Backyard Explorations: Hike to the Hollywood Sign

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Now that I live here, it may be time to do some local tourist attractions. I went to a live taping of The Voice a few weeks ago, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Or really talk about it, other than to say we did it. So.

The iconic symbol for everything glamorous

The iconic symbol for everything glamorous

Today I’ll show you pictures of the big hike (I use the term loosely – more of a metaphor than an actual fact) up Mt Lee Drive to the tippy top of Hollywood. As hikes go, it’s a pretty easy climb. It’s a little less than two miles each way, most of it paved, and the steep uphill bits are interspersed with plateaus.

The hardest parts were the stench of horsey poo and the flies that really wanted to lick our sweat. Blech.

Tips to other explorers: make sure to bring water, sunglasses and sunscreen. You’re either in full shade or full sun all along the way, and I don’t know about you but I don’t need any extra problems when I’m trying to walk uphill.


This is the closest we could get and still actually see the sign. So I took two shots for good measure.


It took us about 40 minutes to climb to the top, and we saw several more tanned and svelte citizens beating us there and jogging back down well before we made it. But we didn’t give up. No sir.

The quintessential tale of dream-chasing persistence.


To the right, the reservoir

We made it! Got to see the world from up high. What a beautiful day, well spent.


To the left, downtown Los Angeles

Did you do something new this weekend? Did you take a picture?

Backyard Explorations: Smithfield, Virginia

Funny thing about spontaneity – you have to leave space for it. It’s difficult to pick up and go when you’re busy all the time.

I doubt I’m alone in my tendency to occupy every moment of the day. With good stuff, important stuff, but the stuff adds up and before I know it a month’s gone by and I haven’t done anything cool.

So my friend Tessa and I occasionally plan to leave space for doing cool things together. Spontaneously.


Home of the Smithfield ham, and a repository for peanuts and dairy farming, Smithfield, Virginia, is a quiet little place with bits of charm tucked throughout. Specifically the Porcine Parade – a series of eight painted pigs celebrating Smithfield history.

One of the eight pigs on parade - Swine and Roses

One of the eight pigs on parade – Swine and Roses

We bunked at Smithfield Station, a beautiful and comfortable hotel with a view of the lake and a delicious buffet brunch.


It’s a good day to wake up in Smithfield.

Walking around downtown Smithfield is an exercise in cute. From the quirky juxtaposition of architectural styles to the sweet people running the shops, it’s a treat for a quiet weekend. The Smithfield Store fed us ham biscuits and provided a variety of Virginia-themed treats to stock up for later. I got a slab of uncut bacon and some unique varieties of toffee.


Photo op with Ben Franklin (what’s he doing here?)


Just typical cuteness.


These Victorian style houses shared the street with the plainer Colonial variety. A startling combination.


Pretty bird!

It wasn’t exactly the tourist season when we went, so things were a bit silent. But we had a blast gadding about the tiny downtown area – a couple of streets with shops and an art gallery.

We visited the Smithfield museum and learned all about the World’s Oldest Ham (it’s 111 years old… and it has the wrinkles to prove it), as well as the making of the largest ham biscuit ever. It was enormous.

All you’d ever want to know about curing techniques (and being two foodies, we want to know a lot), and a good amount about peanuts. And a replica of an old timey general store, featuring a penny game and lots of badly acted voice recordings depicting pioneer days in southern Virginia.

Or maybe they weren’t badly acted. Maybe people really sound like that 200 years ago.

I guess we’ll never know.

I love cool houses.

I love cool houses.

Being so close to Surry, we skipped down to Bacon’s Castle – which I confess to secretly hoping would be an elaborate pork tower, but in reality is a big house. A big house built by a colonial planter, which was at one time commandeered by the uprisen Nathaniel Bacon in 1675.

I also quite like old houses.

I also quite like old houses.


Saint Luke’s historic cemetery


One last stop at Fort Henry in Virginia Beach – to take a gander at the lighthouse. The historic one is out of operation, but there’s another newer one right next to it. We had some trouble finding it, but the guard at the wrong entrance we went to first was very kind and redirected us.


This is the new one, viewed from the old one.


All around, a fine weekend. Let’s plan to spontaneously go somewhere else cool.

In Process

No two writers are the same. Perhaps the process of creativity is one facet of the work world which is continually elusive, never really containable or describable. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern or formula that we can follow to replicate another’s success.

And yet we keep trying.

It seems I’m always comparing myself to other writers and spectacularly popular artists, trying to glean fresh inspiration and awareness from their example. It works up to a point, but there are only so many books to buy, videos to watch, and classes to take before I just have to sit down and face the page on my own.

I’m reading a fantastic book: The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner. Betsy is a book editor, writing to writers about the magnificent perpelxitude that is a writer’s life.

In a charming style that is so completely relatable, Betsy describes her perception of writers before she chose a profession that would grant her an intimate acquaintance with them – all the zig zaggy foibles, neuroses, and arrogance of them.

Now that she’s seen behind the curtain, those lofty perceptions are gone. But the fact remains that many of us continue clinging to this false perception that other writers are so different, so much more consistent and disciplined, so much more knowledgeable than we are.

We all – every one of us – is in process.

We all struggle sometimes. We all feel highs of elation when a perfect idea comes to us and the story seems to write itself. We all get stuck in the miry clay of creation, with that mysterious shape that could become literally anything. We all wonder if what we’re making will be any good. Or if it will be so good that no one gets it, and our treasured art is going to grace the walls of somebody’s poo palace.

"I may learn to like her. Hang her in my bathroom!" -- Oliver Warbucks

“I may learn to like her. Hang her in my bathroom!” — Oliver Warbucks

Every masterpiece had to start somewhere. There are no straight lines on the graph charting the progress of a creative work – it’s jaggedy and unpredictable. But it’s always an uphill climb.

I’m cultivating a new appreciation for this remarkable, unrepeatable process.

Participating in a writers’ group is a super way to do this. Reading and critiquing the work of my friends (and being read and critiqued myself) allows me to get in on that process, to participate in the despair of a fledgling new script and the exhilaration of watching it morph into something wonderful.

I’ll never forget the first month of my ScreenwritingU class, we had to build a story structure around the germ of a concept for our script, and then share it. As soon as I began reading, my heart sank – how did I get stuck in a class full of terrible writers? This is going to be awful.

Gamely, I considered several offerings from my fellow students and did my best to offer some encouragement and distill my long list of critiques to just a few of the most basic (and – I hope – helpful) suggestions.

Fast forward six months, and I was amazed at how much better everyone’s scripts were turning out!

But you see, it wasn’t that these were bad writers in the first place. They were just in process. They were allowing me to see what they were making before it was finished, before they even knew what it would become.

It’s a sacred privilege, and one that should be embraced carefully.

So if you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed by the latest amazing book/artwork/movie/performance you’ve compared yourself to, please be reassured. You will get there. We will all get there.


How To Write An Amazing Movie

Dear people,

Advice from established writers can be… tricky.

On the one hand, these are the wise who have gone before – I should lap up their shining words like so many drops of water from the fountain of youth.

On the other hand, do I really want more voices in my head telling me what I’m doing wrong and offering guidelines for being better?

When confronted this morning with yet another list of verbal gems from established Hollywood, I intended to bypass it and carry on with my writing. Blithely complying with the oft-repeated wisdom of the wise who have gone before, to simply write. “Writers write.” End of story.

I really needed some fresh enthusiasm though, so I clicked.

Just for a quick skim.

Within seconds I realized what I was reading was not simply the same wise words and inspirational quips that never fail to drive traffic and sell ads. These are stories from real people who struggle with real writing the way I am really struggling with it now. Little fizzes of awakening started zapping through my body, like instinct was meeting experience and being validated. In a way that I really need to be validated at this particular point in my career.

In a way that makes me want to write.

Stories like this one from the writer of Please Give and Enough Said.

Nicole Holofcener: I used to do [note cards], and it really just fucked me up. It would sort of kill the fun, and it would make me realize that I didn’t know how to structure a screenplay. Or I didn’t have the answers that you’re supposed to have when you outline a script, and I figured out somehow that I didn’t need to have the answers. And I would just start writing and see what happens, and usually, what happens is a mess, but a fixable one, and that’s kind of how I start.

Yes! Me too! I keep doing note cards because that is what we’re supposed to do, but maybe it is killing my fun. Maybe I need to come up with a way to do this that is fun for me.

It’s a relationship. Of the long-term variety.

Right? I mean honestly, does this not make sense?

I hope you will read and be encouraged by the rest of the article. Good stuff.

Let’s keep going.

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Traveling Light


I love to travel. I hate to pack. But whenever someone picks me up at the airport, they invariably note my two carry-on bags and say, “Wow, you travel light.”

It was not always this way.

I’m one of those nerds that thinks they’re going to spend an entire week reading. I’m one of those indecisives that thinks they’re going to need clothes to suit every occasion for three different kinds of weather. I’m one of those “fashionistas” (I use the term relatively) that needs four pairs of shoes for one weekend.

But one day I go to a conference with a few coworkers. One of whom has his entire two days’ belongings tucked neatly into a laptop bag. A bag zipped and snapped securely, not misshapen and barely clinging together (as mine would have been).

As I lug my backpack and rolling Samsonite to the car, I gaze enviously at his light and elegant baggage. I am inspired.

Surely if he can distill his weekend necessities to one small bag, so can I.

This is an ever-evolving practice, but I’ve simplified life, conserved energy, and saved some cash with the following travel tips. I hope you like them too.

1. Make a list

Important things seem to pop into my head at inopportune moments. Rather than trying to remember all the stuff I need/want to pack on a trip, I really benefit from keeping a running list. It’s much harder to forget anything important, and much easier to avoid packing the truly unimportant (and weighty/bulky/misery-inducing).

2. Your carry-on

What will you need while traveling? And I mean, really need? Will it all fit in your purse or an easy-to-carry backpack or shoulder bag (that closes)?

I plead with every traveler to do away with the notion that you need a purse and a laptop bag and two or three shopping bags on a plane. Not only is it annoying for everyone you’re traveling with, but it’s such a headache for you. Why do that to yourself?

Streamline this process by taking the important things out of your purse (if you normally carry one), which in the grand scheme will probably boil down to: your wallet.

Put the wallet in your carry-on and pack the purse in your checked bag. That way you are only carrying what you truly need during the flight, and are not beset by half a dozen bags dangling from your appendages as you scurry to make your connecting flight.

I always bring snacks on a flight. A bag of nuts or trail mix and maybe cut fruit will do the trick. These don’t take much space in your carry-on, and won’t go south in un-refrigerated conditions.

I also bring a notebook. Writing is one of my favorite things to do on a plane, and I often get a ton of ideas since I’m just sitting there for hours at a time.

A good book rounds out the inventory, or if you are so blessed as to own an Amazon Kindle, bring it. My Kindle Fire is really a marvelously efficient travel companion, with storage for as many books as I wish to borrow, buy, or check out from the library. I can also listen to music and watch movies on it. It’s now a necessity (and I really mean that, no one paid me to write it).

Toss in a lip balm and a brush and I’m ready to fly. Without pulling my shoulder out of socket lugging my junk all around the airport.

3. Your wardrobe

In my experience, the bulk of my suitcase is filled with clothes. So combining outfits and sharing big accessories (like hats, belts and shoes) can really save space.

For instance, I have three skirts that can be worn with boots. The boots are easy to get on and off, but bulky, so I can wear them on the plane and only need to pack one other pair of shoes for non-boot-appropriate outfits.

It’s like a game. See how many outfits you can create with just a few variables. Rather than packing 7 sweaters, 7 tops, 7 bottoms and 7 pairs of shoes, you can get creative with half the volume.

4. Ship ahead

If you’ve pared your mountain of belongings down to a reasonable level and still find you can’t fit it all in a carry-on, consider mailing the extra. The US Postal Service has a flat-rate box that ships Priority Mail for less than the cost of most bag checking fees.

If it comes down to traveling with two carry-on bags or a carry-on and a checked bag, try mailing the extra items to yourself in your new location. A quick call to the Post Office should give you the skinny on rates and delivery times. Even if no one will be there when your box arrives, you can pick it up from the nearest Post Office within a few days of the initial delivery.

And when all is said and done, try not to sweat it. Traveling light is a state of mind as much as it is a state of being. We don’t need to lug all our favorite things from home in order to enjoy the new place we’re going to explore.

It’s a new experience in a new environment. Embrace the possibilities.

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Under Attack!

I did something that I’m kind of intimidated about.

The Screenwriting subReddit (Screddit) threw down a challenge to write a full screenplay every month.

Screddit Attack is a spin off of the now defunct Script Frenzy. Except we’re opening it up to one hour drama’s as well as half hour comedies. To make things fair, writers who wish to write a 30 minute show must write two within the month. It’s a contest against yourself and a way to get all of us to start writing!

“A script in a month?” you say. “Every month?” you say.

Ah, but there are prizes.

courtesy of

For every month that the challenge is successfully met, you get a ribbon. Next to your name. On Reddit. In different colors, depending on how many months you accumulate.

So now the truth comes out – I will do anything for colored ribbons.

Even write a screenplay in a month.

A Mustache for all Occasions

Inspiration is like striking oil – except that you don’t strike it, it strikes you. So I guess you are more like oil, and inspiration is… wait. The point is, inspiration strikes unpredictably. In the same way that striking oil can be unpredictable.

Right…? Well. You know what I mean.

Particularly, I was looking at fonts. Which is a super fun thing to do. has a ton of free ones, and I came across several that I liked, but just as cool and whimsical as the fonts themselves were the font names.


Mustache Gallery – for real. And I had just learned how to animate drawings in Motion, so the two ideas in combination created a powerful visual that must needs come to life.

Resulting in the video below.

“But what does this have to do with screenwriting? Or travel, for that matter?”

Well, probably nothing. But it was really fun to make, I love it, and I hope you do too.


Why I Love Dark Comedy

I’m generally a happy person. I like sunshine and fresh air and music and friends. I literally stop to smell the roses. I wear pink.

So how come when Barton Fink wakes up in the morning to find a dead body beside him, I thrill with fascinated curiosity? Why does Victor Maynard have a special place in my heart? And What is the appeal in any part of In Bruges?

These are the questions that inhabit my thought bubbles.

Dark Comedy is a genre that makes light of serious things – really serious things, like death. Typically the humor is extremely dry – so dry it might not be obvious that it’s supposed to be funny. The British are especially adept at this (Monty Python, anyone?).

If I were to sit down and make a list of things that are funny, none of what I just wrote would even enter my mind. And yet…

1. Dark Comedy is a vicarious outlet. We all experience an occasional sense of hopelessness as regards our ability to control what happens to us. In a Dark Comedy, the hero gets to act on those feelings, take control in a very specific – and final – way.

If I’m annoyed with my boss, I’m not going to plot his demise. But it’s fun to watch other people do it (and ultimately fail, as in Horrible Bosses… but that’s not really the point).

2. Dark humor is sarcastic, dry, and dreadfully smart. Something about the rhetoric-meets-diss just tickles my word-loving funny bones. Oh, the irony.

3. Dark Comedy sheds light on dark things. It takes the bad guy out of the shadows and puts him front and center – and no one can stand up to that kind of scrutiny without eventually belying their weakness.

Villains are only intimidating because we don’t know much about them. They intentionally hide. But take the stuff of nightmares and follow them around their own problems – not so scary. Even Freddy Krueger has to pay rent and eat fiber.

To repeat the wisdom of picture book author Taro Gomi, everyone poops. Everyone.

Lastly, please watch the dark comedy short film I just produced during the LA 48 Hour Film Project.

So what do YOU love about Dark Comedy? Don’t be scared.

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Pitching Your Screenplay

Dear Inktip Pitch Summit,

Your distinguished event is coming up in just over a week, and I’m beginning to sweat. What will happen if I stumble over my words and give a poor presentation? Will I be eaten alive and disgraced forever after?

Sweaty in Palm Beach

Dear Sweaty,

Please don’t fret about your pitch. Some nerves are to be expected, but remember the producers and agents in attendance are regular people just like you, and they just want to hear a good story. 

So simply tell your story and let them react to it. You may find that the simple act of telling it over and over will give you new insights into your characters and make you even more excited to see it brought to the big screen.

Just imagine your star on Hollywood Boulevard… It all begins somewhere!


Dear Inktip,

I’m packing for my trip to Burbank, and am concerned about the dress code. Someone told me people dress up as their characters for the pitch meetings. Should I do that? And where am I ever going to get my hands on a mermaid costume at this late hour?

Finless in Wyoming

Dear Finless,

We don’t know who may have told you to dress like a mermaid, but we highly encourage you to abandon that effort. Simple business casual is preferred.

Of course a pair of seashells is never frowned upon should you wish to save them for the pool.


Captain Jack pitches his script ideas. If a producer doesn’t like it, he’s marooned.

Dear Inktip,

What if I pitch my script and a producer requests to read it? Will I become an overnight success, famous, and rich beyond my wildest dreams?

Dreaming in South Poughkeepsie

Dear Dreaming,



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