Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Subtle Language of Separation

As pleased as I am that The Sundance Channel is supporting a program like "Push Girls" -- a docudrama about four women living with paralysis in Los Angeles -- it's fascinating that the news media at large still have no clue how to cover disability-related topics in a manner that isn't paternalistic or mawkish. Take, for example, this "Push Girls" segment on "The Insider":

Notice that, right at the top of this segment, Kevin Frazier praises "Glee" for "humanizing" people with disabilities. Gee, thanks. What must Kevin (or, at least, the writers behind "The Insider") have thought of people in wheelchairs before a show like "Glee" came along?

Not to be outdone, Brooke Anderson dives right into the pat, warmed-over, media-friendly pablum into which so many people and characters are inevitably submerged: the fuzzy notion of "overcoming adversity" and being an "inspiration."

Even in 2012, with so many strides having been made among the gay, Latino, and black communities and how they are represented in the media, people with disabilities are still very often little more than fodder for human interest stories and "disease of the week" hospital dramas. (Or, like Artie of "Glee," we're all secretly dreaming of how much greater and fuller our lives might be if we could run and sing and dance.)

I hope these sorts of assumptions and limitations, whether intended or subconscious, dissolve while I'm still alive to witness that progress. And I hope that, even though the news media might have no idea what to do with its sort of material, "Push Girls" tackles disability in a manner that is neither pitying nor heroic. I hope it is that rare sort of show that offers up a perspective that is informative and engaging and honest, generating its drama from something other than how tough life must be in a wheelchair.

And I wish "Push Girls" were being developed on a network with stronger and further reach than The Sundance Channel. But these are baby steps, I suppose. It is, unfortunately, remarkable to see a television show about wheelchair users, in the first place.

Whatever our marginal representation on television might be, people with disabilities are a long way from achieving the level of "normalcy" afforded to the Huxtables (you know, that "inspirational" family that "humanized" black people nearly 30 years ago).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Best Picture Nominees

Somehow I've managed to do pretty well at keeping up with the nominated films this year -- I've seen all ten Best Picture nominees, all the screenplay nominees, and all of the acting nominees, except those in "A Single Man" and "The Last Station".

Initially I was skeptical of the decision to expand the Best Picture category to ten nominees, but the choices were generally pretty strong. Below are my (largely spoiler-free) Best Picture thoughts, in order of preference. I wrote these blurbs for three reasons:

1) Writing is always worth doing. And putting my thoughts here gives me a place to refer people when I get asked what I thought about the choices this year.
2) For people who write their own material and want to work in movies, even bad movies are worth seeing, and thankfully the majority of these films were not bad ones at all.
3) Stuff like this helps me to think about what I've seen.

Here goes nothin'...

Describing all of the things I admire about An Education isn't an easy task, especially in brief, but the remarkable performance by newcomer Carey Mulligan is as good a place to start as any. The degree to which we can buy into the decisions that drive this film relies mostly on Mulligan's ability to hold our affections and our trust in every single scene. She does, and gracefully, saying more with a glance or gesture than some actresses twice her age might accomplish with full monologues, and somehow allowing us to visibly track the intangible as Mulligan's Jenny matures before our eyes and the scales of adolescence fall from her own. In pairing that kind of performance with screenwriter Nick Hornby's clean, honest, unfettered dialogue that turns "small" scenes between student and teacher or young woman and adult lover into something full and complex and sometimes a little bit scary, An Education left me unsettled and charmed and surprised simultaneously. And I haven't even mentioned the quietly brilliant performances from Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams and the always awesome Alfred Molina as three people who think they know what's best for Jenny but who come to realize she must ultimately navigate life's bumps and question marks on her own. To my own pleasant surprise, this was my favorite film of the year.

Invigorating and contemplative in equal measure, The Hurt Locker is one of those rare war films that's less concerned with politics or pyrotechnics than with the unique psychological challenges of the men and women (well, in this case, all men) who fight our battles for us. From a hold-your-breath tense opening sequence to a bittersweet, understated conclusion, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have created a story that feels lived in rather than written, letting us follow an American bomb disposal unit (almost uniformly the strong, silent type) through the heart of Iraqi conflict and into the center of their own often largely unarticulated doubts and fears about heroism, masculinity, death and domestic life. For some of these men, war is truly hell. For others, it's a job they just can't quit. Bigelow films combat in a way that is chaotic but never disorienting, putting us right in the action without losing sense of geography or character. Jeremy Renner isn't exactly a star yet, but he will and should be after giving one of the most understated, close-to-the-vest performances of the year. This is that unique but satisfying Hollywood risk -- an action movie with a brain -- that never provides easy answers, but might engender even more appreciation for how we utilize our military overseas.

Like many of the best Pixar experiences, Up took me on a ride through pretty much every emotion a filmgoer can feel — and this time it did it in what must have been only a five-minute montage of the arc of a relationship. As a short film, that sequence alone would have been worth lining up for, but the rest of Up's 96 minutes are almost as deft and effective, melting the buoyant, wide-eyed wonder of childhood with the pains of age and loss in ways which feel unique not only for animated film but for film in general. Sure, the eventual 3D chase sequence does feel a little like a lead-in to the inevitable Up videogame, but most quibbles I have about the film (like, for example, a villain who should be dead of old age) are ultimately swallowed whole by its inventiveness, tenderness and light, tragicomic touch. The world of animation allows for levels of freedom and implausiblity that "real world" filmmaking usually can't get away with, and Up uses all of them to grand and totally satisfying effect.

Unfolding like some kind of Frank Capra film for a more jaded atmosphere, Up in the Air moves smoothly, confidently and very entertainingly toward an outcome that's quite different (and yet, somehow more appropriate) than the sort most American audiences might expect. By allowing its characters to change in baby steps rather than in sweeping arcs, by luckily situating itself among the ruins of the current economic downturn and all of its uncertain fragility, and by eschewing the typical Hollywood philosophy that marriage solves everything, Up in the Air manages a balance between cool remove and heartfelt pathos that's more than a little like its main character himself. Okay, so George Clooney essentially plays a slightly more vulnerable version of the George Clooney we already know — but he's become so good at it that it doesn't much matter, and he's given two strong actresses off of whom to spark in very different ways. Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and the very lovely, very subtle Vera Farmiga seem to relish the verbal dances the script provides, and so did I.

Like a lot of Quentin Tarantino's work, Inglourious Basterds is a film primarily about Tarantino's feverish love of film itself. And that's okay, because this one is his most entertaining work since Pulp Fiction, mashing western and military genres as it glides between edge-of-your-seat suspense (the opening sequence set at a farmhouse is close to Hitchcockian), baldly gratuitous nonsense (you could snip Mike Meyers' entire scene and lose nothing), and relationships that feel more human than any his films have bothered with in years (Melanie Laurent is great as a woman conflicted about the future of her movie theater, her romance and her country). Though Tarantino's unique vision and voice are sometimes better at creating great sequences than they are at making great films, Inglourious Basterds is a well-fashioned, adrenaline-soaked human cartoon that also happens to be a smart, tongue-in-cheek military thriller that never stops entertaining. Does it match the distinctiveness and energy and intelligence of Pulp Fiction? Nope. But it's good to see some of the magic is still there.

District 9 might not be for everyone — for the first thirty minutes or so, I wasn't sure it was for me — but as an allegory about segregation, persecution and government-sponsored racism it accomplishes far more than Avatar and with a fraction of the budget and running time. This is the kind of movie that sneaks up on you as you watch it, allowing time and specificity to transform its lead through a series of very credible, very human (and frankly, very selfish choices) until his decisions lead him and us to a place where we're not so sure he'll do the heroic thing after all. Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchel's screenplay efficiently places us in a world both similar to and radically unlike our own and mixes action, sci-fi, and buddy picture genres to create something truly unlike any movie I've seen. District 9 might be kind of a ruddy, odd-looking flick featuring an extraterrestrial who dresses like Marty McFly, but its cumulative impact is a pleasant and welcome surprise.

I love small, intimate, underdog stories as much as the next guy, but Precious is not the story of triumph and uplift its marketing (and Oprah) might want you to believe. It is, instead, a cramped, dark, almost relentlessly sad story with awkwardly inserted moments of golden-tinged fantasy as sixteen-year-old Precious escapes into her imagination to dodge the ceaseless verbal, physical and psychological abuses of her mother, her classmates, and the father who twice impregnated her. Some of her fantasies involve Precious as a red carpet celebrity, some of them (like those including images of Malcolm X and and Martin Luther King, Jr.) are more overtly grandiose and odd. And then...well, let's just say that one of Precious's most horrible and irreversible twists of fate is seemingly forgotten by the film not long after it's introduced. There are plenty of admirable performances from people not exactly known for their acting prowess (Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, and especially Mo'Nique, who turns a two-note villain into something closer to a three note one) but what are we really to make of the larger picture? As I watched our overweight, largely stoic, black protagonist run down the street with a stolen bucket of fried chicken, I didn't know whether to cringe at the obvious uncomfortable stereotype or cheer the poor kid on. She deserves a break.

As much as I admire filmmaker James Cameron's incredible attention to environmental and cultural detail, it's a real shame that so little of that meticulousness is attuned to character or story or surprise in Avatar. This eco-conscious, bluntly obvious juggernaut has been touted, rightfully, as a great achievement in visual effects and will, wrongfully, probably make James Cameron king of the world for the second time. But a great achievement doesn't always equate to a great film — not when the story Cameron had allegedly been refining for fifteen years is as flat and bland (and needlessly long!) as it is here. Not when he's somehow able to make even Sigorney Weaver seem wooden and bored. Not when both the film's hero and villain have all the shadings of low-level G.I. Joe cartoon characters and when the film's third act dives headlong into blitzkrieg explosion mode and never looks back. In relying too heavily on his cool new toys and forgetting to make his characters act, talk, or connect like real people, Cameron has created a shiny, bloodless theme park ride from which only Zoe Saldana emerges unscathed. And its success reinforces an unfortunate precedent that will no doubt continue to influence more films in the studio pipeline: if you put together a pretty, shiny package, if you paint by the numbers and hit your marks, maybe throw in some references to pop spirituality and an underexplored romantic connection, the rest practically writes itself.

I'm sure there's a great story somewhere at the heart of the The Blind Side (which sprung from true events about a white Southern woman who raised a homeless black teen and helped him find the confidence to launch a professional football career) but the film itself never gets a handle on it. Instead, it settles for trotting out far too many jokey reaction shots and characters that feel entirely like constructions -- everything from the Self-Consciously Adorable Little Kid to the Bland, Agreeable Husband to the Gun-Toting Black Gangbanger is here in full display -- before reaching a conclusion that's entirely too pat to pay service to what I'm sure was a much more interesting true-life ordeal. Sandra Bullock is fine here, although the script is so concerned with going for soft laughs and easy solutions that her character is given no place to go and no real change to experience, leaving Bullock's character simply spunky and assertive from beginning to end. Though she flat-out tells us that the experience of raising poor, near silent, unexplored, dull-eyed Michael has "changed" her, it'd be nice if the script had let us in on how. And perhaps most disturbing about The Blind Side is that every patronizing scene involving race relations plays like something from sixty years ago, only reinforcing my feeling that the source material might have been deserving of a less lazy, superficial treatment.

"Doing nothing is not bad, ipso facto," somebody tells the lead character of the Joel and Ethan Coen's amazingly inert, strangely sour A Serious Man. That maxim may or may not hold true in life, but if you're the protagonist of a motion picture, doing nothing will make for a damn boring movie. The Coens have a facility for funny dialogue and enviable eyes and ears for uncomfortable human behavior, which only makes it sadder that their powers are in lukewarm display here. This is, in fact, a stunningly dull, almost smug sort of anti-movie — enough to make me wonder whether it isn't all part of some kind of a Coen brothers prank. After having won so many trophies for No Country for Old Men (which actually had, you know, something approaching story and mood and characters making decisions) I wouldn't be surprised if they'd decided to thumb their noses at audiences and critics and see if everybody would still bow to them, see if people would treat their antihero's kvetching as something deep and profound as the Coens pummeled him with endless blows from fate or God or...whatever. And what does the protagonist do in response to the shitty hands he's dealt? Literally almost nothing. For two hours. I seriously don't get it.

For awhile, this was my least favorite film experience of the year. And then I saw Nine.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscar Indifference 2009

I'm finding it very difficult to get jazzed about the Oscars in any way this year. Perhaps this is because I'm in a weird transitional space lately -- looking for work, moving to a new apartment, haphazardly monitoring my money while occasionally splurging on shit I don't need -- or perhaps it's because 2008 was just a thoroughly weak year for American movies. Everything was a little too precious, a little too manicured, a little too much like a lot of what has done before.

And so we have a fairly generic slate of Best Picture nominees, with the obligatory nods to war ("The Reader", materializing out of nowhere with five nominations), CGI spectacle ("Benjamin Button", an ideal premise for a short film, inexplicably stretched to fill three hours), and the Famous and Important People Biopic ("Milk" and "Frost/Nixon", both serviceable and often engaging).

"Slumdog Millionaire", genial and vigorous and ultimately smacking of youth and optimism and Bollywood softshoe, can't help but feel fresh by comparison. But is it truly a remarkable achievement in filmmaking? I'm not so sure. A closer look:


You'd think that thirteen nominations would make "Button" the heavyweight at this year's ceremony. It's got pedigree, it's blatantly emotionally manipulative (in the sort of predictable gather-ye-rosebuds way that Oscar voters seem to love), and its formidable budget (a stimulus package of $150 million) really is up there on the screen. Yes, there is some great CGI. There is also some crappy CGI. Ironically, however, time hasn't been kind to "Button" -- the more distance audiences and critics have put between themselves and the film, the more they seem to have come to recognize this is a slow, syrupy and narratively aimless slog. What is the message of this film? That time is precious? That if love becomes difficult it should be abandoned for the sake of your offspring? That age is but a number and 80-year-olds and 10-year-olds can fall in love as they please? Roger Ebert pointed out that it wouldn't make much difference whether Button aged backward or forward because, ultimately, he has no objectives. I couldn't agree more. A film ostensibly addressing the fact that time is precious should at least aim for a two-hour running time.

Solid, smart, and with a clarity of purpose that none of the other Best Picture nominees have. I was never completely sold on Frank Langella as Nixon, but it's an admirable effort considering President Nixon has become a larger-than-life caricature in his own right. Surprisingly, the film is at its most exciting when we're getting to know Frost and Nixon as men, both of them privately desperate to be more than the sum of their parts. Great character work and editing let us get to know these guys quickly -- both smart and capable and sad men -- and then the film becomes something more conventional and restrained once the interviews kick in. Still, Michael Sheen makes this film better than it probably deserves to be, and is Langella's equal, scene for scene, in what is truly the lead role. He should've been nominated, primarily for skillfully allowing Frost to walk a line between smarm and pathos without falling onto one side or the other too definitively.

Given the electric, non-conformist, change-the-world nature of its protagonist, I was surprised to walk away from "Milk" with the sense that what I had seen was a fairly traditional biopic that was bolstered by a truly remarkable set of performances. On paper, "Milk" is a story we've all seen 1,000 times, hitting what most screenwriting books would say are all the "right" notes in conveying its hero's rise to prominence and his weathering of personal tragedies, his shoring up of friends and allies into a coalition of a vocal minority before everything begins to crumble around him. But screenwriting isn't mathematics, and I couldn't escape the feeling that "Milk" plays it too safe given the magnitude of its subject matter, and takes no real risks in its exploration of conflicts between Milk and his team or between Milk and his detractors. Like "Ray", it's a good biopic with some compelling moments, but it unfortunately never gels into much more than that, despite convincing and challenging and interesting performances from Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch. Penn's performance is what I will most remember, though the film never rises to the level of charisma or fervor I assume Harvey Milk must have had.

Strangely overrated and underrated at the same time, "The Reader" isn't exactly deserving of its Best Picture nomination, but it's by no means a lame duck, either. Kate Winslet moves delicately between confidence and sympathetic insecurity as a lonely woman who becomes sexually involved with a fifteen-year-old boy. The power dynamic the pair navigates both sexually and intellectually is fascinating (if not entirely believable, since the world outside of their affair is so minimally explored and nothing seems to threaten their regular hot and sweaty meet-ups.) David Kross is very good as Kate Winslet's plaything (lucky shit!), but once the film jumps ahead in time to the exposure of a secret Kate's character had long kept hidden, its story shifts gears in a major way, requiring Kate's dexterity and conviction as a performer to keep it afloat. She does, and will probably get an Oscar as a result. But it is Winslet's character's Big Secret which is both the primary tease of the film and also the story's undoing, as we are ultimately asked to believe in redemption by way of a few relatively tangential accomplishments. If it seems like I'm being intentionally vague -- I am. After all, you might want to go see the film for yourself. I recommend it, but not with as much enthusiasm as I'd like.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is the odds-on favorite to win tomorrow night, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree. Though its leads get by more on charm and earnestness than on acting ability, sometimes charm is enough to carry the day. "Slumdog" is essentially candy, parable, and hyperactive youth-driven adventure all wrapped into one glossy, grungy, suspiciously Hollywood-ized package. It's a deft mash-up of high and low culture, both in its employment of quiz show structure and its race through poverty-stricken Mumbai tempered by a soundtrack that features MIA. Somehow, though, this mostly works on the all-important level of audience engagement. I'd be lying if I said I didn't check my watch a couple of times, which I think was mostly due to the story's episodic structure, as the plot presses forward from one trivia question and answer to the next in an inevitable progression towards Winning the Love of the Girl and the Money. Still, there's an unmistakable boldness to its presentation (our teenage hero is tortured within the first few minutes!) and I enjoyed and admired its energy in a year where energy on the big screen was in short supply. "Slumdog Millionaire" is exactly the sort of film for which my brain says no and my heart says yes, and in this case I'm leaning towards my heart.

WILL WIN: Slumdog Millionaire
SHOULD WIN: Slumdog Millionaire (with reservations. Frost/Nixon is my close #2)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eulogy for my Dad

The following is the eulogy I wrote for the funeral service of my father, Cliff Radcliff, who passed away on May 25, 2006, after a ten-month battle with brain cancer.

I began practicing archery in grade school, at my dad’s suggestion. For years Dad would drive me to lessons, and then to lunches or dinners for just the two of us. This became our private ritual, one of a few, and on some afternoons he would even try his hand at shooting alongside me. It never surprised me that, even without formal training, Dad always shot well. Because he did everything well. And when I would rush or miss a shot, he’d claim that I had allowed the watchful eyes of others – my classmates, my father – to affect my ability to shoot. I never admitted that he was right, but I will admit it today.

Because today, at just 23 years old, with Dad watching over me yet again, I have to find a place inside of me that will let me say goodbye to him forever. But why? This does not seem fair. My father had only lived 54 years, with an engagement in life and in learning that rivals that of my peers. And with the wisdom and patience and mystery of a man who had lived to see a full and active century.

He had long ago willed himself to stop smoking or drinking. He conditioned his body with Tae Kwon Do and a gym routine that few men his age could have sustained. And Dad’s mind was so vital and so continually thirsty that even the onset of brain cancer did little to sway his focus and eagerness to learn. He read until medications warped his eyesight. He defiantly grew a beard to counter the hair stolen by radiation. And, even just a few days before his passing, he was able to supply Mom with an answer to a crossword puzzle.

I suppose there is a point in a young man’s life at which he begins to see his father not as he’d like him to be, but as he actually is. A time when the son comes to recognize that Dad is fallible, to realize that his father is occasionally if not frequently wrong, and that maybe Dad is a little out of step with the world around him.

I am still waiting, possibly forever, to feel that way about my dad. I am waiting to feel like I have somehow passed him by in my intellect and in my accomplishments. I’m waiting to feel like I don’t need our conversations anymore, to feel that I no longer need to draw upon his pragmatism and his quiet humor and his love. I am waiting to believe that my dad is not the smartest, most passionate, most frustratingly fair and honest and modest man in my life. Because I know that the delusion of believing he is not those things would be so much easier than truly confronting the pain and the loneliness and the anger that I’m feeling today.

As a man, as a student, and as an artist, I have felt a level of companionship and similarity with my dad that I have felt with no one else. And so I know that the coming days will be difficult.

But nothing about Dad’s final battle was just or fair or easy. And yet, when he was diagnosed with brain cancer in July, he did not cry. He only nodded and asked, “What do I need to do?” I was awed but not entirely surprised. Those of you who knew my dad well are familiar with, energized by, the focus and strength he carried in his personal, professional and artistic lives. And by the deep love he quietly, unceremoniously carried for my mother, a woman without whom he told me he’d just be another lonely old bartender in New York.

Over time, the tumors burrowed in my father’s brain would prove the ultimate test of Dad’s quiet will and dignity. Where other men might have mired themselves in self-pity or resignation, Dad, organized as ever, simply went about setting goals. Within days of being handed a death sentence, with his powers of communication being slowly stolen away, my father suddenly began to keep a journal. I never touched the book while he was alive. Privacy is as important to me as it was to Dad, and though I was curious and hopeful about his process for coping with circumstances that would surely buckle so many other men, I understood that the journal was his and his alone.

Today it is mine. Ours. And I think it would be a mistake to prevent Dad from speaking for himself, since even in the worst of times he was such an articulate and deeply philosophical man. A man who would buy copies of many of my course books just so he could follow along with my classes. A man who truly valued his family, his varied and fascinating friends, and his excitement for the arts above all things.

Shortly after being diagnosed with a brain tumor of stage four malignancy, my dad wrote:

“I had a very strange, bizarre time sorting the information out. Was it real? Well, yes, I think it seemed real. It was real enough. Real enough to have shaken my faith, my logic, my grip on reality as I understood it. Could I sort through this new information with clarity? I believed I could, with effort, sort it out. Sort through this with a very clear and unencumbered mind. But in the background, there was a doubt – a very small doubt that I needed to be mindful of. Where did reality start and stop?”

Today I am asking myself the same question. Surrounded by his many friends and by my family, smothered by their generosity and stories and love, I have not yet processed that my dad is truly gone. He was too central to my life, too invested in my future. And just as I was about to set foot on the path that will decide my career and the course of my life, he was taken away in a particularly cruel manner. He will never know my future spouse or children, he will never see my first professional success. Understanding that these things are true, dealing with them, is not a reality for which I am fully prepared.

So I will continue to be angry, yes. But simultaneously, I will continue to be pleased. Pleased that my dad meant so much to so many different types of people, pleased that he found time to rediscover a life in the theatre, pleased that I was with him in the weeks before he passed. And that I was confronted with the comfortable reality that there were no things left unsaid, no apologies to be made or regrets to endure. Dad and I always seemed to really understand each other.

And I am perhaps most pleased that Dad fought so boldly and so tirelessly, and that in doing so he has influenced my perspective of my own disability, my ability to quietly embrace and prepare for any challenges ahead. Dad reserved little time or energy for fear of the unknown or of the seemingly impossible. He simply asked, in so many circumstances, “What do I need to do?” And that – that courage in the face of physical pain and personal doubt – was a fitting, final lesson for which I will forever be grateful.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gawker, Texas Stranger

I figure if you are or want to be a screenwriter (or any kind of writer, really) you've got to get pretty comfortable with self-gratification. And I don't mean the kind that requires cleaning up afterwards. I mean that the act of writing should, in and of itself, be rewarding to you. Living beyond yourself, creating characters and stories and expressing what excites or scares you, has got to be enough. And sometimes you've got to believe, independently of feedback from others, that what you're writing is worthwhile. Even if it's never filmed or bought or acknowledged by anyone of professional consequence.

That's what I think, anyway.

But that conviction all gets pretty tough after awhile. And that's where screenwriting contests can help. I guess the funny thing about validation is how validating it can be once you get it from someone other than yourself.

Last month I flew out to Austin, Texas for the annual Austin Film Festival. It was my first time in Texas, my first experience at a film festival, my first stab at entering material into a film festival, and my first time spending $1000 on a hotel. That last part still stings a little. But it was all totally worth it. Why?

Because two of my scripts were finalists in the festival this year, meaning that (apart from hotel and airfare) every element of the experience was free and at my fingertips. This included panels in the morning (90-minute sessions on stuff like "How to Get Representation", "How to Write for the Television Comedy", "Where to Raise Money for Production"), film screenings in the early evening, and parties at night. And throughout it all, the opportunity to share concerns and congratulations with some talented and gracious and rejuvenating people, all of whom were surprisingly approachable -- whether they were established industry writers or single moms trying to make ends meet while cobbling their scripts together in their spare time. The unfortunate truth is that you don't usually find that sense of community in L.A.

In fact, I developed more Los Angeles contacts in four days in Austin than I did during my first full year of grad school at UCLA. Go figure. In fairness, though, I'm probably a more outgoing guy than I was back then.

And fortunately, I was out there with a few other UCLAers, including my AFF partner-in-crime, Karl Williams, who picked up three trophies when he had gone to the Austin Film Festival a few years ago and now has a film in production. I felt fortunate Karl was out there with me, occasionally guiding me in maximizing my time, and also cracking me up more than a few times along the way.

I collected a lot of business cards and met a lot of directors, writers, producers, agents, and kind-hearted Texas natives. And amidst the expected conversations about the Writer's Guild strike, why television is better for young writers, how our families and friends don't really understand what we do, and whether grad school is worth it (it has been), I felt reinvigorated about not only my own work, but also about the state of the industry. I mean, if all these cool people are still in it for the love of it, then maybe I'm in the right business.

Ultimately, I didn't win in either of the categories in which I was a finalist. My spec episode of "The Office" was bested by a "Scrubs" and my coming-of-age drama, "Learning to Stand" was trumped by a script about an Iraqi veteran trailed by the Feds. But by that point in my four-day Austin trip, I had become fast friends with a few of the other finalists, and I was surprised to find how little I cared whether I'd won or lost. I know, I know, that's what they all say. But I'm happy to report that, at least in this case, it was true.

Although those trophies looked pretty damn cool.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Bio

David Radcliff was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on November 8, 1982. The son of two actors, David grew up with a strong appreciation for dramatic storytelling, and was a recipient of the Marie Sandoz Young Nebraska Authors Award while in elementary school. In 2005, he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in English from the University of Southern California, where he also minored in cinema-television and philosophy.

While attending USC, David was a regular film columnist for "The Daily Trojan", receiving the campus newspaper's Best Columnist Award in fall of 2003. He was also a member of the university's Student Senate, an editor for USC's student-run online magazine, "AngeLingo", and a member of USC's Thematic Option Honors Program, where his presentation on literary boundaries was selected for the 2002 Undergraduate Research Conference.

In the fall of 2005, David began graduate work as a screenwriting student in UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, completing his degree in 2008. While at UCLA, David taught or assistant taught several university courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, including classes in film structure, screenwriting fundamentals, and English composition. In 2007 he was one of two co-producers of UCLA's year-end Screenwriters' Showcase, and also received the university's Jack Nicholson Excellence in Screenwriting Award. That year his feature-length dramatic screenplay "Learning to Stand" was a top-five finalist at the Austin Film Festival, and he was also named a top-three finalist in the festival's Comedic Teleplay category. In 2008 he was awarded the George Burns and Gracie Allen Comedic Writing Scholarship. In 2009 he was a finalist for the Disney ABC Television Writing Fellowship.

David is a volunteer mentor for the Young Storytellers Foundation, a non-profit organization that guides creative elementary school students in the composition of short screenplays. He is also a volunteer for Wheels for Humanity, which manufactures and delivers wheelchairs and other assistive devices to underdeveloped regions. For the past three summers, David has assistant taught college-level screenwriting courses for high school students, and has served as residential hall advisor for the Office of Summer Programs at the University of Southern California.

Most recently, David has worked in close collaboration with Windmills & Giants, a grass-roots film production collective, in development of media projects addressing the rights and lifestyles of those with disabilities. He offers freelance screenplay consulting and writes copy for various corporate websites and brochures. He lives in Studio City, California.