Posted in Books, Film, Writing

Let Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. be Your Motto for a Successful 2020!


Happy New Year, everyone!

I can’t believe it’s already 2020. I can’t believe it’s the start of a new decade, holy cow!

I’ve been a serious writer since the beginning of 2010, so ten years now. Ten years of writing short stories and novels and essays. Two Masters degrees. Lots of failure, and some success.

There’s nothing like an entire decade to make you learn a lot, and I want you to have the best decade ever!

What kind of a writer do you want to become this year, and this decade? How do you want to build on what you’ve already accomplished?

How do you want to make this your best year of writing yet?

No matter what stage you may be in when it comes to your writing career, let this be the year you fully take charge. Let this be the year you take the steps toward your writing dreams.

Let this be the time of your life where you immerse yourself in the world of storytelling in all its tremendous aspects!

That’s the motto of Read. Watch. Write. Repeat.

And it’s been my motto for many, many years now.

Every single day I try to surround myself with books, films, and writing. It can be just a little bit. It can be a hell of a lot. It all depends each day, of course, but any day I reach the end that had no reading, no watching, and/or no writing? It’s never as good as the day before or the day after.

I fully believe that to be a successful writer it’s important to not just write often but to also read as much as you can and watch terrific (and maybe even some not so terrific) films and television shows.

You don’t want to go too far in the extreme of either one of these. You don’t want to read for ten hours but do little writing and not watch anything. Similarly you don’t want to Netflix binge for ten hours but not read anything and only allow yourself ten minutes to do any quality writing.

Ideally you want to devote a similar amount of time to all three. Let’s say an hour to two hours of reading (all at once or at different times of the day). A two-hour movie (or maybe two episodes of television). And one to two hours of writing.

That’s about six hours of creativity. Six of twenty-four hours in the day to allow yourself to completely surrender to storytelling. Books. Films or television. Writing.

And then repeat. The next day, the day after that. Sure, some days will get crazy and all you’ll have time for is maybe a half-hour of writing and a few minutes of reading before bed.

This happens occasionally. And you know what? That’s all right.

But your goal always should be a few hours each day of reading, watching, writing. I truly do believe it’s the answer to a successful creative life!

This is why I created a publication here called Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. earlier in 2019, and it’s why I decided just today to launch a brand new Facebook group of the same name!

It’s a community I’ve been thinking about creating for a few months now, and I felt like today, the first day of a new year and a new decade, to be the perfect day to have it go live.

The group will be a place to discuss all things books, films, television, and, of course, writing. A place to discuss everything creativity. A place to help one another find great books to read, awesome movies and TV shows to see, and discover ways to make our writing flourish in the weeks and months to come.

It’s going to be a fantastic writing year, it really is. A time to discover what you really want out of your creative life. It can be anything you want it to be.

The goal, always, is to keep learning and trying new things and taking bold chances to get to where you want to be. Hopefully not at the end of this year but a whole lot sooner.

Read. Watch. Write. Repeat. Keep those four words in mind as you continue on your writing journey, and I’m telling you 2020 will be your most successful year yet!

Posted in Film

‘Ad Astra’ Looked More Compelling When It Starred Sandra Bullock


I’ve sure been getting tired in recent years of the constant sequels and reboots.

Aren’t you? All the remakes and reimaginings that seem to come out of Hollywood every single week now, sometimes two a week! It’s rare in this day and age to get anything out of the studio system that’s remotely original, and when something does break through, like last week’s Hustlers, it’s practically a miracle.

Just this past summer we got a new John Wick, a new Aladdin, a new Godzilla, a new X-Men, a new Men in Black, a new Toy Story, a new Spider-Man, a new Lion King, a new Fast & Furious, a new Angry Birds, a new Gerald Butler movie where something falls.

And it’s not difficult to see why. Many of these movies do exceedingly well at the box office, even the middling efforts seeing big profits in international markets. Sure, there’s your occasional disaster like X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but look at Aladdin, Lion King, Toy Story (pretty much anything Disney gets a hold of) and you’ll see box office receipts in the billions. It’s hard to expect Hollywood to churn out anything but known properties when you see incredible numbers like that.

Even in September, typically a month where few major properties are released, you currently have the blockbuster It: Chapter Two in theaters, and just this weekend saw two films released that have what the box office prognosticators call pre-awareness — a new Rambo (part five, for those of you keeping track) and a Downton Abbey movie, which just became Focus Feature’s biggest opening weekend of all time.

And then there’s a third film that just came out in wide release.

The kind of big-budget studio film that comes around every once in awhile, and that’s Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z). It’s an $80 million dollar movie not based on anything. It’s not an adaptation of a book, it’s not an update of an old TV show or something. It’s something brand new, and just that detail makes it somewhat exciting.

So what is the studio selling this movie on? Solid reviews (currently 81% on Rotten Tomatoes), and Brad Pitt, of course, who just gave one of his all-time great performances in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He’s having something of a moment right now, and why not support him in one more acclaimed film this year?

I do want to go out and support Ad Astra this weekend… and yet there’s something holding me back, and that’s the third element the studio is selling this movie on: the incredibly thrilling space epicness of it all that you must see not on just any screen, but on an IMAX screen! I’m actually lucky to have an IMAX screen ten minutes from my house, and they’re playing Ad Astra this weekend. I guess I could shell out the fifteen bucks if I wanted to.

But what’s stopping me is that the space element of this film in all of Ad Astra’s advertising makes it look exactly like all the other space films we’ve had of late. We’re getting about one a year now, it seems, the space epic becoming its own mini-genre.

Last year was First Man. In 2017 we got Life. In 2016 there was Passengers. In 2015, The Martian. In 2014, Interstellar. Some of these films are better than others, and trust me, I saw them all. But the problem I’ve had with some of these giant space films is that they offer little in the way of surprise and awe, particularly since the most striking one of all arrived to theaters first.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which was released in 2013 and went on to win seven Academy Awards.

That was the one to see on the biggest screen you could find… because there had never been a movie like it in decades, since maybe Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968. It was as visually impressive as a space film had been in a long while, and it presented a vision wholly original and emotionally rich.

One other feature Gravity had? Sandra Bullock. A giant $100 million dollar budget resting on what is mostly a movie about one person, and it earned $723 million at the worldwide box office. So many actors had been up for the role of Dr. Ryan Stone. Angelina Jolie was almost about to do it at one point, and others considered were Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman (who has her own space film coming out next month, Lucy in the Sky).

Gravity was able to marry the fantastic visuals and almost non-stop suspense with a compelling lead performance of an actress at the top of her game. We all wanted to go on that journey with Sandra Bullock into the great unknown.. but do we necessarily want to experience something similar six years later with Brad Pitt? Every ad I’ve seen is promoting Ad Astra just like Gravity, and I can’t care enough for someone like Brad Pitt stranded in outer space as I was able to care for Sandra Bullock.

I don’t know if studios have more original dramatic thrillers set in space scheduled to come out in 2020, 2021, and beyond, but unfortunately these kinds of films are starting to become just as tired as every other overdone genre, sequel, or remake. Maybe it’s time to give these space movies a rest for a while. Maybe it’s time for some blockbuster original stories to be set, once again, on planet Earth.

Posted in Film, Writing

6 Quotes by Alfred Hitchcock to Help You Write Your Novel


Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) has for a long time been my favorite film director. I’ve taught two classes in the past about his work. I’ve studied his many films over and over again, particularly Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds. I find his storytelling techniques absolutely fascinating, and I do think much of his advice translates to writing fiction.

Here are six quotes to ponder as you work on your next writing project…

1. “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

I thought about this quote all the time when I made my short films during and after college, and I certainly think about it a lot now when I write my fiction — particularly my works of suspense. Since 2015 I have written five novel-length works of horror and thriller, and keeping this quote in the back of my mind has worked wonders.

There is no terror in the bang, only shock. You have your monster jump out of the darkness, and your reader might flinch, might recoil, might even scream.

But then the suspense is gone. The level of interest for your reader might diminish.

The anticipation of the bang — that’s what you want to focus on, and control. The bang can come later. Hell, the bang doesn’t even have to happen.

Keep your readers in your grasp from beginning to end by making them anticipate the bang, and never let them go.

Yes, eventually you do need to show your cards. You can’t write a 300-page horror novel where the reader anticipates something for 290 pages… and in the end, you give them nothing. You do need something. Some kind of bang that resonates and that satisfies.

But be smart about how you utilize suspense in your fiction, whatever kind of genre you may write in.

2. “The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.”

A fantastic and memorable antagonist can make or break your story. I think long hard every time before I begin a new novel about my villain. About what he or she wants. About why he or she wants it. A lackluster villain in your story, or no villain at all, will bring it down considerably.

And if your villain is just evil for evil’s sake, that doesn’t work either. We all have our viewpoints. Our motivations. There should be a reason your antagonist is going after what he or she wants. And it should go totally against what your protagonist wants.

Great antagonists make for great drama.

They make your stories compelling from beginning to end, especially when we desperately want the protagonist to overcome the antagonist by any means necessary.

Write a great villain, and you’re already halfway there, trust me.

3. “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.”

Alfred Hitchcock often talked about his fear of the police. As a child he was put in a jail cell for a few minutes, and it scarred him for life. He never got a driver’s license. He never drove a car. He didn’t want a policeman to ever pull him over and haul him off to jail.

So what did Hitchcock do with these fears? He put them in his films. Look at his most famous movie Psycho, in which a police officer trails poor Marion Crane as she leaves town with 40,000 dollars. Look at the themes in many of his films — an innocent man wrongfully accused.

Hitchcock shared his fears with us, and in doing so made his movies rich and memorable.

You should do the same thing for your writing. What are you afraid of? What are you deep down totally terrified of? What are you scared to talk about to other people? Share your fears in your writing. Dig deep into them. They don’t have to be obvious — like fear of death or fear of monsters.

It can be fear of abandonment. Or fear of being unloved. Whatever it is, look deep inside yourself and come up with a story that deals with those fears. Your writing will take off like you never imagined.

4. “Drama is life with the dull bits left out.”

The one thing I love about movies, especially Alfred Hitchcock movies, is that most filmmakers do away with the boring bits and give us only the parts of great drama. We don’t see the person walk out of the house, get in the car, drive across town, get out of the car, walk into the other house. We go straight from one house to the other, and the drama happening therein.

Your writing should work like this, too. A novel can be as long as you want. You don’t have the constraints of a two-hour feature film. You can describe everything in great detail. You can write dialogue scenes that go on for fifteen pages or more.

But you know what makes great writing? Cutting out the dull bits and giving us all the drama.

Just because you can put everything into your story doesn’t mean you should.

Give us only part of the conversation. Cut away from the description and get us to the heart of the scene.

You don’t have to write your novel like a screenplay, but always, always, always think about your story as if it were a movie. Would the scene in Chapter 12 be in the film adaptation? Why or why not? If you lose the scene, does the story change at all?

These are questions worth asking. When in doubt, remember that you want your story to be captivating for the reader. Anything less should be revised or removed.

5. “In films murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man.”

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s weaker films, 1966’s Torn Curtain, has an extraordinary sequence. Two people attempt to murder a man, and the scene goes on, and on, and on, and on. They try everything. The villain still gets up and comes after them. It takes minutes on end for the heroes to finally put an end to him. Even though the film itself isn’t very memorable, this sequence certainly is.

And I think about it whenever I’m writing a scene in one of my novels when a character is killed. Whether it’s the protagonist, or the antagonist, or a side character — doesn’t matter.

Murder is never easy, especially if the character doing the murder has never attempted it before.

One of my recent young adult horror novels has two brothers on the run from a trio of homicidal creatures from a nightmare world, and at more than one point in the story one or both of the main characters has to take down a creature by any means necessary.

These scenes are never easy for my two protagonists. They use every weapon they can find. They struggle, and struggle some more. It takes collaboration and ingenuity for them to take down one of the villains in a gruesome and horrifying motel sequence, and even then they’re not completely certain if the evil creature is dead.

If you have a murder in your story, show the messiness of it, the difficulty of it. And show the messiness of things that aren’t murders, too. Never let something be easy for your protagonist to accomplish. The more difficult it is, the more the reader will come to be invested in your story.

6. “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

Alfred Hitchcock enjoyed playing his audiences like a piano. Making them laugh one minute and scream the next.

You know what he also did? He made his viewers suffer. In a great way, not a bad way. In the way that compelling drama is made of, in the way that makes you want to keep watching because you have no idea where the story is headed next.

What he means by this quote is that the more your viewer, or reader, is suffering inside, from the anguish of what might happen to the main character he or she loves, from the constant suspense that never lets up, the story itself will only get better and better.

When you can’t put down a book? When it’s so captivating, and you’re so worried about what’s going to happen next?

That’s the magic of storytelling. You’re suffering for those characters you adore, but in a good way.

Don’t let you readers off the hook so easily. Don’t have long scenes where everything is fine. No drama. No conflict.

Instead, make the reader fall in love with your protagonist and then put him or her through the ringer. Make that character suffer greatly.

Hitchcock did this with Joan Fontaine in Suspicion, and Farley Granger in Strangers on a Train, and James Stewart in Vertigo, and Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

The list goes on and on. When you have a connection to the main character, you want everything to go his or her way. And when it doesn’t, when the horror comes, when the unthinkable happens, the story grabs you and never lets go.

Make the audience suffer, just like Alfred Hitchcock did, and there’s no telling the kind of amazing work you’ll be able to achieve!

Posted in Film, Screenwriting, Writing

10 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Screenwriter


Although my focus for the past ten years has been writing novels, I have also attempted writing screenplays from time to time, first when I lived in Los Angeles and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University, and second when I spent the last eighteen months, sort of on a whim, writing three different feature-length screenplays that I’ve since sent out into the world.

Screenwriting is a whole different beast than novel writing, and I thought I would share with you ten things I’ve learned over the years that you should absolutely know if you want to give a screenwriting career a go…

1. Learn the basics first.

It’s in your best interest before you dive in to buy a few craft books on screenwriting and learn the basics. Learn what scene headers are. Learn how long each scene should be (usually 2–3 pages). Learn how long a screenplay should be (on average, 100 to 110 pages). Essentially learn how a screenplay should look. Buy the right software (Final Draft). Before you figure out the story you want to tell, learn the basics of screenwriting first.

2. Read lots and lots of screenplays.

The other thing you should do before writing your first screenplay is read lots and lots of scripts. As many as you can stand. Scripts that have been made into movies, the good and the bad. Scripts that have never been made. Old scripts. New scripts. Anything. There are plenty of web sites that have hundreds of free screenplays at your disposal, like Simply Scripts and Drew’s Script-o-Rama. You’ll be a better screenwriter if you’re well read in screenplays, and you will have more confidence moving forward.

3. A career in screenwriting is almost impossible if you don’t live in Los Angeles.

This is something else worth considering. It’s sad but true: for the most part, you’ll struggle getting your career as a screenwriter going anywhere if you don’t live in L.A. There are exceptions, of course. You can write screenplays from anywhere, sure, and if your work is stellar, you will get recognized. But it is expected of you to at least make the trip to L.A. from time to time to take meetings and pitch your ideas, and the farther away you live from Los Angeles the more difficult this will be.

4. Write an outline of every scene in detail before you begin writing the actual screenplay.

I only write a limited outline when it comes to my novels, but when it comes to my screenplays, I write out every single scene before I begin. The reason this is so essential is that, unlike novels, screenplays have such a strict structure. You can’t just write 160 pages, or 76 pages. The screenplay, even the first draft, should come in somewhere between 95 and 115 pages, and if you have a clear outline to work from, this important goal will be met. Also, it’s always super helpful to sit down at the computer every day knowing the two or three scenes you’re going to be writing.

5. It’s important to write a marketable screenplay, not just any screenplay.

When it comes to novels, you can essentially attempt any kind of story you want, but in screenplays, your options aren’t as numerous. When it comes to a screenplay, you need to understand the market. What genres do well financially? What are harder sells for a newbie screenwriter? What markets might your screenplay be aimed at in the future? These are questions you should absolutely ask yourself before you begin writing. It will be a waste of time if you spend the next six months writing and revising a screenplay that has no market value.

6. Screenwriting competitions are, for the most part, a waste of time and money.

There are exceptions, of course. If you win one of the big competitions like Nicholl or Big Break or Austin Film Festival, you will make contacts and potentially be able to sell your script. However, the problem with most competitions is that they cost a lot of money (usually $50 and up), and odds of being in the top ten, let alone the winner, are so outrageously unlikely due to the fact that there are thousands of submissions being reviewed. When it comes to screenwriting competitions, you can spend $500 easy, and then receive nothing in return. If you are going to submit to competitions, do your research, and pick two or three you feel you might have the best chance in, and that offer something significant if you win.

7. Script listing sites are similarly a waste of time and money.

The big ones are Inktip and The Black List. Apparently some screenwriters have found success on one or the other, but from the experience I’ve had and the research I’ve done, they’re mostly just ways for people to prey on naive screenwriters by taking your money. Again, if you feel like you have a super marketable script and want to take a shot at one or the other, feel free, but keep in mind that six months later you might have paid $100 or more for nothing in return.

8. It’s almost impossible to sign with a literary agent as a new screenwriter. Instead, a literary manager is your best option.

When it comes to novel writing, literary agents are your best options, but when it comes to screenwriting, you want to query literary MANAGERS, not literary agents. Literary agents in the film world won’t look at your work without a manager. So if you feel your screenplay is the best it can be and you want to find representation, the best thing to do is send a short letter to literary managers that are open to unsolicited queries. You can find their e-mails on (a service that costs $149 a year). You might be able to find their contact info elsewhere, but has worked the best for me. You won’t hear from many of them, but, if you’re lucky, a select few might reach out and ask to read your screenplay! So make sure your script is ready before you query.

9. Your screenplay probably won’t get made into a movie.

This is the hardest one to take in, but it’s simply the truth. Thousands and thousands of scripts are written and registered with the WGA every year (by the way, you need to register your script with the WGA! It’s only $20 and lasts for five years, so do it to protect yourself.) Of those, only a few hundred are purchased, let alone made into an actual movie. The odds are not on your side. If you’re lucky, you might place well at a screenwriting competition, or sign with a literary manager, or, if you’re super, super lucky, you might even sell your screenplay! But the odds of actually getting to the point where your screenplay is turned into a movie is rare. Super rare. Which is why…

10. If you want to be a screenwriter, you need to write lots and lots of screenplays.

You can’t just write one screenplay, send it out, and wait for the money to pour in. You can’t write write one script and think your life is about to change. If you’re compelled to be a screenwriter, by all means, go for it and start writing! But realize you’re going to have to write lots and lots of scripts. Ten, or fifteen, or even twenty — that’s right — before your luck might change. Again, there are exceptions of the occasional wunderkinds who write the perfect script the first time out and find representation and make good money, but those people are few and far between. Yes, you’re probably going to need to write ten scripts or more. And if that scares you or bothers you, screenwriting might not be for you.

In the end, if you’re serious about screenwriting, you’re going to have to be in it for the long haul. Accept that. EMBRACE that. Have fun with it! And never give up.

Posted in Film

The Sandra Bullock Files #48: Bird Box (2018)


The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

Since following Sandra Bullock’s long career since I saw Speed at the age of nine, there were always a few things I hoped she would get to do in her upcoming film projects. For instance, I wanted her to work with truly great directors, which she almost rarely got to do. It wasn’t until her terrific performance in Crash that she finally received some much overdue critical notices for her dramatic acting, and it wasn’t until winning an Oscar for The Blind Side that some great directing talent finally stepped up, namely Stephen Daldry and Alfonso Cuaron. For nearly twenty years I waited and waited for Sandra to participate in a brilliant, groundbreaking movie, and I finally got it in 2013 with Gravity, still one of my favorite films of late.

Her output since Gravity has been more misses than hits, although I’ve enjoyed a lot of what both Our Brand is Crisis and Ocean’s Eight have to offer. Our Brand is Crisis gave Sandra one of her best and more daring roles ever, and Ocean’s Eight is a blast from beginning to end, an entertaining flick that’s no masterpiece but is still certainly time well spent. Apart from seeing her work with great directors and making at least one superb, Oscar-winning film, there was one more thing I hoped to see Sandra do one day. She’d flirted with the genre in subpar films like Murder by Numbers and Premonition, and one of her first break-out roles was in the genre film The Vanishing, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. But really, Sandra had never made a great thriller, and she’d never come close to my all-time favorite movie genre — the horror film. That all changed this year, of course, with her newest movie, Bird Box, which premiered December 21st not in your local movie theater, but on Netflix.

Based on the 2014 novel of the same title by Josh Malerman, Bird Box tells of a woman named Malorie who suddenly finds herself in a new terrifying world where opening your eyes outside kills you, and fast. When people everywhere look outside, they see their deepest, darkest fears manifested in something before them, and what usually follows is suicide. A few months pregnant, and scared beyond imagining, she finds shelter in a man’s home, one with windows completely covered, one that seems to be safe for anyone who dwells there. But then bad things happen, most of them outside of her control, and years later she finds herself taking two children on a treacherous journey on a rowboat down a river, hopefully to somewhere where she and the two young ones will finally have a chance to survive.

Bird Box should be a total delight to Sandra Bullock fans; it sure was to me. How cool of her at this point in her career to take on a scary, intense genre film, one that she is front and center in from the first scene to the last. This is in no way a typical Sandra performance. She’s mean, she’s tough, she wields a shotgun, and a whole load of other weapons. She screams at two little children in one scene after the next, and she always tells the adults in the room what she thinks of them when they’re making mistakes. This is one of her boldest performances, one that she commits to from the beginning to the end, and it offers, easily, some of the best acting of her career. She could have phoned it for another five years, sleepwalked through a role the way she sort of does in Ocean’s Eight, a fun movie that doesn’t really give her much to do. In Bird Box, she inhabits a flawed, complicated character, not only a woman stuck in a dystopian world where you can’t look outside, but also a woman who never wanted to be a mother and has suddenly found herself pregnant and uncertain, and more alone than ever before. The two timelines in the movie offer completely different sides to her character, and it’s a joy to watch Malorie evolve the way she does.

Now, unlike her recent Our Brand is Crisis, which has a great Sandra performance in an otherwise so-so movie, Bird Box works, and works beautifully. Oscar-winning director Suzanne Bier, who made the brilliant movie Brothers from 2005 (my favorite film I ever saw at the Sundance Film Festival), made the right choice in not aiming necessarily for huge scares and big gruesome set pieces. She keeps this story instead focused entirely on Malorie, showing us the terror of this new world through her eyes, and it makes the journey all the more compelling. Bier has put together an impressive cast and crew, starting with a group of supporting actors that make this movie truly pop off the screen. One of our finest actress Sarah Paulson, who just co-starred in Ocean’s Eight with Sandra earlier this year, plays her sister at the film’s beginning and offers a masterclass in acting in just a few short minutes. Paulson’s final scene outside of the car is probably the film’s most horrifying moment. Other great actors in the film include Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, and John Malkovich, who all bring something special to the movie. Vivien Lyra Blair, who plays Girl, and Julien Edwards, who plays Boy, are equally strong as the two children, always believable in their many tension-filled scenes on the river.

The film also looks and sounds amazing. From that incredible opening shot of the camera descending toward the water, I was taken by Bird Box’s gorgeous cinematography by Salvatore Totino. I loved all the little details we get, like shots from inside the blindfolds when the characters are running outside, and the massive sweep of that river, especially when Malorie and the kids reach the rapids. Some might think that because this film premiered on Netflix that the production might have tried to cut corners, but such is not the case with this film; it looks spectacular. The sound work is superb as well, and I particularly loved the eerie score provided by two of my favorites, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who scored David Fincher’s last three features.

As great of a team that was assembled for this movie is, though, none of it would have mattered much without Sandra’s incredible performance. She’s been my favorite actress for going on twenty-five years now, I wrote a book about her films, I got to meet her twice (once at The Lake House premiere in Los Angeles, and once at a tribute gala in Santa Barbara). For so many years I wanted her to be in better movies, wanted her to take risks as a performer. Since she won her Academy Award, she has been impressing me more and more in movie after movie, and while Ocean’s Eight left a little to be desired, she has returned in full force in Bird Box. This is her movie, this her story, and she was the perfect actress to bring the character of Malorie to life.

Sandra really has been on one hell of a ride for the past thirty-one years — and she’s enjoyed one hell of a career. When in the early 2000s it looked like she would languish in romantic comedy hell forever, she finally broke through in films like Crash, Infamous, and The Blind Side to become an actress who is finally being taken seriously. While Speed remained her best movie for nearly two decades, that terrific action film was finally eclipsed by Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece, Gravity. When many doubted she would ever be considered for a major award nomination, she was nominated and won the Oscar for The Blind Side, and then was nominated again just four years later for Gravity. And with her newest film Bird Box, now available on Netflix, she shows us once again why she’s one of the very best in the business. Sandra Bullock is a worldwide treasure, and as she continues on, starring in hopefully many more films to come, expect me to be there rooting her on every step of the way.


Best Scene: The car going out of control, Malorie and her sister inside.

Best Line: “Every single decision I have made has been for them.”

Fun Facts

Sandra’s first horror film.

Sandra’s first film to premiere on Netflix.

Sandra previously co-starred with Sarah Paulson earlier this year in Ocean’s Eight.

Sandra has said in interviews that she was blindfolded on the set of this movie about fifty percent of the time.

Thirty-one years since her 1987 film debut Hangman, Sandra has now starred in more than fifty projects to date.

Posted in Film, Writing

How to Use a Famous Setting in Your Fiction


Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

You’ve seen the scenario before: he wants to pretend like it’s any other day and throw an action flick into the DVD player, and she wants to play a double feature of the most romantic movies ever following a candlelit dinner at Café de le Paix. What’s a way to leave both members satisfied in this scenario? This coming Valentine’s Day, the best kind of movie to watch together is one of the more rare of genres: the action romance! Here are five alternative Valentine’s Day movies worth watching…

5. Breakdown (1997)

Jonathan Mostow’s under-rated action gem is at the heart a love story, with everyman Kurt Russell on the hunt for his missing wife, played by Kathleen Quinlan. The film is pure suspense throughout.

4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The best of Sam Raimi’s trilogy has some of the most exciting action scenes of the previous decade, but what really makes the second installment memorable is that dizzyingly romantic finale.

3. True Romance (1993)

Someone once asked Quentin Tarantino if he’d ever make a love story, and he responded by saying he’d already made one — Tony Scott’s True Romance. The title is appropriate, with the thrilling, unpredictable action working as background to the center relationship between Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.

2. True Lies (1994)

James Cameron has said that every movie that he has made is at the heart a love story, and that’s very true of this modern comedy action classic he wrote and directed three years before Titanic. Jamie Lee Curtis is as sexy as she is hilarious in the role of Helen, wife to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spy protagonist.

1. North By Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock’s most accessible film, and certainly the most visually exciting of all his thrillers, North By Northwest, starring the charismatic Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, is winning from beginning to end for both action movie buffs and romantics at heart.

Watching Like a Writer

Something Alfred Hitchcock loved to do was think of an exciting scenario that could take place in a well-known setting (think the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur and beneath the Golden Gate in Vertigo) and then figure out the circumstances surrounding it. It’s absurd that North by Northwest’s climax finds the two leads running across the faces of Mount Rushmore — and yet it works! This strategy of Hitchcock’s, one of many of his that fascinate me, is something I’d love to try in one of my short stories or novels.


Think of a famous setting that you’d love to use in an action sequence in your fiction. What would it be?

Posted in Film, Writing

Why Stories about Family are Worth Writing


Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Diane Keaton has been a national treasure for the better part of five decades. She’s done a great mix of prestige dramas, like The Godfather and Reds, and classic Hollywood comedies, like The First Wives Club and Father of the Bride. And, oh yeah, I got to meet her last year!

She’s made a whole lot of movies, but here are the best she’s made in her long career…

5. The First Wives Club (1996)

This is the perfect ‘90s comedy for fans of Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler. There’s nothing more fun than watching a group of scorned women take revenge, and the charm of all three actresses add to the endless rewatchability of this movie. The final musical number is one of those moments that should feel indulgent but ends up being surprisingly joyful.

4. Father of the Bride I & II (1991, 1995)

It’s difficult to choose the favorite of these two movies; since they work as companion pieces, it’s necessary to include them both. Keaton’s chemistry with Steve Martin is so winning it’s hard to believe the two didn’t make any other movies together. The first installment is the better film, with a more well-rounded story and a more emotional core. But the second installment is funnier, with Martin at his hilarious best trying to stay relevant in his middle age when his daughter announces she’s pregnant. These are two of the most charming comedies of the 1990s.

3. Marvin’s Room (1996)

This underrated gem from 1996 stars four of our finest actors. Keaton and Meryl Streep co-star as sisters who have never stayed close, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Streep’s troubled son and Robert DeNiro as a bumbling doctor. Keaton gets to really flex her acting muscle in this one, playing a woman who’s devoted her whole life to her ailing father while at the same time battling a cancer of her own. There are numerous scenes of great power in this film, and the ending is truly bittersweet. If you’ve never seen Marvin’s Room, you should do yourself a favor and check this one out.

2. Annie Hall (1977)

Woody Allen’s masterpiece has as its centerpiece Diane Keaton’s warmest, most joyous performance, one that rightfully earned her a Best Actress Oscar. It’s hard to believe this film was originally conceived as a murder mystery with some romantic comedy thrown in! Although everything Allen made with Keaton is great, especially Sleeper and Interiors, Annie Hall is his finest hour, telling of the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship in memorably witty detail.

1. The Godfather I & II (1972, 1974)

Keaton has been a working actor for half a century, but her three best films all came out in the 1970s. While Part III has its moments, the first two installments are pure genius. Keaton plays the naïve wife of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, who over the course of the two movies discovers just what the kind of terrible life she’s gotten herself, not to mention her children, into. My favorite Keaton scene by far is at the end of Part II when she yells at Michael about what she felt forced to do because of his awful behavior. She is a powerhouse in these movies, the first two films easily the best of her career.

Watching Like a Writer

Watching The Godfather films recently, I started to think about tackling a large, ambitious novel that deals with a family. Showing how that family interacts with each other, the mistakes they make, the dreams they go after, the tragedies that occur, the love that never stops, is something I know I’d love to explore one day in a longer work, maybe not anytime soon, but someday. I wouldn’t want to write a mafia story, but I’d definitely love to write about a family that has at least a few of its members working in a business some might find controversial. Whatever I end up doing down the road, I’d want to capture the love and loyalty that exists among the large family in The Godfather films and show that no matter how flawed the characters are and how potentially evil they can be, the family does everything it can to stay together and find common ground with one another.


Pitch me an idea for a story or novel centered around a family. What kind of family would it be? What era would the story exist in?