Sunday, August 29, 2010

My "Ms Leone" Letter

So many incredible, wonderful, big things have happened to me this year, but there’s one seemingly little thing that I hold nearest and dearest. I got a “Ms. Leone” letter. For those of you who haven’t read Runaway, let me explain. Holly Janquell is almost thirteen, living a tortured life, moving from one foster care situation to another, withdrawing or acting out, and hating the world. In an effort to help her, her teacher, Ms. Leone, gives Holly a journal with the well-intentioned advice that writing in it might help her to “turn the page.” Well, Holly thinks Ms. Leone is completely out to lunch. What good is writing when she’s having to deal with people “sani-flushing” her head in a toilet? So at first Holly’s journal entries are just angry rants at Ms. Leone. But after Holly runs away, she starts “talking” to Ms. Leone through the journal, relating her near scrapes and scavenging adventures as she travels across the country toward the coast in her quest to become a “sea gypsy.” The journal becomes Holly’s lifeline and her therapy. She learns to express herself and sort through her emotions, and even tries her hand at poetry. And in the end (spoiler alert!) when she’s in a safe home and has learned to trust again, she decides to send the journal to Ms. Leone with a note saying that she wanted to thank her for helping her turn the page. I had the idea for Runaway for years before I hit on how I wanted to end it. And when I thought of the ending, I got all emotional and weepy and just…overwhelmed. I’m sure that’s partly because I’d been a classroom teacher for fifteen years and receiving a letter like that from a student like Holly would definitely be overwhelming. Teachers put so much into their students, so much into helping them through that year of growth and discovery. Then the kids move on, and that’s it. Off they go, like birds from the nest. My “Ms. Leone” letter didn’t come from one of the many students who’ve fluttered through my classroom. Oh, I’ve gotten really nice notes over the years, and compliments on the positive influence I had in their lives. But that’s not a Ms. Leone letter. It hasn’t traveled through the depths of despair to reach me. My Ms. Leone letter came via e-mail from college student who happened upon Runaway in the library. She finished it in a night, and the letter she wrote me afterwards explained that terrible things had happened in her life and that, like Holly, she uses writing as a form of coping, but that she still has times when she considers ending it all. Reading Runaway, she said, gave her a sense of hope that maybe a good life is out there for her as well, and she signed off by saying, “Know that your work not only inspires, but saves lives.” So yes, Rob Reiner’s made a wonderful film out of my book Flipped. Yes, I’ve got red-hot irons in the fire. But the thing that means the most to me is my “Ms. Leone” letter. None of the “glory” even compares.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Charmed Weekend

A year and a half ago I started talking about how when Flipped came out I wanted to have a "Red Carpet Premiere" for my friends and family and people who had been supportive of my writing endeavors. I had no idea what it would take to pull together something like this, but I really liked the idea of creating a Hollywood-style event for the people who have been good to me.
It just seemed like fun.
Well! I didn't know anything about securing the film or renting a theater or whether rental places in this area even had red carpets, but over the past six months I've learned a lot.
Necessary, but by no stretch fun.
Then after we'd finally confirmed a date, a location, and a reel of Flipped, I had a brainstorm.
Or so I thought.
Mark says I can never keep things simple, and he's probably right. But this idea was, that I just had to do it. So I set up a "matinee" showing that would run before the friends and family showing, and gave "passes" to all the local library branches and whatever schools wanted to participate in raffling off the passes as fundraisers.
This GREATLY complicated things, as I was now dealing with a lot of different entities and their individual needs. I generated fliers, acquired movie posters, designed invitations, and gave presentations at principals' meetings. I became an e-mailing machine.
I also ordered things from party supply companies--why keep it simple when there's so much potential fun to be had?
Well, about three weeks ago, I was a nerve-frayed wreck. There was just too much for me to coordinate. I was losing it. Overwhelmed. A wreck.
I was definitely not having fun yet.
Mark (kind of shaking his head at me, 'cause, you know, I should have kept it simple) suggested that I hire a party planner.
You have to understand that I'm not the party-planner kind. If I can do it, I do do it. But I was to the point of desperation, so he handed me a number and I called.
The party planner was delighted to hear of my upcoming Red Carpet Event, and would have love-love-loved to help, but she would be out of town in August.
She gave me another number.
That woman would also have love-love-loved to help, but she was having a baby in August.
She gave me another number.
That woman was available and not only would she love-love-love to help, but she would do everything from check names off at the party to find me a caterer...for a mere seventy-five dollars an hour.
Seventy-five dollars an hour???
(Mind you there was no mention of the heavy lifting of say, red carpets and chrome posts and plants and such.)
Mark's reaction was the same, and so we shelved the party planner idea and I forged ahead. And as the day of the party grew nearer, a friend came over and helped me stuff 400 plastic eggs with little fuzzy chicks and jelly beans, helped me process (sign) all the books I was giving away as gifts, and helped me write the names of all the guests on stick-down stars that would mock up the Avenue of the Stars.
With that done, I was feeling a little better.
Then I bought plants (cheaper than renting) and ran around for DAYS getting supplies and food (because out-of-towners were invited over to our house for breakfast the following morning), and cleaned my house, and "made over" my son's room for company, and did all that pre-party-prep that turns women into exhausted shells of their formerly perky selves.
Then, a few days before the party, I found out that Madeline Carroll (the lead female--"Juli"in the film) was going to be attending. And that Callan (Bryce) and Israel (Garrett) and Stefanie (Dana) might also be coming.
I became a hotel booker and press agent, ringing up the media and finding movie stars places to stay. I didn't know about local press feeding into Los Angeles affiliates, but my journalist friend told me what to ask the stations, and I did. I was on the phone for hours, explaining to journalists that this would be the first time the two leads were at a premiere because at the earlier (Warner Brothers premieres) Callan had been tied up shooting another film and couldn't make it.
This was all very exciting, but it was also stressful for me.
I'm not Warner Brothers.
I don't have a team of professionals helping me.
I'm just me.
Stuffing eggs.
Making my own Avenue of the Stars.
In a little local theater.
In a little town.
And I had four movie stars coming?
I had bought this "City Scape" from one of the on-line party supply companies. We'd measured the distance from the base of the angled outdoor marquee to the sidewalk and had bought this "City Scape" with the intention of using it as a photo backdrop which would hold Flipped posters and be used to snap pictures of each group that entered the theater. But I couldn't assemble it at home because it was too big to transport after it was put together.
So the morning before the party, my son and I arranged to go to the theater before their regular programming and assembled the city scape in the lobby.
Basically, it was black cardboard that needed taping, cross bracing (cardboard tubes), back bracing (cardboard wedges) and little white lights put on. The assembly was actually not bad. It didn't look great, but it wasn't bad. But we were to the point of attaching the Flipped posters when I realized that this mammoth piece of cardboard in the theater lobby was too tall to stand up, too wide to fit out the door, and too cumbersome to store anywhere.
So we wound up folding it along the seams, stuffing it in a back room, and telling the manager we'd be back the next day to put it together outside.
To make a long, very frustrating story short, cardboard and wind don't work well together (unless you're trying to create a Flying City) and the City Scape wound up in the Dumpster.
Then--and this is the day of the party that the City Scape got Dumpsterfied--the manager tells us that a package from Warner Brother had just arrived. It turned out to be a gigantic plastic enlargement of the Flipped poster, which we hung from the marquee as the backdrop. It was perfect! (Thank you WB!!)
Then we rolled out the carpet (and taped it down with red duct tape), put up the velvet ropes, arranged the plants, put on the music, set up the check-in podium, and before long the matinee winners were lining up to get in.
The Flipped stars weren't supposed to arrive until the matinee was well underway, but I didn't actually believe they would show until Callan (Bryce) rolled up to the curb in a black Porsche. Then suddenly Madeline and Stefanie and Israel were there too.
How cool is that???
I'd come up with a timeline and while the press interviewed them in the lobby during the matinee, I had them sign the books I was giving away to any of the matinee kids who had found a gold coin in their stuffed plastic egg (which was buried inside their popcorn).
And when the movie was done playing, I went down to the front of the theater and, one by one, I called down the actors to join me.
The kids who had won tickets through their school or library were so jazzed to be at the movie in the first place -- they'd gotten dressed up, walked the red carpet, had photos taken with me in the lobby and had gotten free popcorn and soda -- but now, right before their eyes, the characters they'd just seen on the big screen were walking through the aisles.
Talk about applause!
Everyone was stunned! Amazed! And in a kind of state of disbelief.
And I felt so happy that I'd been able to coordinate this day for the kids in my community. It really was unbelievable.
As the kids filed out, each stopped for a picture with the group of actors (and got their free book if they had a gold coin). The actors were SO patient and kind to the kids, and even though it took a while to get through everybody, they never complained.
Then we had a short scarf-up-some-food break before we started letting people on the carpet for the friends-and-family showing.
That part was a blast for me. People from New Hampshire, New York, St. Louis, San Diego, the Bay Area were there. People I haven't seen in years were there. And they were all totally glammed up! I got hugs, gave hugs, and my son took each party's picture in front of that amazing banner with the 4 movie stars.
After everyone was seated, I gave out "Fuzzy Awards" -- little Oscar-style statues that I'd super-glued fuzzy chicks to. They went to 12 people who, in one way or another, stood out in the way they'd helped me as a writer.
Then we watched the movie!
And when the credits rolled and my name went by, the theater roared!
Then I gave everyone a movie-tie-in book, and sent them off to an informal after-party meeting place, then tore down the decorations, and rolled up the carpet.
It was an awesome night.
And, in the end, it was SO much fun.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Box Office Insight

Since I’ve taken you along from the beginning on this book-to-movie process, let me share what I’ve pieced together this week about “box office.” Flipped opened in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Austin last weekend and did “moderately well” at the box office. It averaged around $5,000 at each theater where it was shown, and, to put that in a little perspective, that was slightly better than Angelina Jolie’s Salt did per theater in its opening weekend. Of course, Salt played in a lot more theaters so had a much bigger overall box office, but still. Statistics are for the skewing. Now, if Flipped had had a huge box office, the next phase of this adventure might have been different, but, based on the box office in those three cities, Warner Brothers has decided to release the movie in the following “markets” on August 27th : New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Indianapolis. And then, once they see how it performs in those markets, “a decision will be made about further expansion.” The reasoning here seems at odds with the “product” to me. Flipped in not a flashy “big city” film. It’s a heartfelt film, one that I see playing much better in smaller communities than in metropolitan areas. I have to trust that WB knows what it’s doing, but I admit this strategy has me worried. If the film doesn’t connect with city-dwellers, will the rest of the country even get the chance to vote at the box office? There’s not much I can do about it except urge those of you who live in one of those six cities listed above to go see the movie opening weekend (and take all your friends!). Being new to all this, I had no idea how it worked, but now I do…and now you do, too. Meanwhile, I’m focusing on the positive: We’ve got our special Red Carpet Event screening(s) in six days, and I’m really looking forward to doing this for my community and my friends. I have a different long list of things I have to do for each day between now and then. It’s definitely a divide-and-conquer-(or-be-conquered) situation. In addition to hosting both screenings, we have house guests coming Friday, and Sunday we’re having breakfast here for people who have traveled long distances to attend. Which means I have to clean the house! And figure out seating! And get lots of food! And figure out where people are going to sleep! None of which has anything to do with what needs to get done before the Event (which is considerable, given that I never seem to do things the simple way). I am, in short, panicking. So why am spending time writing this blog entry? Because I promised. And because I really appreciate that you check in. I wish all of you could come to our RC Event. Wish me big reserves of energy—I’m gonna need it! It'll all be behind me next Sunday. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mark and Wendelin Zipping In A Tree

I’d never been zip-lining before, but for part of our vacation “therapy” that’s exactly what we did. The forest was huge and gorgeous and the mountain men that ran the “Adventure Camp” were great. The actual zipping was fun, but it was being up so high in the trees that I liked the best. It reminded me of being a kid and climbing trees.
And the tree fort we built when I was growing up.
And how much Juli Baker loved her sycamore tree.
I lost track of days, and wasn’t aware that the Flipped movie release in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Austin had happened until I got messages about it.
Seems appropriate that I spent the day way up high in a tree.
We’re on our way home now, so I’ll be able to share some more things with you soon, and posts will go back to normal—or as close to that as I know how to get. (I’ll also make the time to answer comments from previous posts. For now know that, short or long, I always really enjoy reading your comments.)