Tag Archives: screenwriting

5 things that make The Newsroom work

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu. (This is one of my favorite things to say. It is essentially a prayer hidden in a greeting. It means May the peace, blessings and mercy of Allah be upon you. Beautiful, right?)

So I watched the first season of The Newsroom.

Rarely has television ticked me off that much and fascinated me at the same time.

What ticks me off the most is the utter daftness of most of the characters. I’m trying to acknowledge their complexity but utter daftness is about as far as I can get.

The youngest member of that newsroom seems to be Maggie, who is 26 (same age as me by the way). She has no idea what she wants out of her life. Other than to impress her professional ‘parents’, Mackenzie and Will.

And she is being tossed like a cricket ball (or football, in this country) between Jim and Don.

Don says, “I want to move in with you. Even though I cheated on you. Even though we’ve broken up 50 times in as many days.”

And she says, “Okay.”

Jim says, “You should try and make things work with him.”

She says, “Okay.”

Jim says, “I want to kiss you in the middle of the street.”

She says, “Okay.”

What? Seriously, woman? I  mean seriously?

I just want to smack her upside the head and tell, “Figure it out yourself! Would you prefer to be dating Don or Jim? That’s not a simple yes or no. Why Jim and not Don?”

Girl should be single till she can get her stuff together.  And gain control of her life.

But what upsets me more is that freaking everyone – short of Sloane – has exactly the same neuroses. Even if they know what they want, but they don’t have the gonads to reach for it.

Mackenzie got stabbed in the stomach during a revolution but she can’t go up to Will and tell him she still loves him.

Will has to get high to tell the woman he loves the truth.

After planting a big wet one on Maggie in the middle of the street, Jim has the utter GALL to mew, “I’m with Lisa.” No, you’re not! You just chased Maggie down the street and kissed her!


And I love that Will McEvoy is almost a deity to everyone in the newsroom. By love, I mean puke.

That said, Aaron Sorkin does some things rather well.

I want to roll up my hard-won academic sleeves and take this thing apart.

Note: A lot of the below might seem quite obvious to some of you but I’m still diving into screenwriting so watching some of these rules in action has been a revelation to me.

  1. Call-backs within a scene.

I tried to find the scene where Will invites Mackenzie’s ex Brian to write a feature on Newsroom 2.0, since there was a great Camelot metaphor that occurred at the beginning and the end of the scene.

But this one will have to do.

In this scene, Mackenzie leads with a quote from Cervantez (or the lyricist from the Man of La Mancha) about Don Quixote. The scene ends with her bringing it back to Quixote by calling their shared mission ‘quixotic’.

These can also frame entire episodes.   The movie “Rudy” frames one whole episode. Watch the brilliant set-up and pay-off below:


In this clip, Sloan is teaching Mackenzie about the Glass-Steagall Act. Mackenzie’s mind however is elsewhere – why she ever cheated on Will.

That conversation intrudes briefly into this one.

The two converge at the end of this scene. Parallels between Mackenzie’s infidelity and the repealing of Glass-Steagall are drawn.

It’s downright genius, in my opinion. But I told myself to keep the unqualified praise to a minimum.

3.Per scene, characters act according to a certain rule.

Again this might be awfully obvious. But it isn’t to me.

In the above scene, Sloan is the dry emotionally challenged professorial type. Mackenzie is the distracted, distraught, doesn’t-know-jack-about-economics type. Within the scene, they stay faithful to these rules to a tee.

These characters have obviously shown other sides of themselves. But in this scene, this is all they are. Making Sorkin’s scenes very coherent units by themselves. And making analyzing them quite easy.

4. Character rules become character intentions.

In more active scenes, character intentions remain constant throughout the scene and clash violently with each other.

Such as in the scene above when Mackenzie is trying to motivate Will to make a better news show, whereas Will is trying desperately to protect his ratings at the expense of a well-informed electorate.

Two conflicting intentions + two very verbal characters = juicy dialogue.

The intention in the scene matches the intention in this block of two episodes, which shows Will including a piece in the night’s broadcast about Sarah Palin, just to get ratings up, angering Mackenzie enough to ask him, “Are you in? Or are you out?”

All that jawing and TWO EPISODES ultimately reduced to one simple question.

Will’s arc closed. He’s in. Mackenzie locked in too.

This is all starting to sound very cinematic…

5. Characters inform all of the above.

If I don’t know their rules, or their intentions, I don’t get to write that juicy dialogue or…

6. Great scene buttons!

I really really LOVE the way Aaron Sorkin ends his scenes.  Always on exactly the right note.

Like a concert violinist.

Gah. Okay I’ll stop gushing.

Valentine’s Day frames the conversation.

Maggie’s dialogue rule: Diss Valentine’s Day.

Maggie’s scene intention: Build up Jim by tearing down Lisa.

Scene button: Don comes in with flowers, making her look silly.

If anyone has any other observations, would be thrilled to hear them.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,


4 ways to deal with rejection

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu.

Peace, blessings and mercy of God be on you (in case you didn’t understand the odd assortment of consonants and vowels above).


Didn’t make the Quest.

There’s part of me that wonders what I did wrong.

And there’s a part of me that knows that I did everything I could and then some.

It’s a funny dichotomy, that. Feels almost schizophrenic. But it’s a good thing – if the outside world doesn’t validate my work, I’m learning to validate myself.

So what did I do in order?

1.       Misery loves company – but only for a while.

I spent a little time among other non-Quest participants on the Black Board. Some ate pie and wept. My poison was blueberry streusel muffins.

Blueberry streusel muffins

These are blasted good. And if you want to offset the delayed gratification of screenwriting with some immediate gratification – there’s nothing like baking.

And eating.

Alhamdulillah (thank God) for muffins.

2.       Congratulate myself on how far I’ve come.

I looked back in horror at the absolute nonsense I sent to Scott last year LOL.

I really have learned a lot. Much more to learn, for sure. But I’ve definitely made great strides by the grace of God.

3.       Make a big goal (thank you Shaula Evans, mod of the Black Board, for this one).

I need to hit the ground running.

That means having at least one feature script on the Black Board by March next year and a total of 4 completed screenplays by then too – well at least three worth talking about. The first one, like my first attempt at the Quest, is rather embarrassing.

I’d also like to get one of my shorts made – either by myself or someone else. A couple of people are interested in some of my short screenplays. I’m going to ride that wave plus explore other beaches.

I really like beating these metaphors to death, huh?

I’m currently rewriting my second feature. Structure is my main focus with this draft. One mouthful of that elephant at a time.


We got two new cork boards at the thrift store and a garage sale for two more projects.

Why would people give away cork boards? Don’t they know they’re gold? In any case, Alhamdulillah for thrift stores and garage sales.

4.       Back to work.

It’s funny being my own boss. I don’t know how to reward myself. Whether to reprimand or pat myself on the back. I do alright most days.

Though alright is definitely not good enough.

And I’m noticing I have resistance over certain projects, mostly because of fear of rejection. Those are the ones I need to ride myself about.

Yes, it helps being a bit schizo when you’re an as-yet unproduced screenwriter.

You don’t need to be a writer to face rejection.

Please share anything you’ve learned on your way to greatness in your field. How to roll with the punches.

Watching Rocky might be a good idea right now.

Much love, lovelies.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah (More peace and go with God)


Babies and bathwater, or, 4 ways to be kind to your screenplay

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

‘Sup, homies.

So I’m on my third draft of my screenplay. Haven’t written any pages of it, since a thorough analysis of my structural scaffolding is in order.

It’s 186 pages long and there might be a lot of good things in there, but they are really buried.

At the moment, I’m going through my screenplay with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out what each scene says about my cast of characters.

At best, they say nothing at all.

At worst, they say the same thing over and over again. Or nothing surprising.

The bits that I thought were really clever were sometimes very jarring. Or not clever at all. Cleverness in fact occurred in odd and unexpected places. Such is the beauty of writing.

Yes, perhaps I’m being unduly hard on myself.

But I really don’t think I am.

In any case, last week, I had a severe case of this-is-never-going-to-work-itis and a timely reminder from Jeffrey Lieber, showrunner, that I should check the bath-water for babies.

And I wonder – how do I do that?

Here’s what I think I should do. Haven’t gone through all these steps yet and will update this blog post when I do.

1. Do a clean read.

Scott Myers of GITS does an excellent job of explaining that here.

Doing a clean read, I put my script reader’s glasses on. I found a few things I really loved about my screenplay buried really REALLY deep down. If I was a script reader, I would have given it a pass because, well, the script isn’t anywhere near its full potential. I knew that.

2.       Give my script to a few trusted readers. Collect not just the criticisms but the compliments too.

I’ve had the great blessing and privilege of having Mr. Wonderful read by a few lovely people on the Black Board and my classmates at a Screenwriting Master Class. I trust them not to lie. When they said they really liked my script, I am choosing to believe them. I’m going to collect those compliments and file them under a heading called “Babies”. Yes, those babies may not be fully formed yet, but that’s no reason to abort the foetus. Polishing those gems hopefully will get me closer to a great script.

3.       Figure out my story, especially my theme.

This is the part I am labouring through at the moment. I am excavating character, structure and theme as it is now, but also generating a whole bunch of questions that will God willing trigger some great change for the next draft.

I’ve hit upon some excellent truths about what I am trying to say with this story. It’s true what Scott always says. The more you think about your story, the closer it gets to its real essence.

It’s pretty daunting, but it’s pretty exciting too.

4.       Do a not-so-clean read.

I want to actively look for the good in my screenplay.

It might be a throwaway line of dialogue. A nice bit of scenery. A great minor character.

All bits of magic that cropped up unexpectedly.

Sure, those babies may not be fully formed. But they deserve to be nurtured, if they fit my story and my theme. But I can only know that if I know what my story and theme is, hence point no. 4.

Well, that’s my 4-step plan to not throw out any babies with the bathwater. Let me know what you think.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. Peace, love and Godspeed.


Wax off! Or, How to write a killer log-line.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, all my brothers and sisters. Peace and mercy be on our calloused fingers and every part of our tired but hopefully happy bodies.

I’ve been studying the oft-ignored of logline-writing.

I have basically stopped ignoring it.

The Black Board has been my Mr. Miyagi in this process.


I have culled together the main things we should remember when we write log-lines from the various sources listed at the Black Board.

1. Start with an interesting character, give him/her a high-stakes want and make the obstacles against them practically insurmountable.

I think it’s worth unpacking each of the terms mentioned above.

An interesting character

Who would be the most fascinating person to put in this situation? Usually the most fascinating person has the steepest learning curve.

When mentioning the Protagonist, give them just one well-chosen adjective.

Don’t include their name.

Only mention a maximum of two characters in the log-line, preferably Antagonist and Protagonist. More than that and it just becomes confusing.

This applies even to an ensemble piece, such as Bridesmaids or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A high-stakes want

The highest stakes are usually derived from the five primal human needs – hunger, survival, protection of loved ones, sex and revenge.

None of these need be interpreted literally and more than one, I imagine, can occur in the same script, while carefully making sure the plot doesn’t become too muddy.

Peeples has the following log-line:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Wade obviously wants to have sex with Grace,  or wants to continue having sex with Grace, by showing his commitment to only having sex with Grace.

The Peeples’ family, I imagine, are trying to protect their daughter Grace from Wade.

Two competing wants = hopefully a funny and juicy conflict.

This segues nicely into the next crucial part of a log-line


Do not ever have a passive character to whom things just ‘happen’. This is a fault not just in the log-line but in the entire story concept. The character should be the engine of action in the story.

He or she does something, something happens, they react by doing something else, probably still oblivious to their fatal flaw.  Something else happens. And so on until the Protagonist learns a new behaviour – or not.

Make the conflict external, even if it is internal. Let the Antagonist take a shape of some kind.

The character’s flaw is exacerbated, rendered life-threatening, by the obstacles the Antagonist puts in his/her path.

Again life need not be interpreted literally. Death can occur even when all your bodily functions are still working. As anyone who has ever stood in line at the DMV knows.

Hence the conflict forms the dramatic through-line of the logline.

Subplots should not be mentioned.

2. The logline should indicate the set-up, set up the main conflict of Act 2, and hint at the problem that will be resolved by Act 3.

This is by far one of the most useful things I’ve learned from the resources on log-lines.

Let’s look at the Peeples logline again:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Let’s re-arrange it so it mimics the 3-act structure of the movie.

When Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons, sparks fly when he asks for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

It’s much less elegant and a little confusing, which is probably why they went with the previous structure.

Act 1 set-up: When Wade Walker crashes the Peeple’s annual reunion in the Hamptons….

The Hamptons = lots of money.

Wade Walker = probably not so much money.

The use of the word ‘crashes’ means that he’s not expected and probably, not welcome either. Conflict already built in.

Act 2:  “…sparks fly when he asks for Grace…” This is the engine of conflict for the bulk of the movie.

Act 3:  How will we know whether Wade is a loser or a winner in this movie?

Answer: We’ll know if he’s allowed to marry Grace or not.

Once you have all these ducks in a row, you can fiddle around with them to make a cleaner prettier sentence.

3. What are the genre expectations based on this log-line?

The genre is one of the key aspects of marketing a movie and one of the first questions in a production executive’s mind when he views a coverage report.

A lot of dark comedy log-lines I wrote initially were misunderstood as thrillers.

I’ve found using ‘funny’ words and an ‘ironic’ tone might help.

Yep, I’m still researching this one, mostly in the comedy genre, because that’s my jam. Will let you know.

4. You can diagnose a lot of script problems at the logline stage alone. 

It’s amazing what an incredible diagnostic tool a log-line is.

In the forums on the Black Board, I’ve been alerted to lackluster antagonists and protagonists, a lack of a clear goal, and various other more secondary, but still very important considerations.

Such as there are too many weird things going on (sci-fi).

The device that connects everything together just isn’t working (sci-fi again).

And various other common-sense questions that don’t arise when you think you’ve discovered a brilliant concept.

For example, in Harry Potter, why didn’t they use the Time Turner and just jolly well  go back in time and kill Voldemort?

5. Slice-of-life log-lines operate according to different rules.

Slice-of-life movies do not translate their internal goals into external goals.

Christopher Lockhart uses the example of Love Actually:

A varied group of Brits struggles with the pleasures, pain, and power of love during the Christmas season.

…and Gosford Park:

During a weekend jaunt at a British country house, servants – who must keep order and protocol – struggle to please their aristocratic employers until a murder threatens to disrupt the balance.

According to Lockhart, these stories should be defined by a time ( as in Christmas in Love Actually), place (Gosford Park) or historical event (Bobby) and the theme should not be presented didactically.

6. You only got 25 words! 

…but I’m sure, in the age of Twitter, that isn’t too big a deal.

7. Start with a spark of an idea and keep adding elements to it. 

No one is born a fully formed adult having already discovered their vocation and values in life.

So it goes with loglines. Rarely do they come out fully formed.

They start out pure, innocent and sweet in the form of a story concept, a angel that strikes you with its wing in the queue at the supermarket.

For example, “a lawyer who cannot lie”, “Othello in high school”, “Othello in Indian politics” (these three are high-concept because they can be summed in a few words), “racial tension in LA”, “a family road-trip to a beauty pageant”.

The conflict, the stakes, the wants and the needs, all come later as you let the thing sit around for a while, gathering form.

When it graduates college, you’re good to go! (I know I’ve stretched that metaphor way too far.)

Much love and peace,

The Happy Muslimah (in a nutshell)

I hate movies; or How to eviscerate an idea

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Photo by Bruno Hamzagic

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

So help me God, I hate movies.

Day after day, week after week, I watch trailers, I look at posters, I scan the cinema listings hopefully, looking for something worth watching.


Less than nothing.  A slap in the face. A grab for my wallet.

I’m not interested in franchises anymore. I’m not interested in movie stars. I’m not interested in explosions.

I am not interested in shock, awe, blood, gore. I am not interested in laughter or tears. Those are empty emotions and can be triggered by practically anything I pull up on YouTube.

I would like a story.

How do you define a story?

A story means something to you. Not to me, the viewer, the ticket-buyer, the audience member, the cat-caller. To you, the story-teller.

Why do I love listening to my parents tell stories? Because they are joyful in the telling and I can see it in their faces. And through that joy, I begin to understand their values, their experiences, their beliefs, however different we are.

As we began to stop telling each other stories, I understood them less and less and we fought more and more.

The fact is, story allows me to empathize in a way that no other medium has achieved.

That is why I hate everything that is in the cinema right now. It’s a blatant insulting play for profit. It desecrates story and the power of the human spirit.

I don’t mean to say that stars, explosions and high drama are bad things. I think they just have to be used in the right way.

I loved Michael Clayton. It showed a veneer of real filth underneath a sterile world. It showed two men coming apart at the seams. Yes it had George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in it. But it was a great story.

I loved Ides of March too for much the same reason. It seemed real to me.

I follow the work of Ryan Gosling, not just because he’s an incredible actor, but mainly because he has a knack for picking exceptional projects. There has not been one movie of his that I’ve seen that I’ve not enjoyed and that I wouldn’t watch repeatedly and that I wouldn’t badger my husband into seeing.

Fo’ rizzle.

So why am I ranting on a Monday morning?

I’ve been generating ideas for The Quest 2013.

There’s plenty of literature on how to test a concept for the marketplace. I particularly recommend Save The Cat’s program of market research.

The question is – how do you know if a story concept is right for you? How do you gauge your level of passion for it? How do you know that it’s touching some deep dark place rather than simply treading tired old ground?

This isn’t just about generating the passion to go the long haul with each project. It’s about having a product at the end, that no matter what happens, you can be proud of. Because you poured your heart and soul into it. Because you told the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

That sort of energy will sustain a career, in my opinion, and that’s what I’m cultivating.

To that end, I’ve been asking a lot of questions about each idea.

As a viewer:

  1. Why would I watch this movie? What elements would make me book that ticket in advance?
  2. What elements would make me avoid this movie? What makes me shriek much like I did above?

These two questions allow me to really get to the nub of what sort of experience I want as a movie-goer.

As a writer (this is the clever bit):

  1. In what ways is this idea within my comfort zone of my abilities, interests, previous writing experience, etc?
  2. In what ways is this out of my comfort zone in the same ways?

It’s maddeningly simple, but for me, it’s helping me shape a story that’s been knocking around in my head for months now.

More importantly, it’s helping me commit to that story. Because I know why I’m writing it. Even if the telling is mediocre and the reception is poor.

Let me know what your thoughts are. And for God’s sake, if you’re a filmmaker with a movie that means something, please tell me about it. I’m starving for something real.

Wasalam and Fee Amanillah (in other words, Godspeed),

The Happy Muslimah

My brother said I wasn’t pretty OR 6 reasons why I write

Pretty girlBismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, dudes and dudettes (I remember having a particularly vicious argument with my brother years ago about whether a slang word such as ‘dude’ could even have a feminine form. As you will see, my brother and I have had many vicious arguments over the years.)

Alhamdulillah. Praise be to God. I am about waist deep in a second draft of my feature film.

Alhamdulillah the second draft has been SO much more fun than the first.

With the first draft, I wept everyday as I put my characters in the most painful situations I could think of. I was moody, irritable and depressed, a feeling compounded possibly by having just moved to Sri Lanka and just gotten married.

And not getting much sleep due to the mosquitoes.

And having to become accustomed to unfamiliar-tasting foods.

And unfamiliar sights, sounds and languages.

But that’s a story for a different time.

Every day, I waded into a deep river of painful memories. It’s a wonder how potent memories can be. Whenever I remember the first time I saw my husband, I get the same butterflies in my stomach I got then. My cheeks still flush and I feel unmoored, but in a good way.

Bad memories show up in my body too, just as potently.

Without giving away too much…my screenplay is a tale of lost identity and gained family. I’m aiming for funny, shocking, odd and hopefully very alive, the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see, and the kind of movie I hope women everywhere will resonate with.

Because frankly all I want to do is to give every woman in the world a big hug. Brothers in humanity, you too have my utmost respect and compassion.  Since I don’t have big enough arms, I am settling for giving you a piece of art instead.

As rewarding as writing this piece has been, it’s also been quite draining and especially at the beginning when those pages were blank, utterly terrifying.

Scott from Go Into The Story asked a great question a while. At the time, still reeling from the agony of my first draft, I had no real answer. As the story begins to gather more form in the second draft, I feel an answer taking shape.

To quote my friend Sarah – as always, bear with me.

I write because:

1. Story telling is a part of human DNA.

As long as I can remember, my family has delighted in stories, whether they were soap operas, police procedurals, sitcoms or movies. As long as I can remember, my family has loved a good laugh. At their own expense or at the expense of others.

The best stories were the ones my parents told. Like memory, the telling of the story transported them back and they relived everything and re-felt everything. It was a powerful thing to witness. Plus, my parents are blasted entertaining storytellers. Drama and interesting characters seemed like quotidian elements in the Sri Lanka of their memory

2. I often feel lonely.

I grew up the youngest by many years. By the time I was old enough to have a mature conversation, my brothers had already left for university. I spent most of my teen years feeling like an only child.

The movies made me feel less lonely.  They were populated by characters playing out their lives of which I was either a nasty voyeur or silent but essential part. I prefer silent but essential part.

3. Movies gave me reassurance.

Movies often reinforced to me that I was worthy of love, regardless of whether my hands were scissors or if I was a head-scarf-wearing Turkish girl abandoned in the back of a Nazi taxi-driver’s cab.

Movies told me if I put my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. Sure, the characters on screen didn’t look like me. But they seemed like me. And that was enough.

That brings me quite nicely to my next point.

4. My brother said that I wasn’t pretty.

I was about 9.

I can’t remember what we were arguing about. I think that there was no one on screen that looked like me.  Even then I could see the danger of only seeing faces devoid of color on screen. It can distort your view of your human privilege.

I think I said something like, “Why can’t someone like me be on screen?”

And my brother said quite readily, “Because you’re not pretty.”

That stung more than a little. It still does. You know. Memory.

But I am amazed to tell you that I also remember something else – I knew that he was lying. I knew that I was drop-dead gorgeous and hecka fascinating.

So was he.

Pretty much everyone I’d ever met up until that point, male or female, old or young, dark-skinned or light, I had liked.  Everyone I’d met, I wanted to play with.

It was only much later that I was conditioned to hate myself.

And that’s when I realize someone like me needs to be on TV. Someone like me needs to show up on the silver screen. God knows how many 9-year-old girls hear, “You’re not pretty,” and believe it. Not cool.

I realize now why I’m always angry, why I’m always fighting some grave injustice and why my characters are always fighting something. It’s my brother’s fault! I knew it!

5. Writing allows me to look at things that are too painful with a little distance.

Writing helps me put myself in the shoes of someone else and forgive them. It lets me dive into a memory by giving my emotions to someone else and thus not hurting myself too deeply. It’s a good way of putting away my ego and allowing someone else, namely my characters, to figure things out. More often than not, they are a whole lot smarter than me.

6. Writing lets me have a happy ending, even if life was not that kind.

Movies tell me that it’s all going to be okay in the end. The movies that I like anyway. That everything will eventually make sense in the end. That there’s an internal logic to this mad world and I can’t possibly see it because I’m in it.

How about you? Why do you write?

I realize now that this is also a post about why I love movies.

Much love and beauty to you, my beautiful readers.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and beautiful) Muslimah (Mashallah!)

Switching horses mid-stream


(Picture from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu

Allah (SWT)’s mercy be on you, dear owner of eyeballs. I know lately, He is definitely been showering it on me.

About 7 years ago, I started writing a science fiction/fantasy novel in college. It was the project of my college years, wildly ambitious, spanning dimensions and planets and species. I attempted to tackle subjects of which I had barely any knowledge or experience – consciousnesses, quantum physics, identity, physicality, race, religion, society, culture. My imagination knew no bounds.

I continued this novel into 2008. But somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter. I have been struggling with that art form ever since.

But that story I once was so invested in still haunts me. Its characters have bled into some of my screenplays. My first feature had its main characters as some of its supporting cast. I found myself loving these characters and these stories, missing them, though I hadn’t looked at those word documents in four years.

I moved to Denver, Colorado. Yeah I know. It shocked me too. More on that later.

My husband talked about a fresh start. New freedoms. Away from countries and people whose relationships carried too much baggage.

I found myself thinking of my sci-fi novel again. Thinking that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. That I should finish it.

I looked back at my notes. Dayummm. I had an imagination Mashallah. I had courage. I was more insightful than I thought. But I didn’t trust myself. I let that snarky voice all writers have tell me how crap I was. How no one would ever read my novel. How I could never measure up to Vonnegut or Octavia Butler.

But why should I even try? I’m not the wonderful, effable, laugh-till-I-cry Vonnegut. I’m not the amazing, brave, beautiful Octavia Butler. I’m Sabina Giado. Adjectives yet to be written insha Allah.

That’s what killed my project all those years ago.  Reading those beautiful people and feeling despair instead of inspiration, hope, rejuvenation.

Science fiction is about hope, not misery. Science fiction is about possibility, endless, untold possibility, limited only by our imagination, not the blackness of despair. That’s why I love science fiction. That’s why it resonates with me somewhere below my belly button. That’s why I plunge into libraries looking for Mr. Vonnegut like he was a friend I haven’t seen in years. (I haven’t. I haven’t read a Vonnegut novel since I dropped my sci-fi novel in 2008. Just picked up Breakfast of Champions.)

But then there’s screenwriting. Good Lord, I’ve invested time, money and hope in my screenplays. I’ve met people in coffee shops, trying to pitch them my work. I’ve wrote and wrote at all hours of the day and the night. I’ve read hundreds of articles, listened to tons of podcasts and roundtables, watched videos and films, though admittedly only read a few screenplays.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of breaking through. A little more reading, writing, learning and listening and maybe I can write something truly great.

But that’s odd. You see, what I wrote there? ‘Something’. Not ‘a screenplay’. Just something.

My study of screenwriting has helped me in tons in my storytelling abilities in general. I can spot bad characterization, overwriting, underwriting, a terrible ending or climax. I can also spot genius or an incredible mastery of craft. Both on screen or in a book.

I know what works with me. What I’d like to watch – or read – and what doesn’t.

As you can see, I feel like I have quite a dilemma.

Maybe I should try writing this bad boy for a while. What have I got to lose? Everything that comes out of me is from Allah (swt) anyway. Perhaps He wants me to finish this novel. One way or another. Inner critic be damned.

Plus, my last screenplay was about difficult emotional subject matter and really drained me. Maybe writing this novel will be like a working holiday.  I might figure out I love sci-fi more than so-called ‘dark’ comedy.

I’m familiarizing myself with my characters again. It’s like I’m meeting them after a long time.

I’ve decided to simplify the structure a lot. I’d like to simplify the goals and the science of the extra-terrestrials too.

Most of all, I’d just like to worry less and write what feels good, regardless of how little or much I think I know.

Lord knows, none of us will ever really know enough. We can just do the best we can with what we know.

Insha Allah it’ll work. Or not. It’ll still be fun insha Allah.

Much love and happy writing.

Peace and the protection of God,

The Happy Muslimah.

Film review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes and cinephiles.

I’ve been advised to watch at least 2 movies a week. I have also realized that lately I’ve been alternately amazed and appalled by what I’ve seen on screen.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how the baby boomer crowd is proving to be an untapped market for the movies. How they might revive the flagging industry and how – finally! and not a moment too soon! – the big studios might leave behind their obsession with teenagers and young adults and give us some real stories.

I’m 26, and even I’m insulted by that sugary cereal kinetic crap.

So I thought I’d partake in the forerunner of this so-called ‘old codger’ movement – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Here’s what I thought.

The Good:

It was briskly paced. It had clear characters. As far as screenwriting goes, you could really learn a lot about turning points, in terms of plot, and character motivations in terms of dialogue, by studying this movie.

The Bad:

Why in God’s name do the Indian characters sound like they’ve stepped right off the set of Mind Your Language? I most definitely do not ever talk like that. And there is no way in heck Indian kids born and raised in India, however educated they are, speak English all the time. They are more likely to speak a mixture of English and their mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The brown people of course had traditional brown people problems. As always, it’s the clash between modernity and tradition. Between the will of the parents and the will of the child.

And as usual, white people solve brown people’s problems.

What’s more, an old lady in a wheelchair suddenly starts spouting truisms like being in a wheelchair automatically makes you wiser. My mother’s been in a wheelchair for a couple of months and I can’t see any change.

My final assessment:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a good movie with good characters. But the paternalistic tone and poorly crafted Indian characters really ruined it for me.

Out of respect, I wouldn’t recommend it to any baby boomer I know. They deserve better.

I’m going to look for better.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

Insights from The Hollywood Reporter’s Producer’s Roundtable

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes,

I wrote some notes on the Studio Executive’s Roundtable organized by the Hollywood Reporter, watched via the Black List screenwriting blog, Go Into the Story.

The lessons I learned below are only lessons because I’m a struggling nube. If you have more to add, please let me know in comments!

What is your take on awards in general? I think it’s nice to get recognition, but some of the most wonderful movies don’t get the attention they deserve and some truly awful or fair to middling ones get far more attention than they deserve.

I don’t put much stock in awards in terms of the kinds of movies that I should watch and gain inspiration from.

Anyways, here what I got:

  1. Producers feel pressure too. There’s a whole lot of money riding on this stuff.
  2. Production issues are far more unpredictable than distribution issues.
  3. The greatest moments are when a movie exceeds expectations – does that mean that we shouldn’t give them high hopes?
  4. They are just terrified of their hard work going to waste. Difference is – their hard work involves tons of disappointed people.
  5. People say that it’s just business, it’s not personal. Movie choices are hugely personal.
  6. What do Academy Awards mean to producers? The achievement of the good life. The achievement of something great in the eyes of your peers.
    1. The difference between profit-loss for independent films.
  7. It starts always with falling in love with the material (that’s our job!) Then the analyses happen.
    1. Once that material has caught you, you find ways to try and make rather than not.
    2. However, there are some movies that are just marketing fodder and some that are all about the execution.
    3. It’s a combination of passion and the amount of financial risk that that project can bear that configures on whether the film can get greenlit. Life of Pi got greenlit because a) Ang Lee got involved and b) The passion of the…someone?
  8. What is the cultural zeitgeist? Hurt Locker didn’t do as well because America wasn’t ready to watch war as entertainment.
  9. Awards season is much like political campaigning. If the Academy hadn’t put caps on it, it would go bananas.
  10. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bgw394ZKsis Impossible trailer.
  11. When your movie has a more intellectual bent rather than pure entertainment value, you always think of awards as a factor in marketing.
    1. However it’s a bit like ‘wishful thinking’ because you don’t really know if you’ve gotten the right elements in place to make this an amazing movie.
  12. Will America stop being a cultural exporter and start being an importer?

Will be posting notes on the Actor’s Roundtable and the Screenwriter’s Roundtable soon insha Allah.

Peace and God’s protection or as we say, Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

7 Things I loved About Crazy Stupid Love

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb and howdy.

There are some movies that just get you. That crawl into your skin and stay there. That touches a nerve. And you keep returning to them over and over again trying to figure out how it works.

I didn’t expect Crazy Stupid Love to be one of them. I expected it to be a star vehicle for Ryan Gosling’s abs.

But it was a surprisingly vulnerable, sweet, non-cynical movie. About, oddly enough, crazy stupid love. I got the product advertised AND I wasn’t disappointed. Score for the Hollywood star machine!

I am personally sick of one-note female characters that are about as deep as a puddle. Many people however fail to realize that, as the foils to their male counterparts, these flimsy characters simultaneously cheapen the male character who romances them.

Now I’ll admit the women in this film didn’t have much to do. This movie failed the Bechdel Test resoundingly (though frankly I have my reservations about that test). They were, as always, the receptacles of male desire and nothing more. We only hear the men’s side of the story and not much else.

But somehow there was a little more at stake here. Cal was Emily’s soul-mate.  As Jacob may well be Hannah’s. Call me love-struck, but that’s hugely different. Even if it wasn’t alluded in film time, that gives the impression of a shared history, a shared LIFE. That’s no small thing to share. Even if the women were simply plot devices, in the ‘real’ world, they would have been much more.


Okay, let me get into what I really love about Crazy Stupid Love and leave the complicated stuff aside for now.

  1. A man was treated like a piece of meat and hated it.

Throughout the movie, the camera lingers lovingly on Ryan Gosling, tracking slowly up to him in a very well-cut suit as he munches on pizza.

I’ve only ever seen that kind of shot used on women.

At one point in the film, Hannah orders Jacob to take off his shirt. Jacob is distinctly uncomfortable; he even asks whether he can put it back on again.

Now he knows what the women feel like.

  1. The same man was treated like a complete human being and loved it.

Moments after this scene….well, I don’t want to give anything away. There was a strong emotional  connection between Jacob and Hannah that moved well beyond the physical. It was so refreshing to see something other than ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ between two people under 30 on screen.

  1. A man became a womanizer and hated it.
  2. A man admitted desperate unhappiness.

And it wasn’t an emo support group moment. It was simply a change from being lonely to not. And everything that he’d missed became clear.

  1. Women recognized what they wanted and went after it.

Both women in the film did precisely what they intended to do. They didn’t doubt their power for a second.

  1. They later realized they made a huge mistake.

Women are always under pressure to be perfect in every single way. Sometimes what you want isn’t what you need. You find that out in a strange twisted way. Fate’s funny like that.

  1. Genuine good humor and affection in the war of the sexes.

Where’d the love go? Seriously. I thought we were all in this human boat together. Cal and Emily didn’t treat each other like enemies, even though they didn’t always get along. They were always vulnerable with each others. Tears welled. Voices shook. There were never any secrets between them.

*sigh* Now that’s love.

Godspeed and protection.

Peace out.

The Happy Muslimah.