secret libertarian cell taking down NPR from the inside OR hipster economists

Do you listen to Planet Money? It’s a podcast from NPR, which I think most people would agree is a media outlet that makes valiant attempts to skew neither direction in particular but which is largely the preferred jam of white Obama voters in Volvos with “RENEWABLE ENERGY IS HOMELAND SECURITY” stickers. (People exactly like me, in other words.)

I like thinking about economics, although I am quite ignorant. And I like podcasts. So Planet Money fills a certain niche for me pretty well, were it not for two troublesome issues.

1. Zoe Chace’s voice, which is such a melange of vocal fry and uptalking and “I like to ferment foods in Williamsburg let me tell you about my vinyl collection!” that I cannot – can. not. – listen to the episodes she hosts anymore, even though I ALSO LIKE ECONOMICS AND THINKING ABOUT THE EUROZONE CRISIS AND FERMENTING THINGS AND VINYL ARRRRGH.

2. ARE THE PLANET MONEY PEOPLE CRAZED LIBERTARIANS???????? Were they sent to podcast their way into the hearts and minds of a new generation of voters by the Cato Institute? I don’t know how else to explain it. They’ll just be going along, talking about Greece’s debt crisis, very interesting, the whole thing where young hip radio journalists do conversational reportage about humans, it’s working. And then BOOM! Licensing requirements are unAmerican! Also killing the economy! Also a plan by manicurists to establish a beachhead of communism. Probably! VOTE RON PAUL 2012. What? We didn’t say anything. Now listen to Radiolab, you hippie.

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last lines

Two all-time favorite final paragraphs:

At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Usula LeGuin

I saw a picture of a North Vietnamese soldier sitting in the same spot on the Danang River where the press center had been, where we’d sat smoking and joking and going, “Too much!” and “Far out!” and “Oh my God it gets so freaky out there!” He looked so unbelievably peaceful, I knew that somewhere that night and every night there’d be people sitting together over there talking about the bad old days of jubilee and that one of them would remember and say, Yes, never mind, there were some nice ones, too. And no moves left for me at all but to write down some few last words and make the dispersion, Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, we’ve all been there.

Dispatches, Michael Herr

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Another problem…

Another problem with this stage of a rewrite is that you start to think things like:



They’re crazy sons of bitches, but they’re OUR crazy sons of bitches!


Are a good idea.

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I am at the part of (re-)writing this screenplay where I am close to being done enough that I will soon send it to the producers, which is also the part where I now wonder if maybe this is the worst thing ever written and when they read it they will block my emails FOREVER and start a blog about how terrible I am. And I just can’t tell if this is paranoia or an accurate assessment. This happens to me every project cycle (I think it happens to almost everyone.)

However, what’s new is that I’m not really that upset about the idea that maybe it’s the worst ever. I’m just kind of like “Huh. Well…. I dunno, might be awful… I guess they’ll let me know.”


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Misunderstanding Grover Norquist

Boy, I am so ignorant. Do you ever get that feeling? I was listening to THIS AMERICAN LIFE earlier, and Ira spent some time talking to

Grover Norquist.

I had heard of Grover Norquist. I had somehow built a structure of GROVER NORQUIST FACTS in my head that went something like:

*Grover Norquist was born in 1898 to Swedish immigrant parents who farmed a cranberry bog in Maine.
*Grover showed early promise as a tobogganist, even winning his county’s LYLE MACMOOF MEMORIAL TROPHY for his record-breaking peak-to-bog run in 1911.
*As a young man, Grover studied the harp.
*Grover served as a missionary for his Lutheran congregation, but basically only went to Canada and then came back, complaining of dyspeptic attacks due to poor food quality.
*Grover had something to do taxes and small government and was involved in politics in the 1920s and 1930s, but vanished from view during WWII, when he focused his energies on growing cranberries for the merchant marine.

All totally wrong. I am am pretty disappointed by the reality of the matter. I feel like his name really misleads you into thinking that he’s going to be awesome and bizarre in a 19th century way. Boo.

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Why I am a terrible blogger

You have probably noticed that I am a terrible blogger, infrequent, all over the place, no pictures. The no pictures is just because I’m lazy, but the infrequent is because I’m lazy AND because I’m easily daunted by the following:

“Oh man, I should totally blog about that dumb thing I just thought… hilarious. Surely the internet needs to know about the vanity plate I just saw that read GAS PAINS.”

(A few seconds pass.)

“But that’s only like a paragraph. You can’t have a blog post that’s just a paragraph!* Darn. Can I pad that with anything?”

(A few more seconds pass.)


(Silent despair.)

“Ugh. I am so bad at blogging. It’s embarrassing! This is just another way for me to feel inadequate about myself as a writer! Writers don’t need any help with that! Pffffft. I’m going to read this article on Salon instead.”

This happens to me so frequently, you guys! Just today I was making myself laugh by thinking up a somewhat elaborate joke I would make to this producer about this project, except of course I can’t actually, because I don’t want people to know how ridiculous I am and instead I want to fool them into thinking that I am a competent professional. But anyway, after I thought about that joke and workshopped it in my brain until it was what I felt to be pretty good, and then after I got mildly “…” that it would just die aborning, I thought: “Hey! I should totally blog about that joke so it won’t go to waste! Oh… wait. That’s like a paragraph. YOU CAN’T POST TO YOUR BLOG WITH JUST ONE PARAGRAPH.”

And that’s when I had The Thought. What I clearly should do is start a Tumblr called something like JOKES I REFRAINED FROM MAKING IN PROFESSIONAL CONTEXTS BUT SPENT A LOT OF TIME WORKING ON ANYWAY. My first post will be something like “See, this movie is actually MOBY DICK. It’s about revenge. Also I’m going to break up the action with 10-minute blocks of people ruminating about whale penises.”

Except I would never do this, because I’m so lazy, and I don’t really know how to use Tumblr, I find it intimidating in its minimalism, and I’m sure that if I had a Tumblr then suddenly I would be like “Oh man, I should post about this joke I wanted to make but didn’t! Wait. I need to set that up. That’s going to take pages. NOBODY POSTS PAGES OF TEXT ON TUMBLR.”

Ad infinitum. I am so predictable.

(What if I have a Tumblr that’s just predictions of ridiculous things I will do in the next five minutes? WHAT ABOUT THAT, UNIVERSE?)

*I am, on the other hand, too verbose for Twitter. Who has time to be that succinct, man?!?

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General Meetings I

(I had a meeting recently that was so hilarious I wanted to blog about it, but then I realized that maybe screenwriter-type meetings are mysterious (in a boring way) and I should explain them first. So…)

As a screenwriter, a lot of what you do is go on meetings. This is also true for executives at production companies and studios: I guess it’s kind of like an endless round of Business Speed Dating, and everyone is constantly hoping that something will happen with their 11 o’clock.

There are basically two kinds of meetings: meetings where you’re talking about a specific project with someone (5% of your meetings) and “general meetings” (everything else.)

General meetings are always exactly the same. I have had lots and lots of meetings, and only a handful of them have varied from this basic template:

*You drive to wherever the meeting is. Meetings on studio lots are nice because they usually have pretty good parking situations. (Except for when you have to park in the parking garage at Universal, which is an Orwellian nightmare from which there is no escape. I had a meeting there once and I was ON THE LOT with ample time to spare and I was still HALF AN HOUR LATE and I kept calling the office and almost crying. “CAN YOU STAND OUTSIDE AND WAVE?!? I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM.”) Meetings at companies that aren’t on a lot often have confusing parking instructions like “Park in the alley behind the dumpster, but NOT behind the cream Escalade”.

*You go inside and a tell a receptionist that you’re so-and-so, there to meet so-and-so, and they tell that person’s office. And you…

*Sit down and wait. You always wait for fifteen minutes, even if you get there exactly on time.

*The executive (or sometimes their assistant) will come get you. You go into their office. If you weren’t already offered a beverage, you’ll be offered one now. You can have anything you want as long as it’s water or a Diet Coke.

*You look around their office and try to figure out where to sit. Pro-tip: you are almost always supposed to sit on the couch. Sometimes people will tell you that you should just ask, but I have found this to be weird and awkward. Like you will say “Where should I sit?” and the executive will say “Anywhere you like!” but you can tell that that’s not really true, and now you’re back to guessing and everyone is experiencing mild social anxiety. So just sit on the couch. The couches are always super weird and uncomfortable. They’re usually too low and wide or something, so you have to have your meeting and dazzle them with your wit while reclining like a Roman. I’m never sure if this is totally accidental or some kind of Jack Donaghy BUSINESS DOMINANCE power play.

*You make brief small talk about whatever, and then the meeting starts. The order of the talking points varies a little bit, but is often something like this:

*The executive says something like “So where are you from?” or lobs you a similar softball – this is just your opening to rattle off your snappy bio. Here I should note that executives think that writers with certain backgrounds are going to be more able to write certain stories. So if you know that this company is sitting on a graphic novel about EXTREME TOBBOGANING, and you’re from Vermont and you run a Tumblr called SLEDZ, this is where you want to mention it. Otherwise you probably just want to have a brief thumbnail sketch of who you are with one or two mildly interesting details the executive can remember you by. (Executives have like 700 of these meetings a week.)

*After your part, the person will usually say “Let me tell you a little bit about our company: we’re funded by a group of chimpanzees who made a ton of money on Google’s IPO” or whatever and then tell you about movies they’ve made. You want to look up the company in advance so you can be sure not to do something like go “Oh man, that movie was TERRIBLE!”

*Then the person will usually say something like “So I really liked your sample!” and you will say “Thank you, I enjoyed writing it”, something like that. (Your agent or manager, when they book you the meeting, send the person one of your scripts to check out so they can see you’re not a buffoon.) And sometimes you may talk about the script a little bit. They often want to know why you decided to write it. Just make up something snappy here. Don’t answer “I don’t know, I just did”, this will confuse and trouble them. You want something like “As a kid, I was a competitive bass fisherman. I still really love the world and wanted to tell its stories with humanity and gravitas.” and they will nod and be pleased: executives love passion. It’s their favorite thing, right after you being a person with personal experience with the thing you’re writing about.

*Then the person will talk about projects they would like to be involved with. There are two kinds of things executives say here: specific and non-specific. In the first category, they may say something like “I’m really looking for a hockey movie”, or they will tell you about an idea they have, or about a book or remake their company is interested in. In the second category, they will say things like “If you find any amazing graphic novels nobody knows about, you should call me.”

*Somewhere in here, they will also ask you what else you’re working on. You can test out ideas here if you want, and get a little practice not being horribly awkward when you are forced to talk about your stories. (I used to be horribly awkward – now I am only somewhat awkward.) DON’T say “I don’t know yet.” even if that’s true. If you really don’t know, be vague and like “My agent and I are still discussing ideas, but I’m really interested in doing a historical drama”. Otherwise you can just whip out a one-liner, like: “I’m writing a dramady about a guy who quits a lucrative law practice to go run the Iditarod and find himself.” Sometimes they will like it and ask for more info and a lot of times they’ll just go “Great, sounds great.”

*Then the meeting wraps up, you exchange cards, and you go home.

In the next post I will discuss fascinating things like:

*What to wear to your meeting!
*What to do after your meeting!
*Why you shouldn’t be too excited about meetings!
*Things that can go wrong! ETC ETC ETC.

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