Wednesday, December 20, 2006

He postures and poses, he listens to Keane/He rants and he raves like a man in a dream

Remember when I wrote some time back about how I love rewrites and think they're the greatest time in the worldest?

I take it back.

Since then I've written a great grand seven pages. That's right. Seven. In two weeks.

Now, as usual, I'm going to go ahead and blame work conditions. I also have a new excuse for your enjoyment: Winter.

That's right, as an unforeseen byproduct of the third shift schedule, the longer times of darkness (not to be confused with Dark Times) are causing my body to send me sleep signals at an alarming rate, even when I've already had plenty of sleep.

But even with these excuses, seven pages in 14 days is pretty lame. I'm disappointed in me.

Despite Emily's exhortation to go ahead and write standing on my head, smoking a cigar if that's how I really crank it up, I've had some trouble making dents in the almost-page-one rewrite of my neo-screwball comedy.

And now The Fear is back in the form of Greg, freshly home from China. Jerk wants to meet again, so I better come up with something to validate my own existence.

Fortunately, I have at least produced a reasonable one-fifth-of-the-movie long sequence, and tonight I may well do even more. If I can kick-start my imagination hard enough to cough and sputter it's steam-powered way along the story development superhighway like the Model-A clunker that it is.

I keep looking forward to the time when writing this comedy will be over and I can go back to drama, but damned if I didn't just have another great idea for a comedy that will now nag at me with the persistence of a four-years-engaged woman tired of her fiancé's feet-dragging and his over-used hyphenation.

Maybe I'll just keep it back for a rainy-day pitch. Because we all know I meet with producers next to nonstop.

I'll see you cats in another two weeks.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Unpaid Me Will Rock Your Overpaid Development World

I like knowing Greg, because he's hooked up to the world of film, and sometimes he gives me unproduced scripts to read. I read two of them this week, and I realized something:

I'm a better writer than most people.

I know you're all surprised to hear that a screenwriter thinks himself better at the craft than other people who are actually making money (screenwriters are usually such humble people), but it's true, I tell you. Every single one of these scripts has had quite obvious flaws to which I am pretty sure I have simple solutions.

Of course, no producers are paying me to develop these ideas, so this helps me not at all, in a practical sense.

But for encouragement, there's nothing like it.

I managed an hour-and-a-half-ish of writing tonight before exhaustion overcame me, and I brought the page count up to 20 on the rewrite. More importantly, I summitted a minor story hill I'd been climbing all week, leaving the path open for some solid progress next time I write.

And what's even better, most of it is feeling at least mildly funny, and much of it very funny. This may not sound like a big deal to all you other comedic geniuses, but for me it's bloody amazing.

From now on, only dramas. Comedy is stressful.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Glorious Rewrite

Rewrite time is a fun time. I forgot how much fun it is.

Draft time is a fun time. In fact, it's probably the most fun time. But it comes with all these pressures. Namely, the pressure to create something new, and the pressure to create at lightning-quick speed.

I subscribe (at least up until recently) to the idea that a first draft should be pounded out as quickly as possible, with as little thinking as posssible.

Outline, outline, outline. Then first draft. Fast first draft. No tweaking, no going back, no second guessing.

This means that I can knock out a draft in a couple weeks or less, to the envy of all my other writer friend(s). But it also means that sometimes those drafts are less than I hoped. I suppose this to be a fairly common problem among screenwriters, but I wish to eradicate it.

When I was in elementary school, junior high, senior high and college, I wrote things at a nice, deliberate pace. My first drafts were like third drafts. It was wonderful.

When I became a screenwriter everyone said that I should write first drafts like first drafts. And certainly this helps them to come out fast.

But while draft time is definitely better than the maddening limbo of outline time, rewrite time is probably my favorite time. Granted, this is only my second time there, but the last time (almost a year ago) was all kinds of fun, and so far this time is too.

Rewrite gives you that chance to really make the script the way you wanted it to be. I can obsess and finesse and tweak and adjust and do over to my perfectionistic heart's content.

In the current case, the rewrite really is almost a complete rewrite, so it has all that magical aura of a first draft with the freedom and reward of a rewrite. It's beautiful.

I have 17 pages of rewrite so far. Because I can, I will probably remove a couple of those pages, but even so, I'm pretty proud.

I'd be making a lot more progress, but things have been absolutely insane at work, with violence, non-compliance and anger on every side. I'm not even exaggerating.

So my actual "work" work takes me much longer every night, decreasing the writing time available. And my days tend to last longer, which means I get less sleep and then can't stay awake enough to produce anything good.

I'm not really into the "suffering writer" thing. It doesn't really help my creativity as much as you'd think. So let's hope this is over soon.

In only slightly related news, I watched Breakfast at Tiffany's tonight while doing paperwork. I'm trying to dredge my memory to a certain extent, but I think this may be the original "falls in love with his best friend" movie. Anyone?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Making a Plot to Slay the Agents

I'm not a plot guy.

Some people can take an idea and go nuts with it. Tell them something you came up with, and they'll tell you ten other things that could go along with it and are probably better ideas anyway.

Greg is one of these people. I hate that jerk.

My friend Shawn is even more one of those people. Of course, I hate him less because he's not a writer, and therefore does not make me feel quite as bad about myself.

I am not one of those people. Show me an idea, and I'll say to you, "That's an idea, right there."

I mean, I'd dress it up more and so forth, but at the time, I'll have nothing to add.

I will then spend six weeks thinking about it, and if I'm lucky, I'll have a storyline for you to tear apart and tell me to rethink.

But it's a hella-long process, making a plot.

Now, fortunately for me, there are other things about writing that I am good at. This tends to redeem me in my own eyes.

But plot is hard.

And that is why I was overjoyed today when both Greg and myself deemed my current storyline good enough to at least start rewriting.

Because, while I get a kick out of making progress on a plot, and I do get that giddy writer feeling, too often the outlining process is full of very frustrating roadblocks.

Whereas draft time goes by so fast. It's the most fun, and I fly pretty well at it. It makes me happy.

This is only the second time I've tried to rewrite a script. So I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes out when I rewrite a concept that actually has high saleability.

If I'm lucky and work hard, I hope to have a ready-to-pitch script in a couple months' time.

And that's a very frightening idea, indeed.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

If Only I Practiced

My girlfriend is going to be a fashion designer.

Hold on … I said that wrong. Do over.

My girlfriend is a fashion designer.

How do I know she is a fashion designer? Well gee, apart from the fact that she talks about fashion all the time, sighs every time we pass a shop with a badly-laid-out window, checks out scads of books on fashion from the library, comments on the clothes first with regard to everything she sees on TV, and—hell— the fact that she told me she was a fashion designer, the main reason I know it is that that's what she actually does.

She shames me, really. Last night I asked her why she stayed up until two instead of going to sleep, and she admitted, in a surprisingly shamefaced manner, that she had been drawing.

So instead of sleeping or catching up on all the coursework she has been procrastinating on for her entire semester, she just couldn't resist practicing her craft.

Isn't that sick?

It was sad for me to have to admit to her that I will do almost anything but write. And I love writing. It makes me giddy, at least when it's going well. When it's going badly, I tear my hair out.

But I don't seize every spare moment, and then some extra moments to do it.

I clean my house.

I pay bills.

I look up things on wikipedia.

Now, in some mitigation, this may be partly because I have a job that allows me to write at work, and I try to do most of my writing there.

But still.

On a brighter note, I did in fact work on my script last night, and I'm two scenes away from a whole plot. Maybe tonight I'll finish, and then next week I can start the rewrite.

So my girl isn't showing me up.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Thoughts You Shouldn't Think

I caught myself doing something alarming today.

See, I'm working on this comedy. I drafted it once. Now I'm rewriting it.

It's kind of biting me on the ass at the moment. In a slow, deliberate, cud-chewing sort of way.

I don't generally think of myself as a very funny person. Some people laugh at me. That may not always be by my choice. But often it is. Still, if anything, I'm more of a one-liner type of guy. Exploiting a situation to its limit isn't really my bag, baby.

Of course, when writing a comedy, that is exactly what one is called upon to do.

To me, comedy is made up a two elements. I may have said this before. What you do is you get 1) some great quirky and outlandish characters, and then you think of 2) some crazy situations to happen to them. You throw 1 and 2 together, and that's how you create comedy.

I think that comedy is so much harder than drama, which is why I'm always angry when the Oscars are over.

Anyway, I was thinking about how unlikely it is that I'll be writing the next 40-Year-Old Virgin (which I think is the most recent truly original comedy). And even the odds of writing another movie like Wedding Crashers, which I didn't think was very original but was definitely hilarious, are pretty low for me.

Then this sentence formed itself if my head:

"I really just need to write something that's funny enough to get sold, and lots of extremely not-funny comedies are made every year, so selling one shouldn't be that hard."

Do you see the trap in that? The seductive but fatal lure? No?

It's the Siren call of mediocrity, my friends. The belief attempting to take over in my mind that all I need to do is just be a tiny bit better than all the other trash out there.

Now, even if this was technically true (which is debatable), this is not at all the kind of artistic philosophy with which I am anything close to on board. This is anathema.

So even though I'm not very strong in the world of comedy, this script is going to have to be worked on and worked on and worked on and worked on until either I can't possibly make it any funnier, or it really has reached the heights of excellence at which one wishes to aim.

But if someone offered to buy it from me tomorrow for a reasonable price, I wouldn't say no.

Now that's some good philosophy.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What are the Odds?

So one of the projects I was going to do next was a book adaptation. I figured this would be fun to do, since I'm supposed to be all good at anaylsis and stuff.

The novel in question is The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, a personal favorite of mine.

I started reading it last night and got about halfway through, reinforcing my belief that it would be super-easy to adapt to the screen.

This morning, I thought that since I hadn't yet checked on copyright status, I might as well crack open the first couple pages of the book and take a gander.

"Take a gander." What a great phrase.

Anyway, opened up to the copyright page, and ... nada.

This was encouraging.

The next step was some googling. And Lo, if I did not immediately discover that the book, first printed in 1908, is in fact in the public domain.

And there was much rejoicing.

Then I thought I would just throw "movie" onto the end of my google search, to check whether (unlikely as it might have seemed), anyone else had already had my bright idea.

And damned if right there, some bastards hadn't had my idea just a couple months ago. Forensic Films, who were behind Idlewild (which I haven't seen), have actually commissioned some jerk named George Smith to do the adaptation.

So now my job is clearly to plot how I can pre-empt them in some way, or failing that, steal Mr. Smith's job (unlikely, since he is quite naturally connected to the producers, as I am not).

Barring that, I'm really just crossing fingers that Forensic doesn't actually end up making the film. I'd really rather not see it come out all low-budget and stuff.

Unfortunately, Forensic seems to have a history of actually producing movies. Those jerks. So I'm probably out of luck.

I was really looking forward to doing that adaptation. Dammit.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Plot to Take Over the World

Man, I suck at this.

But not as much as Blair, who hasn't posted in I don't know how long.

We love you, Blair.

Here is how bad I am at blogging: I posted an entry when I was at 110 pages on the most recent script, but I failed miserably to say anything at all when I finished the damn thing a few days later.

At 147 pages, it was a notable achievement, but did I get out the blogging tools and carve my triumph in netstone?

Nope. But I did give it to my mom to read. Take that, Other, More Consistent Bloggers!

So it's been a couple weeks (and more) since that time, and I have a choice in front of me.

I could start work on draft 2 of The Other Woman (as it is currently labeled). Or I could continue fixing the plot of How to Date Your Cousin, on which I have been spending much thought.

I had some talk with Greg on the subject of said plot, and I feel as though I fixed a fundamental character issue that sparks further possibility for the script.

Here is the problem with this, however. While some people can spit out plot points and setpieces as if chewing raw story tobacco, I am not some people.

I have problems with plot.

I especially have problems with funny plot. Stupid romantic comedy.

You would think that with some great character types and a really quality situational premise, it would be easy to come up with some hella-funny scenes, but this is actually quite difficult for me.

So I could spend all my time thinking about this desperately ailing plot,


I could bump it back into the subconscious to work on the thing for which I actually have ideas.

What to do, what to do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'm Back, Baby!

Over a month since I last posted. Eek.

I have excuses. I do. Travel. Hectic work schedule. Girlfriend. Sleep deprivation.

But I won't use them. Because the truth is: I just haven't felt like blogging.

This happens to me every few months. And you shouldn't feel slighted, Blogger. My other blog hasn't seen an update in an equally long time.

But things are calming, and I'm working on scripts again, and so I feel better about myself in general, which brings a return of the blogging urge.

Have continued work on The Other Woman, which has now reached 110. I'm still disappointed that this draft did not progress as quickly as the last six-day miracle. But I have an excuse that helps me sleep at night (not that I need the help).

You see, this script is all about conversations. Sure, there's action. And plot. Things happen, macro and micro. But the story is about characters processing together an event common to all.

And I didn't plan this processing. I planned the outcome of the processing. But the actual words that would be said … I left them to be determined in the moment. I put my effort into creating the characters that would say the words.

And I'm finding that, sometimes, those words come slowly. Of course, being sleep deprived contributes to that.

But now I am at 110 pages, and most of the long, difficult conversations are behind me. It's a teensy bit more downhill from here. Still, I expect this script will go long, so I probably still have 30-45 more pages in front of me. Several nights work at least.

After that, it will be rewrite time for How to Date Your Cousin. I'm very excited about that, because I think the rewrites will go just as quickly as the draft. Since I'm an optimist, I hope to reach shipping date on that script by the end of the year. That'd be a great way to end 2006, yes?

Again, I love my job.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Quantity is Job 1

I did no writing tonight. Wednesday night is when I have the most paperwork and other crap to deal with at work, so I busied myself with that and then gave myself the last two hours to blog instead.

However, after another 4ish hours last night, I have 50 pages on the script (now tentatively titled The Other Woman), averaging close to 5 per hour. It would be more, but I stuck myself in a bit of a plot rut last night and took about an hour to decide what I was going to do.

But I got back on the horse, and the thing is progressing nicely.

I'm already starting to get ideas about the rewrite for it. Like, I'm pretty sure that the main character hasn't been set up helpless enough. Too late now, but it'll have to be done at some point.

I've also been trying to come up with ideas for the next project. And today I realized, I have a great idea that I've been ignoring for a while.

And that is mostly because I already wrote it once.

That's right my friends, the first script I ever wrote still languishes in rough draft form on a lonely hard drive. I didn't rewrite it because I was much dumber back then and couldn't think how to go about it.

But the premise was great. I still remember that premise, and it was pretty suave (I think). And now I feel I've grown enough as a writer that I could start to do it justice.

So I'm going to read it tonight and try to get a feel for what needs to be done. It may actually turn out to be a page one. But that's okay.

I also have another idea that I started to write before I had the good sense to realize I didn't have a strong enough plot. I'm not sure the hook for that one was good enough, but we'll see when I re-read that one.

Anyway, should be fun figuring out where to go next. Makes me excited, like the little girl that I am inside.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I'm All Talk

Some writers are all talk. They say they're writers. They say they're working on something. But when it comes right down to it, you start to notice after a while that they haven't actually produced any work in quite some time.

There are times when I'm one of these writers. But now is not one of those times.

Right now is draft time, baby!

Ah, draft time. Truly 'tis a wonderful season in the writer's life, when the desert of planning and research and note-taking is finally crossed and the thirsty writer arrives at the oasis of putting pen to paper, or as times have it, fingers to keyboard.

But, to get back to what I was saying, the way in which I am "all talk" is not the way I have just described.

No, what I'm referring to is the nature of my current writing.

I felt pretty proud of myself this time around because I spent many hours planning and doing character development, so that by the time I actually got to the plot, I felt pretty grounded in my characters.

So when I did my outline, I put in several scenes in which I knew that the characters would talk at length to each other. I even knew (sometimes) how their conversations would end. But I didn't plan the actual content of those conversations.

Robert Rodriguez once asked Quentin Tarantino how he got such good dialogue, and Quentin said, "I just start two characters talking, and even I'm surprised by what they say."

This is the method I am attempting for the current project.

I just finished writing the conversation right before the break into act two, and it was pretty fun. There will be many more like it, where I just sit some characters down and see what comes out of their mouths.

Then I'll read it later and find out that all the dialogue needs to be rewritten.

Well, we'll see.

As a final, semi-related note, I've been working on this script for 6.5 hours.

And I have 27 pages. What is that? A little over four pages an hour, average. Not too great, but not too shabby.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Draft Time, Baby!

So after not a few weeks of sitting around and thinking (see previous post), I finally thought I had a plot for the "Polygamy" script. I proudly packed my little notecards together and went off to a meeting with Greg, ready to pitch the hell out of the thing.

I pitched. For twenty-five long minutes I pitched.

Greg interjected. He made suggestions. He had thoughts.

I got to the end. He didn't like it. I didn't like it.

I saw it coming. I really did. I knew when I wrote the beat card for the climax that it just didn't feel climactic.

Greg and I both blanked on how to deal with it. One meeting and a whole weekend later, neither of us had any solutions.

Then, early Wednesday morning, I'm at work. More sitting and thinking. And it hits me.

I solved it. I called Greg, mere hours before he was to fly out to LA (this is how I steal time from people). He agreed. The ending works.

And how did I solve it?

The main characters of the story meet two people at the third act break. First a wife, then her husband.

I switched the order. They meet the husband, then the wife.

And now it works.

Stories are weird.

Anyway, it's draft time now, and this is where the crazy third-shift job really works for me. Wednesday night isn't the best. There's lots of work to do around the house. But I still managed to squeeze in two hours of productivity, and I got eight pages out of that. Tomorrow, should get at least six hours of writing, and we'll see where that takes me.

I'm back, baby!

Monday, August 07, 2006


You think that I'm a huge blog-slacker, but I tell you that what I really am is just a plain old slacker. I haven't blogged because I haven't done anything.

I've sat around and thought.

I've made a couple notes.

I talked to Greg over the phone.

But that's it.

Got some notes from Blair about the draft I finished two months ago. If I can get some notes out of Greg about it, maybe I'll go back to that.

I finished my preliminary character development for what I'm calling the "Polygamy" script (see above sitting around and thinking). I'm just starting to plot it out. I might have been further along, but it's been an absolutely insane week at work. Don't get me started.

Tomorrow, meeting with Greg again, now that he's dragged himself back into town. Maybe something productive will come of that.

And I'll get something done. Or pretend to get something done. If so, I'll post more.

But don't get your hopes up too high.

Monday, July 03, 2006


There are two preferred methods of killing unwanted children. The first, of course, is to just kill them when they pop out. But this really doesn't involve enough tempting of fate for my taste. I prefer the old tried-and-true Roman adventure of taking them outside the city and leaving them to die, risking the off chance that someone else will come and pick them up, thus giving them the opportunity to grow up and later kill me at unawares.

That last bit may not quite fit the metaphor I'm creating here, but certainly I am killing one of my babies at the moment, scriptographically.

My regular readers (hey Greg!) will remember that I finished one draft and finished a plot outline for the next. I think I even made some remark about how guilty I felt that it was another romantic comedy.

Well, I sat down the next night at work to start writing a synopsis so I could get on to developing characters and banging out another draft, thus giving myself reason to gloat over my other screenwriting friends (hey Greg!). This is obviously the only reason to engage in such an unrewarding process as screenwriting, apart from the great salary.

But I got about three paragraphs into the synopsis and started to hate myself, and even more, to hate my newborn child. All of a sudden it was just too cliché, too by-the-numbers, too … Save the Cat! to keep in my family of works-in-progress. I got disgusted with myself and spent the next four nights falling asleep while pretending to write and finally abandoning pretense in favor of watching movies.

Then I read this year-old script by Greg and instantly loathed myself even more. I'm beginning to think that bastard churns out better work the less he plans for it. Meanwhile I plan and plan and plan and plan and then don't even like my plans enough to carry them out.

Wow, I look at that last paragraph, and any doubt I had that I am a writer just disappears. The sheer, undisguised artistic jealousy and self-loathing is the tell.

Anyhow, while I was complaining to Greg about this over the phone, he recommended leaving the story out to dry (or as I prefer to think of it, dying alone on a hillside) for a while and working on something else.

So I have this road-trip girly-movie idea (that's right, girly movies are all I have) that Greg and I both agreed was marketable, and I'll be working on that for a while now. It should be out-of-the-box enough to not make me angry. I watched Thelma and Louise last night as preparation for this endeavor.

I'm realizing I don't owe it to an idea to develop it first just because I had it first. I have a strange, relational tendency to be loyal to my ideas. If I was a paterfamilias in ancient Rome, I'd have no respect from the other landed citizens (hey Greg!). So I'm practicing leaving the unwanted ones on the hill to die, at least until I run out of better children to whom I can give my attention.

Or until they grow up in someone else's care to be sold for $2 million and ruin my life.


Also, I posted a logline for one of my shorts on, because it's free to do that. One day later, I have an email from a cinematographer asking to read it because he's looking for a short to produce. So tonight is also about getting the script into shape for him to read. I like attention, however trivial.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Outlining and Other Development-y Goodness

Read 'em and weep, bitches.

This is the outline board for my current script, which I am calling the Redbeard story, pending an actual title.

While I await comments from you lazy slackers who have the Cousins script (you know who you are), I'm starting on my next. I feel a little guilty that this is also a rom-commy story, but hey, that's how I roll.

I'm finding the use of the board to be very good for me. In the past I've always tried to plot out the movie in my head, figuring that if I can't remember it without writing it down, it must not be a good enough idea.

I later decided that this was ridiculous.

The board is nice and visual, y'know? I can set it up there on the desk at work and stare at it for half an hour while ideas surge around. Then I can find the place where the idea actually fits. I can gaze at the story outline in visual form and figure out where the structural weak points are. I can move things around, cut and replace, and it all happens right there before my eyes.

It's a beautiful thing.

So I have this new idea roughly plotted out. The Cousins script was the first time I did an actual outline before moving on to the draft. And because I was doing the 14-day thing, even that was a rushed outline, which will no doubt be apparent to those of you who actually read it.

In this case, I have no such deadline. So I spent this week coming up with a structurally sound outline and deciding what basic character types I wanted. Next week I will move on to some serious character development. This is supposed to be funny, and good comedy depends (in my book) on spectacular and outrageous characters.

Character is, in my own opinion, the thing I am absolutely the worst at, so I'm not sure how long I'll spend on character development before I have it right. By that time, the plot of the movie may also be all different, because I will be making changes to it as the characters demand.

So I'm in for an exciting time, I think. Drafts are obviously the big rush, and I've determined that I can crank one out pretty fast what with my long empty nights at work. But I want each successive first draft to improve. John August claims that he only does one draft. That's pretty damn good. That's a good goal, and one only gets there through improving one's planning skills.

Meanwhile, I need Greg to sell his stupid script and come back here so he can tell me when my ideas suck. I prefer to sidestep the suck when possible.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Must Find Hook

Last night at work I treated myself to a night of watching movies on the couch (I love my job). Why did I do this? Well, I'm glad you asked that, O jealous fellow writers.

Because I finished a script.

Okay, fine! I didn't finish the script. I finished the first draft. But it sounds so much cooler to say you finished a script.

The 14-day Screenwriting Contest worked out well for me. I banged that thing out at an average of almost 6 pages an hour, baby. That's pretty good for me—I don't know about the rest of you.

I think that's the glorious thing about having an idea that you can really see as a movie: you keep seeing it the whole time you're writing; you just have to keep letting the fingers translate so everyone else can also see.

The 14-day script was good for me in another way, besides just getting a draft knocked over. It reminded me how much I love writing a script.

I was pumped when I got the Lifeline job, because it meant I would be able to write for several hours every night while getting paid. True, I wasn't getting paid much, but it was enough to stay alive and not have to stress out trying to find other hours during the day in which to pursue the craft. So I entered the job excited, ready to go.

Then I didn't write for a month.

This is the problem with ideas that you can't "see." You can't see them. I had this "Hero" idea. The most famous heroes of the great stories and myths are actually all the same person. What a great idea, right?

That's not a hook. It's too broad to be a hook. So I went off in search of the hook. Night after night at work I would labor to find the plot for the movie this idea wanted to be. I did one. It sucked. I did another one. It sucked. But it had elements of not sucking. I took another pass at it. It still sucked.

I kept falling asleep at the desk. Outlining a hookless movie has to be the worst thing in the world for someone awake at 4 a.m.

So, worn out from all this story-breaking and not having written in longer than I wanted to admit to anyone, I went off to Sicily. And danged if my second-to-last day there, I didn't get myself a hook. And I don't mean a hook in the "what a great concept to explore" sense, but in the "This is so good I need to check to make sure it hasn't already been done" sense. (Note: this is my big, biased ego talking).

Come home, back to work. First night: outlining.


I kicked that outline's ass.

Second night: writing.
Third night: writing.
Fourth night: lack of sleep, but still some writing.
Fifth night: hella writing (40 pages, baby)
Sixth night: insane work problems and distractions galore. No writing.
Seventh night: Fade to Black. Draft complete.

I think I calculated around 27 hours of writing to produce 129 pages. Not once in all those hours or pages did I get bored. Not once did I wish I was doing something else (okay, maybe sleeping). It was a thrill from start to finish.

Because I had a hook.

New screenwriting lesson: Don't write a hookless movie. Not just because you won't sell it. Because it's not nearly as much fun.

Next week: a new hook, a new outline, a new script. Rewrites on the most recent draft await the perusal of my fellow scribes. Get on that, y'all. Don't leave me hanging.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I'm the Juggernaut of Page Counts, Bitch.

I was going to continue my argument with this post by Greg, but I went away before I could get there, and I don't care enough anymore. So we're done with that.

More exciting (to me) is what's currently going on in the English-speaking world of screenwriting, the 14 Day Screenwriting Contest. This is a contest against one's self, so don't get excited that you might win something. In any case, it's too late to start unless you're even more of a speed demon writer than I am right now.

I got back to the states a little late for the contest (June 6 as opposed to June 3), but I went for it anyway, because while I was away I came up with my most kick-ass idea ever for a story. When I got home, I spent one night at work (I love my job) outlining, and the next night commenced to pound out the first draft. I've now spent three nights of work time writing this script, and the page count is (ya ready?) 90 frickin' pages.

Now, 90 pages is actually pretty close to what I thought the final page count would be. However, I am not terribly far past the midpoint at the moment, and still going strong, so one of the flaws that will be fixed in subsequent drafts is definitely going to be long-winded-ness. But I still feel quite confident that in the remaining three nights of work I have left before the 14 days end I can finish this rough. I'm not saying it will be good. But fixing a sucky thing is about a million times easier than creating a new thing.

One of the other things I have a feeling will be wrong with this script, although I won't be able to verify this until others read it, is that it just won't be that funny. This is my first time trying to write a rom-com, so I've got that working against me. But beyond that, I just keep forgetting that it's supposed to be funny. I get focused on the story, banging out scenes, and every couple hours think to myself, "Am I being funny?" We'll find out.

The other thing holding me back from the funny is that since I didn't have tons of planning time, I didn't so much map out characters beforehand. I think a lot of the essence of comedy is based on good characters, and I don't have 'em. Much of the comedy in this script can be situational, but much of it should still be character-driven. So there's already plenty of work to do in the second draft.

I'll let you guys know how it goes, and I'll probably ask a couple of you to read, if you promise not to do that thing you did with my last script, you bunch of slackers.

I need Greg to come back so I can brag on myself. My writer's ego needs some stroking.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

I thought it would be fun to respond to this post over at the Web of Lies and Deceit. Ignoring Greg's most recent ranting about the progress of his movie (love ya, man), you can just skip on down to the place where he starts talking about me.

That's what does my ego good.

First point:

I have been told twice in pitches that audiences don't like to be manipulated or misled.

I take great exception to that.

There are few things I like better than to be misled and manipulated when I am watching a film. Especially if it is done well. To be misled and manipulated poorly - well... For that there is no excuse. But when it is handled correctly - it is a great great feeling.

Now, I can see Greg's side of this point, but just to be a pain, I'm going to argue against him.

Manipulation is for only certain kinds of movies. Don't write me The Game when I ask you for a RomCom. It just doesn't fly. But even for movies that spin webs and trap viewers, there are two kinds of manipulation.

This is where I would normally warn you about spoilers to come, but we'll only be discussing old flicks here, so it's your own fault if you haven't seen them.

Since Greg cites The Sixth Sense, we'll go with that. The viewer is in the shoes of Bruce Willis' character for much of the movie. We know things when Bruce knows them. Everything that feels right and true to Bruce feels right and true to us. So when everything Bruce has heard and seen comes together at the end of the movie to produce the colossal explosion of the realization of his own death, the same explosion is happening in our heads.

That's some good manipulation, my friends.

But here's a situation where manipulation is mishandled. And it involves a classic I know you're all going to be upset that I'm attacking, but I don't care.

In Rear Window, a moment comes early in the movie, after Jimmy Stewart has already begun to suspect the salesman across the way of harboring evil intentions toward said salesman's wife, when Hitchcock opens a curtain, as it were, for the viewer. While Jimmy is dozing in his wheelchair, we see the salesman and his wife leave their apartment together. When Jimmy wakes up, the salesman is back sans wife.

Now is this or is this not a sure sign that, while Jimmy leaps to the conclusion that the wife is now lying six feet under, we the viewer are supposed to feel confident that something quite different has occurred? In every other mystery/suspense I've ever seen, such would surely be the case.

But not so. The salesman really did kill his wife.

Now, leaving aside all comment on the kind of movie where the thing the main character thinks is true really is true (Jimmy thinks the salesman killed his wife—and he did!), this is some mean manipulation on Hitchcock's part and one of the only fumbles I've ever seen from him. And it's a kind of manipulation that, in subtler form, you get with some frequency in poorly-written movies: tricking the viewer without tricking the hero.

There's one type of movie in which this is acceptable, and that is the anti-hero movie. Greg is currently working on a movie in which the main character turns out to be a liar. Thus the viewer must be deceived throughout, just as the people to whom the hero is telling his story are deceived.

But in other genres, the viewer should only be as manipulated as the hero is. Don't lie to me unless you're lying to the person I have identifed with in the story. For as long as I sit in that seat, I am that person, so I should feel what they feel, and nothing different.

Next time, since I went crazy long with this post, I'll respond to Greg's other contention, with which I disagree much more strongly.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Bad news for Greg over at the Web of Lies and Deceit. Wail and gnash your teeth, aspiring screenwriters. Soon this will be you.

But first, we've got to break story, yes? At least, that's where I am. As previously mentioned, my current concept is deep and expansive, offering multiple compelling possibilities for exploration. How to find the right ones?

On Thursday, Greg and I hashed through it for a second time, providing much more satisfactory results. At least now I have merely a lame version of a story I actually like as opposed to a perfectly watertight version of a story I was not really interested in telling.

Okay, "perfectly watertight" might be a bit of a stretch.

Now comes something I think all of us can appreciate: research.

Ah, Research, that blessed time when the writer may spend hours, if not days or weeks, reading books and magazines and short stories and wasting away time on the internet all in the name of acquiring a few facts or ideas for a project on which he is actually not doing any work at all. Truly, it is a joyous season in the story's life.

On Friday I went to the library and got three books full of mythology. I shall read them with great pleasure, all the while consoling myself that I am doing research. And that's only part one of research. That's just background and depth, baby. After that comes the actually Looking of Things Up and Making of Notes to produce the data one actually needs.

But at long last, one must actually sit down and pound out a draft, sad as it may seem. And I'm hoping I can at least get a start on that before leaving the country in two weeks. On the other hand, maybe it would be better to not interrupt the flow once started. We'll see how it goes.

Next Episode: why mythology is important.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

How to Write While Sleeping

I'm through my first week at the new job. Haven't gotten so much writing done, but actually more than I expected, so thus far my plan is working. Mwaahahahaha!!!

I haven't done much because in addition to having to adapt my body to sleeping during the day, I am trying to finish up projects and tie off loose ends at the church where I [used to] work. This means I've been sleeping six hours or less each day and working non-stop. I slept for 1.5 hours today. No lie.

But once I was through with my two days of training and had the nights to myself, I tried to get a second start on plotting out my next script, which for the moment I am referring to as "The Hero Script."

I plotted this out once already and went over it with Greg, but I didn't really like it, Greg didn't really like it, and I just felt it wasn't doing justice to the concept. It's a big concept with multiple thematic possibilities, and Wednesday night I started exploring those possibilities to find the one that would actually become the movie.

Thursday morning I staved off sleep for a few hours more to meet with Greg, and I told him what I'm about to tell the rest of you.

Let me note in advance that I'm aware of the pathetic pretentiousness that is the following sentence:

This movie wants to be a trilogy.

Now I'm aware that this puts me in bad standing on the Fantasy Novelist's Exam, and I can't think of anything sadder than being so incapable of coming up with a plot for a movie that you switch to plotting three movies, but I stand by what I said.

This movie wants to be a trilogy.

So having endured Greg's attempts to talk me out of such foolishness, last night I began making notes about the three different movies. But let me just say, in mitigation, that I took one scrap of Greg's comments to heart, viz., that I should figure out which one of the three was the one I most wanted to do, and do that one first.

Fortunately, it's Part One of the trilogy.

So I wrote down as many notes as I could currently think of for Parts Two and Three (in nice columns in my spiral), and then started to dwell on Part One.

Unfortunately, this was c. 4:30 in the a.m., right about the time I hit the only-four-hours-of-sleep wall. It's kind of completely against the point of the job to fall asleep, so I had to stop pretending to think about the Hero movie (while actually repeatedly nodding off) and switch to reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I gleefully discovered among the scant library at the House. So far, it's everything I expected. But that's beside the point.

After a full night of work, followed by an almost-full day of work punctuated with the aformentioned 1.5 hours of nap on the couch in my office at the church, I went to help my small group work on one of our houses (floor sanding makes much dust). When I couldn't really remain upright anymore, I drove home and watched Suspect Zero. Rather an interesting movie for the kind of script I'm starting at the moment. Worth a viewing, although don't get too excited about the Ben Kingsley. If he had done any acting in this movie, I'm sure it would have been wonderful, as usual. But he wasn't allowed to, so he had to stick to looking mysterious and threatening. Which he does well.

I've held off going to sleep because I want to get out of the habit of sleeping at night, but it's getting about time to let my body have it's way, so I'm not going to stick around here talking to you people.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Can You Believe They're Going to Pay Me to Write?!

I got the new job about which I posted several days ago. As of this afternoon, I officially am employed by Lifeline Youth and Family Services as a Youth Treatment Specialist. I start work tonight.

It's true that Lifeline pays mostly in thanks, so I'm taking quite the substantial pay cut, but this is a third-shift job where I will do practically nothing. Thus I will be able to spend almost eight hours every night writing. For the first time in my life, I won't have to use spare time on career-building. Gnash your teeth in envy, jealous fellow scribes!!

Now we have to see if this new freedom results in actual scripts, not to mention improvement in my skills and advancement of my career.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

People who live around here know that there's a particular job that I really, really want.

For those who don't: There's a particular job that I really, really want.

Tomorrow I have an interview for it. Those who pray, pray that I get this.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I got my next script plotted!! Aaahhhahahahahahahaha!!!

Well sure, it blows right now. But tomorrow I'm going to talk to Greg about it, and he's a genius. So soon it will be amazing, you'll see!

Of course, I'll have to actually write it then, but let's not discuss that right now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Make it Better

When I grow up, I'm going to be in development.

Okay, I'm not. I'm going to be a screenwriter. We all know this is the goal.

But for the past couple days, I've felt kind of like I'm in development. For those unacquianted, development people are the ones who seek out scripts and develop them to the point where they can be good movies. That's a super-simplified definition, but it's not the point right now, so bite me.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading a script by David. I gave him lots of mean notes, all the things I could think of that were wrong with his story. Today I spent all day thinking about his script and his characters and their various intertwining plotlines, and I just finished a ginormous long email full of more notes, but positive ones this time.

This is starting to become a trend.

Because a couple weeks ago, I did the exact same thing with a script by Blair. I read his stuff, told him lots of mean things, and then sat on it for half a week before straightening out his story in my head and emailing him a bunch of what I hope were helpful suggestions, thereby causing him to remove the pins from his little Ryan voodoo doll.

I quite enjoy this process. Probably too much, as it leads me to spend two hours writing an email to someone and another 20 minutes blogging about it. I should be writing instead, slacker that I am. But it's not only a fun process; it's an incredibly constructive habit for a screenwriter.

Reading scripts that aren't done, that you know need input and therefore could be seriously impacted if you come through with something intelligent, is a great challenge. It exercises the story muscles in your brain to be able to look at a story objectively (something next to impossible with one's own work) and figure out what it needs to really make it shine.

I do this with movies as well as with unproduced scripts. Let's face it: most movies aren't that great. I can enjoy them, but there will be nagging little thoughts in the back of my head, telling me why I shouldn't. In some cases, such as the movie I watched on Friday, the nagging is so great that I find myself actually rewriting the movie as I watch it.

I know only a few of the people reading this are screenwriters, but I'll bet this applies to almost anything you might be passionate about doing. Watch other people doing it, or examine the finished work, and figure out what you would do instead. How could it be better? Do this whenever you have the opportunity. Just don't be like me, and let it keep you from actually practicing your passion.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stale, Flat and Unprofitable

This hasn't been the greatest week for writing. I'm shifting my daily schedule around, and the shift is only temporary. Soon my life will have to be restructured yet again. So far the weekend has been consumed with small group stuff and car-fixing adventures, and that's not the same thing as writing.

But I did get some notes on my script from a couple people. One person (you know who you are - :) - ) in particular said a lot of things about the story as it now stands, and while many of them made sense and in fact agreed with what Greg had already said, some of the comments seemed completely unbelievable to me.

My story centers around a conflict between a husband and wife, and issues of the value of relationships in opposition to other concerns. And many of the notes I received yesterday showed that the person who was giving them had, against all expectation, sided with the wrong person in the story.

Now, I did a sanity check last night with a group of both men and women, and I was correct in thinking that everyone I know sides with the correct character in my story. So I was put slightly more at ease about that. But here is a comment that really kind of threw me (paraphrased):

"They both just act so immature; I wanted to slap them both in the last scene."

Now, by way of enlightenment, the person giving me these notes belongs to an older generation than both me and the two characters in question. So it is quite possible that these characters could be behaving in a way that is true to life but still seems immature to someone older.

But this brings up a point that this guy emphasizes: People don't have to like your characters; they just have to care what happens to them.

So maybe it's okay that this person thinks my characters behave immaturely. Even if it's true, it's not necessarily a problem; sometimes people are immature. The fact that someone is sufficiently emotionally connected to my characters to be irritated by their immaturity is almost a good sign.

What was more alarming was this question: "So, you actually intended the main character to have a flat personality?"

Now, I haven't figured out how this character can be both annoyingly immature and, concurrently, lacking in personality. I'm sure it's possible. But it's very worrying, because this character is definitely not supposed to be flat. He's a programmer-geek experiencing feelings of isolation compounded by guilt for both controllable and uncontrollable failures as a husband.

If after all my musings on his character, all my subtly-developed setup of his situation, all my careful tweaking of his dialogue, and all my well-crafted interactions with other characters, all I've arrived at is "annoyingly immature," I'm about to have serious rewrite issues.

There were other equally provocative notes I got from this particular person (thanks!)—not equally as troubling, but definitely requiring attention and care. So while I still plan to hold out for notes from Blair before resuming work on this monster, it's definitely maintaining a nagging foothold in my consciousness.

But on a positive note, the windows in my car all work now. Take that, screenwriting career!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Some Love

A few days ago I responded to an open invitation for guest bloggers from Church Marketing Sucks. Today they posted this piece by yours truly.

How can I leverage this free publicity (term loosely used to describe literally tens of readers) to advance my screenwriting career?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Other Eyes

There's a scene in Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis, in which the main character arrives on a strange planet. When he steps out of the spacecraft that brought him, he looks around at the vista before him, and all he see are masses of blended color; he can't make out any objects. Eventually, his eyes adjust so that he has a context in which to recognize his surroundings, but at first his brain is unable to decipher what his eyes are taking in.

insert crazy colors here

When the first draft of my script came out, it wasn't so good. It needed lots of work, so for the second draft I moved all kinds of scenes around, wrote uncounted new pages and scenes, and generally changed the entire landscape.

I didn't give the second draft to any of my trusted readers, because I thought there were probably still things I could do to it. So whether you consider what I'm doing right now the second draft, the third draft or just another pass, it hasn't had anyone else's eyes on it since the sucky first draft.

Oh sure, I've given scenes to Greg, but they were just scenes, with no context. No one would be able to tell anything from them except whether they were well-written scenes. And I'm not just shooting for well-written scenes. We need a cohesive whole movie here, my friends.

Not only has no one else seen it, I can barely even say I've seen it. I've been so busy inspecting the details, moving single objects around, focusing on minutiae, that the thing as a whole is starting to just become a swirling mass of color. I'm too close to it to be able to see what it looks like.

So tonight the final pass should be done, and tomorrow I will get it out to the few who were unable to dodge quickly enough. Maybe if I get some other eyes on it, and get some distance from it myself, it will start to make sense again. And then: improve, improve, improve.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


One summer when I was in college, I wanted to lose 25 pounds, so I decided I would go running every day. I mapped out a mile in my neighborhood and forced myself to go running as soon as I got home from work, at which time, by the way, it would be, like, 90 degrees outside.

I hate running.

But I kept doing it every day, and I lost a bunch of weight, and I even kept doing it when I went back to school. I was in the mandatory health class by that time, so that worked out. I eventually quit because I got super-busy, but I had kept it up for about six months by that time.

And I liked it.

Sometimes, on a much smaller scale, writing is like this for me. Not the actual process, because I like that part. I like writing. But sometimes it's the last thing I'll actually do. I can find a million things to do before I get to writing, even though I actually like it quite a lot.

When I was doing the first and second drafts of this script, I didn't have this problem. I'd gotten disciplined enough that I was now ignoring other things (including my health) so I could write more. But I got sick, and I didn't write for two weeks, and now all my discipline is gone.

So even though I have barely anything to do on what I hesitate to even call a third draft, I'm crawling along. Last night I trolled along through MySpace looking for other people who graduated from my college. I wrote to people from high school. Then I went to bed.

I need someone to kick me. Thank goodness I'm meeting with my writing "group" tomorrow.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Clueless Characters

Had a mostly-swell weekend with the folks, who came on Wednesday. The part before the weekend would have been swell, but I was still pretty sick. Today I learned that I can actually put eyedrops in by myself.

Feeling good about myself because I bought the new Ben Folds that I'd been procrastinating about at the same time I bought this old classic Fleming and John. Great stuff—you should really check it out.

Have now not written in over two weeks. I better get on it, or I might start to lose the drive.

Watched Clueless tonight with the Small-ers. First time seeing this 1995 classic. Fun stuff. Brittany Murphy with a New York accent.

Clueless is a great movie for people like me, who struggle with character. It's based on a Jane Austen book, so it's rife with characters, and Amy Heckerling had to help the audience keep all those kids straight. So in addition to the typical teen-movie stereotypes, she came up with some pretty sparkling ways to make her characters stand out.

Making the misleading love interest a 50s crooner-type was completely genius. And then he's gay. You can't make this stuff up.

One kid's a skater-stoner. Oh sure, I know what you're thinking: "That is sooo 90s." Well, to be fair, this was the 90s. But in addition to the stereotype, Heckerling also made the guy an overenthusiastic stupid-human-trickster with a gift for spills. The fact that he later turns out to be a stunningly cool skater is just icing.

Brittany Murphy plays the pretty ugly girl. You know the one I mean. But she also has a super-thick New York accent. For no reason. And she swears more than everyone else put together.

Alicia Silverstone's Emma (actually Cher in this movie: go figure) is fairly true to form. But for purposes of the plot, she's unfashionably a virgin. So is her best friend. I mean, come on, this is the mid-90s! Sexually-inexperienced teens are supposed to be a thing of the past in movies by this time. But not here. Genius.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Draft Delayed

So here's why I haven't done a thing to my script since last posting.

I finished my draft last Tuesday and gave myself the rest of the week off from writing. I'd been sick, and I was planning to go away for a weekend to a wedding. Besides, I wanted to get some distance from the script so my next take would be a little fresher.

On Sunday, illness #2 came along.

Four days later, I have finally found a doctor and gotten checked. I have pharyngitis and conjunctivitis, so I'll be down for another couple days, probably.


I'm really looking forward to getting back to my characters—maybe this will make me appreciate writing more (if possible).

In the meantime, I read a couple things people tossed my way. One was an old TV script by Charlie Kaufman, courtesy of Jane Espenson (Good), and the other was a short written by I don't know who, which a friend of a friend is thinking about producing this summer (Not Good). I haven't been doing the screenwriting thing for long, but I've already noticed a tendency on many people's part to shop things around for inspection by anyone who shows interest. Maybe I'll develop this habit soon.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sweater Threads

So for the three of you have been wondering, the house is pretty much fixed (hurray for good water), and the rewrite has been finished and emailed to the interested party.

I don't think he's too interested, because he seems to be leaning toward doing a short rather than a feature, but the whole situation gave me good motivation to finish the draft, so I'm not complaining at all.

This draft was the second, and it was significant. I've never done a second pass at a script before. (I tend to lose faith in my own work before I even get there.) So this was my first encounter with the phenomenon that I shall henceforth refer to as "Pulling at the Sweater Thread."

That is, every time you make a seemingly small change, it will force you to change five other things you hadn't previously realized would be impacted.

For example, I decided that one of the characters should be met several pages earlier than she was in the original draft. Hours later, I found that I had been forced to write a completely new scene with that character and the hero, as well as moving several of the hero's other scenes around into a completely different order. I then had to change a bunch of scene transitions that now didn't make any sense, and finally drag in a much later scene that seemed to want to go there.

Needless to say, my script is quite different now. Same movie. Even, same basic plot. But better: more concise, more structured, and with better character development.

Of course, the outline is now so different that when I tried to pitch it to someone yesterday, I couldn't even remember where all the beats went. Thank goodness it was only Greg, and not someone who is actually part of the development process (as if I would know someone like that, anyway).

I give myself the rest of the week off, and then it's draft-three time. Already making mental notes for it, because I can't help myself.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fixing Houses and Scripts

So, kids: dilemma of the moment.

No, wait: setup.

Last week, when I was meeting with my writing group (and by group I mean myself and this guy), Greg told me he'd pitched my current(!) script to a friend of his who might be making a super-low-budget feature this summer. Since my script is super-low-budget, Greg passed me this guy's phone number, and I gave him a buzz.

I warned him that the script was in the middle of quite the intensive rewrite, such that if I gave it to him in its current form, it would make no sense. He said, "That's okay; I won't have time to read it until next week, anyway. But if you could send me a one-page synopsis, that'd be great. And then you can just send the whole thing when you finish it."

Well, okay then.

I sent him the synopsis (which, by the way, is more like journalism than screenwriting ever should be), and went back to the rewrite.

Now here's the thing about the rewrite. Originally, I had no intention of finishing it by Monday. No intention at all. So there was this instant mild-panic mode that came over me. But to complicate matters, today is the day when I must fix my stupid broken water softener and water heater. It's going to be quite the plumbing-fest hereabouts.

Anyway, this weekend I have both a house and a script to fix. I want to have this rewrite into at least an intelligible form by Tuesday at the latest. Wish me luck.