such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the works of Lovecraft and Poe, to the gloriously cheesy “Hammer Horror” and such epics as “The Chicken Heart That Ate the World.” I was a youngster when I first read it, and am blissfully enjoying this treasure trove again.

What I’m Watching: It’s Halloween, darling. TCM is running an all day marathon of Horror in every flavor under the sun. That being said, I’ll finish out the daytime hours with The Dead Zone and curl up next to my courtly companion tonight for The Haunting.

A Royal Shout-Out: To one of my favorite Cats, Al Rodriguez. Check out Al joining in on the fun with some of the top names of the business. Way to go, Al!!!

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A Little Break

I’ve been taking a break while completing a gig for a client, and working on my newest project. I have had a few moments to chat with fellow filmmaker and cancer survivor Kat Caverly. Please take a moment and follow the link to my other blog site, where Kat and I discuss film, process, and life with the Big C:

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Milk for Free

Why should I buy the cow, when I can get the milk for free? – Ancient Idiom

UnknownThere’s a little saying that is implanted into the minds of those wishing to work in film production, and the saying is “Never work for free.” Each and every year, graduates of film school, in different disciplines, enter the marketplace all bright and shiny, reels or scripts in hands, flocking to Los Angeles like moths to a flame. They submit their portfolios, their reels, their scripts, to every paying job advertised, and sit, dumbfounded, when they are not chosen for the job. Why are they not chosen?

Simple. Because they lack experience.

But I worked in film school! they cry, and while that is all well and good, school is school, and the world of entertainment is far from that. In school, you have access to equipment – cameras, foley rooms, editing bays, sound stages, lighting… in short, tens of thousands of dollars worth of production materials for free. And then, you enter the marketplace – as an intern. This is what we call paying your dues.

I recently spoke to a new to market writer. She had been offered a gig – the acquisition of her script by a recent film school graduate for production. She refused the gig. Why? Because they wanted her short script for free.

Every single thinking filmmaker knows that, in the beginning, they are going to work for free. Regardless of what one wants to do to shape their career, one needs to get on set, and one needs credits. And the way to get these credits is to work for free.

200px-Variety_(magazine)_logo.svgScreenwriters are the absolute worst when it comes to this subject. They are brainwashed by stories placed in Variety by PR firms about the “overnight wonder” screenwriter, who just scored a mid against high six figures for their feature. What they don’t tell you is that this screenwriter has been struggling for seven to ten years, collecting rejection letter after rejection letter, taking odd jobs when they might, struggling for survival, while networking madly. And, it’s most likely, that they do have some credits in the writing department – short films, some of which generated nary a dime for the writer.

There is one good reason for writing for no – or very low – pay, and that reason is not simply to get a credit (although that does help); instead the reason is a bit less practical (or so it seems). The reason is the desire to work on a certain project.

A filmmaker approaches you with an idea for a short. You love the idea; you cannot stop thinking about it. You look at the director’s work, and what you see, you like. But the director has little to no money for production, and offers you credit only, or they have a tiny amount, and offer it to you as a stipend. And there is the writer’s dilemma – should I take this deal? Should I work for free?

Actors know the answer to this question. They know that they are only as good as their last project, and for an actor to be considered for plum roles, they have to keep their resumes current; therefore, they work for free. Name actors do this; last year, Liam Neeson lent his voice to an indie project for free, simply because he liked the material, and wanted to support the project.

Writing for free is usually limited to the short world; in the feature world, the conundrum that you face is writing for low pay. Most new writers, when given an offer of, say $2500 for a feature, turn immediately to the WGAw website, and go to the schedule of minimums. They see the minimum set at $60 grand change, and become enraged. They refer to the producers as “scam artists”, or, even better, counter the offer with the WGA minimum. The thing they forget is that this minimum is set for members of the WGA – which they are not. How do you become a member of the WGA?

Simple. Pay your dues. For some, that’s a decade of work, often for free, before finally making that leap.

I had a friend of mine tell me about a script he was writing for hire; we were both commiserating about the small amount of money we were both working for on our individual projects. He said, “Well, they paid me 1500. So, I gave the a 1500 dollar script.”

I’m no sure I would advise that. Your work is what represents you, and if you write a bunch of gobbledegook because you agreed to work for low pay, you may very well end up hurting yourself, unless you can have a contractual clause which allows you to remove your name from credits after seeing the final cut. Me? I try to make it the best that I can, given the time constraints – that’s part 2 of working for low-pay, your producers expect a feature to be written in a month. Can it be done? Of course. Will the quality suffer? Most certainly. My advice is to write like hell, rewrite like there is no tomorrow, and do your best to make the script as good as it can possibly be.

Are there times when you should turn down no/low pay jobs? Certainly. The number 1 reason is that you don’t like the job. You don’t like the pitch; perhaps it is for a frat boy comedy, and you write East Coast intellectual relationship angst. Or, you don’t like the director’s work. You don’t have to like the director, but you do need to be able to respect his/her work, for your script will be in his/her hands, to craft and to mold into a movie. Last – listen to your gut. If it tells you that you are about to jump onto a train destined to wreck, then politely pass on the offer, and go your own way.

There are a few things to do, when approached with a no/low paying job, that will help to protect you, and to ensure that the writing process is a smooth one:

  1. Protect your work. That means that you must not only register your script with the WGA, but you must also file for copyright protection. These are associated costs with the field of work that you have chosen, and to not do so is amateurish.
  2. Provide your production team with your contract, as opposed to signing one of theirs. The WGAw makes these contracts available for download, and you have the ability to edit where you need. Your edits should be minute, mainly for budget, milestone payments, and, of course the option to “credit out.” If the production team refuses to sign this document, then walk away. This is a clean, pristine document intended to protect the writer, and if they do not want to do that, then the job is never going to be worth it for you. If, for example, this is a script purchase, and they bring another writer in for the development process, you still will, most likely, want to maintain a writing credit. For another writer to be given your credit, they have to be able to prove that they have written at least 51% of the script, and, if you have registered with the WGA, arbitration will sit down and compare, word by word, your draft against the new, and, if you still maintain the ownership of majority of the words, then the credit is solely yours, whether you are a WGA member or not. I cannot say this enough – protect your work and your credit.
  3. Excessive time. If production wants to option an existing script, but cannot give you a general time of when production shall commence, then limit the option to 6 months. That is a reasonable amount of time for them to get their ducks in a row, and if they want your script, then, chances are, someone else probably does, too. What you do not want to do is to give them 2 or 3 years time on an option, for by the time the script goes into turnaround, whatever piqued their particular interest is probably already gone from the filmmaking zeitgeist.
  4. Reception. If your script has won major awards – Nicholls, Austin Film Festival, UnknownSundance – then you have property that studios will see of value, and that’s when the milk isn’t free. it’s damned heavy cream, and it’s worth some money. Of course, if your script has won any or all of the above, then you probably stopped reading this column after the first few sentences, because you’re too busy fielding calls from CAA.

The decision to work for low or no pay is an individual choice, and certainly, no one is forcing you to do so. That being said, if you are new to the market, then you can save your career a great deal of time, as well as blood, sweat and tears, by accepting low/no terms for your early works.

The-Oscars-2014-logo.jpg~originalNext time a filmmaker expresses a desire to make your short, but doesn’t have the money to pay you for the script, consider this: THE PHONE CALL, which won the  2015 Academy Award for Best Short Film, was made completely for free. Cast, crew, post, all involved, worked for craft service and meals only. The cast included Academy-Award winner Jim Broadbent, and, as director Mat Kirkby said, “Short films are made not with money. They’re made with tenacity and lots of favors.”

They are indeed.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe


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Everything is possible.


Now, go write.

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The Woman in the Picture

I’ve been away from my little magic castle for a bit; I’ve been tending to some real-world problems, as well as allowing my body to get some much-needed rest.

1044516_588197914553618_117421842_nI logged into Facebook this morning and discovered, courtesy my friend and CineLadies founder Marisilda Garcia, this wonderful picture, which you now see on the left side of this paragraph. The picture – and the article translation found with it – tells the story of an indigenous woman of the Tarahumara. The woman is seen running in a half-marathon, which she not only won, but broke several records in the process, all of this without professional training, without athletic clothing – including running shoes – and without the endorsements of Nike, Mountain Dew, Monster, or whatever company is trying to get their brand stamped across every square inch of earth. She won it – and she won it on her own.

And now, for the awkward segue into how this picture relates to the entertainment business. People often speak of their careers as if they were a race. Everyone’s out to be the first, get the biggest headlines in Variety, sign the biggest deal ever, smash all box office records to smithereens.

However, your career is not a race, dear ladies and lords of the court. Your career is a marathon, and it’s one you run endlessly, hours into days, into weeks, into months, into years, and so on. You simply place one foot in front of the other, and so on, and so on. And you never stop.

Print out a picture of this woman, and hang it on your wall. Print out another picture, and put it in your purse, your wallet, your satchel – wherever you can always have it at hand. When those times hit – the holidays that seem so merry for everyone but you, the flood of shame that comes with a rejection letter, or that whisper of envy when someone you know hits it huge – do this one thing. Pull out the picture, look at the woman, and remember her story. How she broke all records, how she became an internet sensation, and how she, despite all odds, won that race… and remember that she was able to do all of this, because she didn’t stop.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe


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Walking the Walk

For those of us who blog and write about the art and the craft of screenwriting, we spend a lot of time talking the talk.

Today, I’m going to begin a little experiment in walking the walk. And I’m inviting you to join me.

I am in the midst of creating one of two worlds that are in my newest untitled project.

Every few Princess Scribe posts this summer – and perhaps beyond – will contain bits of scripts that I am working on, the actual working text, visual ideas, roadblocks, character development… a little bit of everything, shared only with you, dear readers.

Of course, there will be a few twists and turns, and so, there is some that I will not share. Yet. But with those exceptions, I’ll be as transparent as possible in my progress.

Today, I’ve managed 4 cards worth of content for my board. The script is for a short project, about 15-20 minutes in length. SciFi meets SciFact. This is not the screenplay, it’s not even the brain dump draft. This is the beginning of a working outline, a series of cards that I hope will be able to become transform into the script, and the script into a film.

Today marks the creation of the first part of Opening Scene, in STC  language. The story opens with a dream…

Opening Image

What’s next?

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe


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