Monday, October 16, 2006

Adventure Camp

Drugs can do strange things to a person. My buddy Rodney, for instance, once got so dusted on PCP that he was convinced he could jump his wheelchair to the moon. He spent the night building a ramp out of particleboard he’d pinched from the site of a partially constructed strip mall. Lord knows how he was able to drag all that wood down to the ravine in such a short span of time. PCP super-strength I guess. Unfortunately, the super powers did not extend to his wheelchair jumping abilities. He managed to get a good 15 feet in the air – impressive – but not enough to convince gravity to let him reach the moon. He fell down into the ravine and ended up breaking his spine in three places, paralyzing the parts of him that hadn’t already been paralyzed. On the bright side, Medicare gave him one of those Stephen Hawking computers that let you talk like a robot. We've killed many a post-NFL Sunday afternoon making crank calls on the voiceputer, telling people we're terminators from the future (and you'd be surprised how many people out there actually BELIEVE in terminators from the future – kudos to James Cameron for stealing an idea from Harlan Ellison which years later still resonates with the general public). Crank calls are like finger-banging 10th graders; you never quite grow out of it. Even Rodney admits, it almost makes the whole quadriplegic deal worth it.

My sister’s another matter. Evelyn took some acid at a Grateful Dead show and saw Jesus. Nothing so unusual about that; hell, I once did 13 whip-its in a row and saw Jesus, Mohammed and Michael McDonald riding on a tandem bike, singing a barbershop rendition of Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." Unfortunately Evelyn took her heavenly hallucinating to heart. Even after an evening of running through the Crisco Dome parking lot naked screaming, "Christ is the answer," to the hippies whom she thought were giant mechanical flying beavers, even after gulping OJ in the back of a VW camper with Bob Weir's personal trip guide until she came down enough to comprehend time as both linear and perpetually in motion, even after a 30-day stint in the County psyche ward where they pumped her full of anti-psychotics until she finally stopped smearing crucifixes on the walls in her own poop, Evelyn remained steadfast in her conviction that she'd been hand-picked by J.C. to carry out his work. Evelyn swore off the drugs, swore off the hooking and accepted Jesus in her heart as her personal savior in front of the entire First Church of Christ's Good News congregation. I didn't hear from Evelyn for a few years after that. She'd joined her church's ministry and was traveling the world doing missionary work (ironic, since Evelyn's previous job required a lot of missionary work, as well as some doggie-style and reverse cowgirl). When I finally got her call I thought for sure Rodney had figured out how to change the voice patch on his Hawking box and was giving me a taste of my own delicious medicine. But nope, it was Evelyn alright, asking me to teach a screenwriting course at Adventure Camp.

Adventure Camp was the First Church of Christ's Good News' way of reaching out to troubled youth and schooling them about the power of Jesus. They held it every summer on some land that had been graciously donated to them by a neo-Nazi militia group out in South Dakota. The camp's activities were pretty standard: arts and crafts, canoeing, tee-pee making, and of course fire bombing local abortion clinics. But this year the First Church wanted to add something different to their agenda. After the rampant success of religious films like The Omega Code and Mad Max's Passion of the Jesus the ministry realized that anti-Semitic tracts and Molotov cocktails weren't the only ways to spread the Loving Message of the Holy Savior. Sure, those standards were tried and true, but in the age of internets and DVD's nothing spread the Good Word faster than moving pictures. And seeing as I was an actual screenwriter who'd taken four actual meetings with four actual studio executives, I was the first person on their list to teach those little Jehovah-lovin' juveniles the nuts and guts of Showbiz. Right behind the guy who directed Ice Pirates anyway, and he'd already said no.

I was initially hesitant. I never cared much for Bible-thumpers, but more importantly I was a firm believer in that old adage: "Those who can do; those who can't teach screenwriting at religious camps." But soon after Evelyn told me about the $1000 stipend, I had a change of heart. Who was I to keep all this knowledge to myself? Shouldn't I do for these kids what I wished someone had done for me, and pass along the wisdom I'd gleaned from those 2 long years of Hollywood hard knocks? At worst my mentoring might save them the trouble of orally servicing every lit agent who frequents the Boys Cellar glory hole; or at least the ones who work at Gersh. What the hell, I thought. I quickly checked South Dakota's age of consent laws and called Evelyn back to tell her I'd take the gig.

I did question my judgment on the long ride from the airport to the campgrounds. My driver Elmer was a swastika-tattooed skinhead who hated Hollywood types more than he hated people with skin pigment. I was sweating bullets when he told me I had "Jew eyes" and asked repeatedly if I associated with "chicken-loving moon crickets, like in the rap videos." But I was instantly reassured once introduced to the largely female, largely breasted teens who comprised my class. My first order of business was assigning the job of teacher's aide to the two most largely-breasted of the lot – Tiffany and Sharlene – and issuing them their mandatory teacher's aide thong bikinis. Then I smoked a little pot – just enough to take the edge off my coke hangover – put on some mood-music (Loggins and Messina of course), and proceeded to dazzle the class with a few Tinsel Town anecdotes:

I told them about the time I saved Eric Roberts from Albanian terrorists who wanted to use his testosterone to fuel an ICBM missile they were going to shoot at the moon. I told them about the time I helped Craig T. Nelson and Joel Silver bury the hooker they'd accidentally decapitated at the Action Jackson premiere after-orgy. I told them about the time I jury-rigged a heart fibulator using a Tiffany's desk lamp and roll of pennies and pulled Elisabeth Shue back from the arms of the reaper after she'd OD'ed on biker meth in Courtney Thorne-Smith's hot tub. Then, once the God Squad had been sufficiently seduced by my tales of Hollywood Adventure, I rolled up my sleeves and proceeded to teach them the adages to which I owe it all: MY TEN RULES OF SUCCESFUL SCREENWRITING.

Rule # 1: Your Protagonist Must Always Be A Heterosexual Male (Preferably With a Scar)

This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many aspiring screenwriters are out there trying to write the next Thelma and Louise or Brokeback Mountin.’ Empowered rape victims and cock-gobbling cowboys are great characters if you want to get a feature piece written about you in Harper’s or Out Magazine, but if you’re trying to write a movie people will actually watch you’d better make your hero believable, i.e. male and straight as the day is long. You think some skirt’s gonna battle to the death with a slimy, carnivorous space ALIEN? You think some quiche-eating, poncy fu-fu is gonna save the Earth from a nefarious race of pod-creatures bent on waging a WAR OF THE WORLDS? Yeah right. The scar, while technically optional, should only be left out if the main character is a cyborg and/or has super-skin that is impervious to damage. Because any real man capable of delivering the goods will have SOME sort of visible scar. You think you get to the point of your life where you’re a down-and-out cop fed up with the system who decides to take the law into his own hands without getting slashed with a straight-razor at least ONCE? Fuck no. Scars are what separate the men from the boys.

Rule # 2: Your Female Love Interest Must Have Large Breasts

Your protagonist is about take on a battalion of robot ninjas in order to save the senator’s daughter who’s strapped to a thermo-nuclear warhead which is five minutes away from detonating. Do you honestly think he’d be doing this if said damsel were flat-chested?

Rule # 3: Give Your Characters Names

Simply referring to your main characters as DUDE WITH SCAR and CHICK WITH BIG TITS is not enough. In order for the audience to make an emotional investment in your characters, they should have names like actual human beings (and this holds true even for cyborgs). When naming characters I usually take someone I know and give them a clever spin. For instance Dennis Mattingly was the name of my old foreman at the shoe factory, the one who fired me for allegedly sniffing the adhesive we used to attach the soles to our knock-off Pumas. So when I needed a name for the villain in my spec script Angry Heat, I thought of that old drunk bastard and Satan-worshipping bio-terrorist DENNIS FAGGOTLY was born. You’ll note that I changed the spelling just enough so the asshole can’t sue me. Fuck you, Dennis! I win!

Rule # 4: Make A Cool Drawing For the Cover Sheet

You think the creative execs reading your script want to see the same old boring white piece of paper with the title and contact information printed legibly in 12-point courier? Fuck no. Which is why for Deep Vengeance I spent two whole days drawing up a scimitar-wielding centaur disemboweling a dragon on top of an exploding volcano. Were there any centaurs or dragons or volcanoes in Deep Vengeance? Fuck no. But it was the most bitching drawing I’d done since the sketch of Iron Maiden’s Eddie on the back of my 8th grade science book. The script didn’t sell, but I got many compliments vis-à-vis the detailed line-work on the dragon’s leathery wings.

Rule # 5 – Rule # 10

I don’t have any hard and fast rules for 5 through 10. I generally just make it up as I go along. I couldn’t tell you what I made up for the kids at Adventure Camp. After rule #4 I blacked out and woke up six weeks later in a dumpster behind the Van Nuys Denny’s. But I did manage to leave quite the impression on the youngsters in my class. In fact, I scared the living shit out of them. As it turns out, the joint I’d smoked before the lecture had been one of Rodney’s “illies” soaked in embalming fluid and PCP. According to Evelyn, after attempting (and thankfully failing) to cut off my own cock with a protractor, I set fire to a stack of Jack Chick anti-evolution tracts and ran out of the room screaming “monkey fire hydrant” at the top of my lungs. Drugs can do strange things to a person. But at least I made an easy thousand bucks and -- more importantly -- was able to touch the hearts and minds of some of today's youth. Well, not JUST their hearts and minds. Which, thanks to South Dakota's lax age of consent law, is PERFECTLY legal. Huzzah!


Anonymous said...

Rule #8 - this blog entry is genius. Go Dennis!

Jeff said...

Goddamn. That is some funny shit.

Jeff said...

I know, man. I know. Getting out there is definitely a goal of mine for the next year.

BTW, I'm the one that caused the vagina shitstorm over on Mazin's site.

Maybe that Miriam chick has a labia canyon.