Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Last week I talked about the document I keep of cut passages from each of my screenplays and the nega-writing process. While I'm on the topic of peripheral files for a screenplay, I may as well touch on the other things that I accumulate during the writing of a first draft.
I keep a folder on my desktop that share their names with different writing projects I'm working on. In each of these folders I collect various pieces of media that are either inspired parts of the screenplay, are referenced by the characters, or are in some other way related. My current alpha project (a thriller that the fellow Leaguers are all familiar with) is no different, and its folder contains the following:
1) Locale photographs. Several are taken by myself, of locations I have in mind to use as reference when describing a character's surroundings. (For example, several scenes take place in a diner that I've modeled after one I used to eat at often in Ohio.)
2) Miscellaneous images. I have various jpegs that I stumbled over during the formative early months of my screenplay's life; a poster that hangs on a character's bedroom wall, and photos of strangers found on the internet who resemble the appearance I visualize for certain characters in my head. (Is that creepy? Maybe.)
3) MP3 files. Two songs are referenced in the screenplay, and there were a couple songs that helped me get into the right frame of mind for certain scenes. I keep these nearby in case I ever need to fall back into that mood.
Part of me is tempted to include this folder on the CD along with the PDF file when I hand the draft to a friend to get their take on it, but I'm afraid that offering that type of guidance would distract them from giving me an unbiased reading and an unhindered feedback session.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
- It doesn’t get easier. It gets more difficult. You always have to raise your game, dig deeper, work harder.
- The system doesn’t care about writers. It’s a bit like Mother Nature: it has the capacity to be beautiful and nurturing, and we couldn’t exist without it, but it will also cut you down without any reasoning or judgement.
- You have the capability of writing just as much shite as the stuff you mock on TV or at the cinema every day. It will help if you recognise this, otherwise you’re in trouble.
(Another recent post that ALL beginning writers should check out: Danny's description of the 'Three P's' that all writers should live by.)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Growing up, movies weren't a major influence in my life. As a kid I mainly read mythologies, then middle school it became Japanese manga, by high school it was poetry and contemporary Chinese literature (and, who am I kidding, Asian pulp fiction). Up until then, movie watching was serious entertainment. No matter it was in the theatre or at home, movies are watched in complete silence, no lights. Absolute trust is given to the film. The fact that heroes can jump off trains or be dragged behind a car unscathed was never questioned. If a character declares love or hate toward another character, that must absolutely be what he/she feels. When the music turns soft, I automatically feel sorry for the characters. My sister cried at the end of Con Air.
When I attended the dramatic writing program in college, most of my new friends were horrified that I've never seen...well, apparently, anything. I was immediately dragged into dorm rooms to appreciate all the cinema I've missed out. One of such event that stuck with me was the viewing of Wizard of Oz. As the movie started and Dorothy ran down the black and white screen with her dog, I heard my host, MWS, say behind me, "Run bitch run."
We had to pause the movie. It was a sacrilegious and utterly wonderful moment. Not too long after, MWS became my roommate for three years.
During that time, I did some major cram work on movie watching, and I think I spoke through most of them. I remember trying to guess who and in what order will the characters die in Alien and Seven Samurai. Discussing with my sister detailed historical accuracy in (several)
Some of my favorite memories of MWS was when we pointed out each physically impossible moves, or the inaccuracy in how to escape immanent death while the movie was still running. I distinctly remember the triumphant feeling when I guessed the twist in Old Boy (and doubt my sanity). And then, there are times when I remember how it felt not being able to guess or criticize. The ability to suspend disbelief without a conscious effort. Back when there was no little voice saying "ah, here's the exposition, here's the twist, here's the mid-point..." Those times when while a movie played, I wasn’t able to make any judgment, because I knew without a doubt that when the lights turned off, I will be too swept off my feet to talk.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
At this year’s Tisch graduation writer/director Amy Heckerling (Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) was invited to say a few words to the class of 2008. She cautioned the next generation of struggling screenwriters about smoking and the portrayal of smoking in their films, among other things. I didn’t attend the graduation, but from what I hear she touched on how quick many of us writers are to put a cigarette in a character’s mouth because it gives them something to do or it just provides instant cool. The tobacco execs aren’t complaining, and upon thinking back to some of my writing they’d probably give me a big pat on the back. The kind of pat fitting of a large, well fed Carolinian.
I recently finished the first draft of my action/horror western. I’ve got one character who might as well be the Marlboro Cowboy, except cooler and deadlier. After thinking about what Ms. Heckerling was saying I wanted to see if I could trim down on the smoking. I mean, we’re intelligent writers. We can make our characters do other things right? But after reading over the script I didn’t touch a single cigarette/cigar. For draft two I might have him aggressively smother a cigar under his boot, but that’s as far as I go for now. I don’t smoke, nobody in my family smokes, and I hate being around cigarettes, but I can’t seem to cut those pesky cancer sticks.
Let’s face it, cigarettes are kind of cool up until the lung cancer part. Google Clint Eastwood and you don’t have to look past the first page for the rogue gunman image with the poncho and the small cigar that lives in the corner of his mouth. Let’s go for a different kind of cool (googling as I write) and check out Humphrey Bogart. Man, he sure looks cool. And what do you know, he’s smoking in the first three pictures. Let’s try Frank Sinatra. Ha! Sure enough, ol’ blue eyes is lighting up. So it’s settled, the tobacco companies own cool, and probably google.
Back to our characters and smoking. Sometimes you can’t avoid it. Sometimes you have a character that just smokes. I don’t feel so bad because my script is set in the wild west, and as the film industry has shown me, everyone smoked in the wild west. Actual writing aside, what can we as writers do to provide new cool habits? I always thought the guy twirling the pen in Top Gun was pretty cool. Was that Slider or Hollywood? Anyway, any of you guys ever struggled with this sort of thing?
Monday, May 19, 2008
I guess you could say I’ve been in a bit of a rut. A funk. A dry spell? Anyway you put it, it’s been a few weeks now, and I haven’t even re-read all of my post-Apocalyptic spec, which is the next thing that I’m going to pounce on again. Despite the lack of reading/writing recently, I have been doing a lot of thinking. Like Zombie mentioned in a post he made a little while ago, I feel like I’ve done nothing, but then I reassess the situation, and know that’s not entirely true.
For one, I can feel myself growing more and more distanced from the first draft of the post-Apocalyptic script. This is a very good thing. I don’t know the exact time frame, but if I don’t have at least three months in between finishing a draft and re-working it, the changes are few and far between. I can sense a slowly heating desire to scrap entire scenes and make drastic rewrites, a fire of productivity growing slowly within me, more than a spark, but far from an inferno yet.
Also, I’ve been playing with a character in my head. This is some of the most extensive character development I’ve done. Not to say that I know everything about him—quite the opposite actually. He’s in some womb between my ears, slowly but surely evolving, growing arms and feet, fingers and toenails. He’s got a name and a few mannerisms, but not much more yet. It’s a slow process, but one I’m enjoying a lot, since I often find my thoughts turning to him, encouraging him to grow and, hopefully soon, step out into the world.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Around two years ago, I interned at a small but fairly well-known (and well-funded) production company. My main duty was script coverage. I passed very little scripts along, but the ones I liked I pushed and followed along and asked every once in a while to see if my bosses would do anything with them. I was always happy when I get a “we’ll consider him for our new TV show team” or “his current projects don’t fit what we want to do, but we’re keeping him on the list of writer-for-hires”. Not much meat on the bone, but it’s a bone.
One of the scripts that stuck with me was a dark comedy about anorexic girls. The script was littered with logic potholes, and the transitions were as rough as a washboard (when there was any attempt of transition). Despite all that, I still recommended it. The idea was marketable but not generic. The pitch was catchy. It was entertaining but “about an issue”. When I left the company, that script was green lighted. I don’t think they took my in caps note about needing rewrite.
Right now, I’m employed at a foreign, independent and/or documentary film distribution company. Our acquisition one-man department is gone for two weeks, so I’m covering his work. Among the films I’ve screened, the one by far the best was a documentary about solar car making. Yep, you heard me. Grad students making a solar car. I thought I would change to the next film after it has its fifteen-minutes-chance. I became really sympathetic and involved with the team in 10 minutes, and watched to the bitter end. I was personally saddened when they didn’t win the race, and called my sister to tell her. Am I going to suggest the film to our VP or President, even just the regular acquisition guy? I have no clue. Solar car making. I can’t figure out a way to pitch it without it sounding incredibly boring and geeky, and worst of all, market-less.
Perhaps all I need is a little more faith that its goodness would shine through to our president like it did to me. But all I feel are doubts, and a little, calm voice saying “even if we take it on, it’ll just be a dust-gatherer on the shelf”. Am I one of the soulless system bitch that beats down actual good artists and promote lesser works for the sake of money? Or am I just realistic?
Funny to feel like one of those people who are keeping me and my peers from having a chance.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Hollywood Reporter is reporting from Cannes about two newly announced David Lynch-related projects:
David Lynch and Werner Herzog will be co-directing a horror film, and Lynch will be producing a new Alejandro Jodorowsky (Holy Mountain, El Topo) mobster film starring Nick Nolte, Udo Kier, and Asia Argento.
Looking through the names listed above, is there a single one that's not notoriously, well, a little nuts? I have the high, high, highest of hopes.
The story (with full details) is available here.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Ken Levine recently posted his summer movie preview up on his excellent blog. My favorite bit:
THE PROMOTION – Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly are two schleppers vying for a promotion at a Walmart type store. Comedy in aisle five! More fun: wait till it’s on cable, gather your friends, and play the drinking game every time there’s a pratfall.
Ken's entertaining take on what will be this summer's winners and duds can be found here: Part I and Part II.
Ken Levine is a veteran television comedy writer, having worked on many of the most successful sitcoms of the last 30 years, including M*A*S*H, Frasier, and The Simpsons. (Check out his impressive IMDB listing.)
His blog, By Ken Levine..., updates daily with his views on the television and film industry.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Over the weekend, I believe I may have actually nega-written.
After two solid, drawn-out sessions in front of Final Draft, I came out with a lower page count than I went in with. The fruits of the weekend's labors amounted me taking out two already-written scenes and replacing them with entirely new ones.
In the course of writing any first draft, I fall into a pattern of compulsive self-editing. I wouldn't be surprised if every page I write is composed of the chopped-up remains of three others.
I keep a separate document for every script where I keep copies of all of the scenes that I cut for one reason or another. In many cases there may be something I liked in them that just wasn't right for the overall story, or it was an early idea that was later pushed out of the way for something I thought of later and just liked more. I keep copies of these scenes in case I can use them elsewhere, either in another place in the same screenplay or for a different project altogether.
I noted today that the "deleted scenes" document has just passed 30 pages for my current project, and I've yet to finish my first draft. Should I be alarmed?
Monday, May 12, 2008
Like Onyx Enforcer, I don’t have a set writing process. While most times I like to write out an extensive beat sheet before I begin, the script I’m currently working on went through little to no planning, and is so far the smoothest writing I’ve done in years. I also find inspiration from very different places for each scripts, and while music is always playing when I write (I can’t stand writing to silence), it doesn’t really influence what I write.
I think the only consistent writing process for all of my scripts is character building. While the scripts always start with an one-line idea, it’s when I figure out what kind of person the main characters are do the story come together. Psychology fascinates me, and I like giving characters different conscious, subconscious, and unconscious goals, or conflicting/ hypocritical desires. Most of the time if they stay in my head for too long they become pretty broken and twisted, but to my delight the people in my two recent scripts are staying very healthy.
While the script is under construction, I like to let my characters run around in my head and do whatever they want: Meet another character, go to a new town, admire a knife, stalk a kill, eat some breakfast, go camping, get upset, be happy. It’s basically day dreaming, but without me. I also play the scenes I know I want to write over and over and over until the moment I write it (that’s actually how I put myself to sleep every night).
I suppose it is because I revolve around character rather than plot, if I don’t know the ending to a script I simply can’t begin to write, not even the rough draft. This is because without knowing exactly how it will go down, my characters would (like normal humans) simply drag the conflict out as long as humanly possible until it simply die anti-climatically, or suddenly ends with an abrupt burst of violence.
All of that isn’t to say that I’ve accomplished nothing this week. I got feedback on my pages from the League, which was all very helpful. This psychological thriller I’m working on, the former Screenplay X, has a lot of work to be done on it yet. However, I am proud of the draft that I have, and after I take a breather from it, I’ll eagerly dive back into it.
I also came up with ideas for a couple future projects this week. Truth be told, something (though now I can’t remember what) happened a few weeks back, and had me worrying that I was dry, in a rut, out of ideas. Well, like the figurative dog humping my leg, that’s something I can’t quite fully shake, either. But, the fact that there are a couple ideas bouncing around in my head again is comforting, even if they’re just as experimental and not as complete as the ideas I developed since January.
Another step forward was that I finally started working on my post-Apocalyptic action spec again. What I really need to do (and will do tomorrow and/or Wednesday) is re-read it. The timing’s a little poor, because I’m going on vacation for a long weekend beginning Wednesday night, and most likely won’t have my computer with me. Not that I can’t write without it, but when I finally commit to diving back into a project, it’s best to have my laptop within reach.
Lastly, I realized something. If I devoted this next year—from now until the end of April, 2009, when my lease expires—to completing all of the projects I’ve written in the past year and a half and currently have at least a first draft of, I would have an additional four scripts under my belt. That’s not counting the projects that are only an outline, or a first act, or a messy blob of random ideas. I know, four scripts might not sound like a lot to you (perhaps), but I would love to add finished drafts of each of those to my portfolio.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Jumping off Cake Man’s Don’t Never Change, I really don’t know if I have a regular enough process to the extent that I’d call it my “writing process”. I would say that I have writing habits that fluctuate greatly. I’m a young writer, and perhaps when I’m older things will be more concrete, but right now they’re all over the place. If anything they center around music lately.
I’ve usually been off and on with writing with music. I find that sometimes it helps a great deal to listen to an instrumental tune that captures the mood of a script or scene. For the most part I found that songs with lyrics were very distracting, but lately I do a lot of writing to songs with lyrics. Most recently I’ve been obsessively listening to Phobia by Breaking Benjamin, an alternative metal group. Zombie, the music guru in the group, is probably cringing at my music selection right now, cringing or cutting himself. Odd it may be (especially if you knew me) but I like it damn it, and I write tons of pages through 46 minute loops of that album. Thing is, I don’t know if those pages are any good yet seeing that nobody has read them. This habit of listening to songs with lyrics has a present, certainly a past, and possibly a future with me. Speaking about that past.
My current writing habit was born out of desperate times, back when I was crashing at my brother’s place for nine months. I was doing some writing when my work was interrupted by my brother’s roommate having what must have been acrobatic sex with his girlfriend. I can say for certain that writing to people having sex is a very bad writing habit. I didn’t have my own music to escape to, so I just put on some headphones and listened to some of my brother’s stuff. The songs had lyrics and the evening turned out to be one of my most productive in terms of putting out pages. And so the habit was born. I’m going to try and get some eyes on my new pages soon. My last script was written mostly to a combination of Red Hot Chilipeppers and Sia, and those pages were received well somehow. If these new ones are ok then maybe I’m a step closer to my writing process.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
As you can tell from my Writing Weeks, I'm abut 19 weeks into the year and have completed two first drafts of new scripts from scratch. Two new specs in about 10 weeks apiece. Factor in the fact that I tend to experience a two week lull after completing a project, and that brings it down to about 8 weeks I spend on a script. From start of the outline to finishing the draft. Yeah, I'm fast (... in my writing).
Don't get me wrong, though, I don't consider those two months on each script to be all that I need to complete a project. I'm usually pleased with my first drafts, though aware of the work they need. I just can't get myself to look at them objectively for a very long time, though - hence the two week lull, followed by the second, new project. It takes me a good deal of time before I can look at a script I've written and get past that initial feeling of pride and accomplishment to the point where I can see the (sometimes large) flaws in it.
Once I do finally decide to embark upon a rewrite, it's often a messy experience. I usually still find myself too wedded to my pages to just flat out cut them completely and start from scratch, so I tend to wind up re-writing from the first page on, correcting scenes and dialogue as I go, but leaving everything ahead untouched for the time being. Anyone who reads a draft of one of my specs in this state would wonder why the hell I spent so much time and money studying screenwriting - pages 1-30 would seem like a completely different script from 31 onward, whole scenes would be missing, characters would be completely different with the turn of a page.
It might not be the most effective (and is probably evidence of me still being too unwilling to change what I've written - though I have done cold page 1 rewrites before). In time, I'll probably find a better way. But for now that's just how I seem to work. What about you, what's your process?
Friday, May 09, 2008
Last week I watched the Czech movie Lunacy dir by Jan Svankmajer -- in the beginning Mr. Svankmajer speaks directly to the audience telling us that his movie is a horror film with no redeemable qualities, but that's OK because "art is dead."
While Lunacy employs grotesque stop-motion and blasphemy towards the church -- it was quite a story! (Don't eat while you watch it! Ick) I was disappointed Mr. Svankmajer devalued his own creation.
On the flip side of art being dead, I watched the FANTASTIC anime movie yesterday Tekon Kinkrette, dir. by Michael Arias -- this movie is so on par with the time we live in, that it inspired me to write that angry post mainly in response to Mr. Svankmajer's words.
Anime film / TV proves, in my opinion that art cannot be dead but is very much alive within the computer programs that create it. I compare anime movies of today to the Impressionist paintings of the 19/20th century -- they were not appreciated by the majority then for their beauty, but just wait -- they will be because they are amazing.
OK, I'm done for now. Hope that wasn't too lame. I really like philosophy, but I write comedy much better.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
As for those who believe art is dead or just wriggling in capitalistic oxygen like a suffocating goldfish, let me agree with you on one issue -- it takes a shit ton of blood money and marketing and evil product placement to make a movie.
But if a movie isn't live art, if Murakami's Van Deutch bags aren't either, then what is "live" art? Kant's definition of pure art, "A Priori", is not live either -- Art is only pure when it comes out of a writer's head, and artist's hands, a poet's soul. And you know what that purest state is called? A FIRST DRAFT. We go back, we revise, we make our art WORK for our impure fucking, dying world. The purity of us as sole creators gets lost along the way.
Live art comes and goes with time like the fucking tide. The Theatre died when Greece fell, (Shakespeare was an isolated Renaissance), the novel reached it's height with Jane Austin and Flaubert, (sorry for the western view here) TV's going to give way to the Internet, and (gasp!) League of Screenwriters, you're a dying breed too. Fuck $12 movies. I watch you for free on the web.
We move forward, there's no going back, OK? So art is not dead, it's just changed. It's changing. But it'll never be dead. You still put on plays, you'll still watch movies on a Friday night, kids will always be taught to finger paint and write poems. But the 21st century brings new art. it's not better or worse. It's the now.
Fuck you reactionary, pessimists. Art lives!
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
While the Writing Block is a true and real, sometimes the enemy is just your own laziness, aka, the Slump.
I’ve never had too much problem with the Writing Block. When I do, I contribute it to the work of the Devil, and tell myself “My Lord and Savior will help me overcome Goddamn it!!” And usually within a few hours I do. The Slump on the other hand, not so much. It’s hard to pray to God for help in defeating your own self. Mainly because it sounds like it’ll hurt, a lot (I’ve yet to decide which of the Old Testament deaths is the worst way to go). And, honestly, being lazy feels So. Damn. Good. So in these cases, I usually turn to the only logical help to get me to write again: rewards and punishments.
Over lunch last week, Zombie told me that he would place
My punishments for writing tend to be very primal: you can’t have dinner until you hit page 45. No sleeping until you finishes this scene. No bathroom break until the end of the page. While they work, I tend to have very bad health when I write.
I’ve tried more humane punishments with myself: No watching Law and Order until you’ve written this scene. If you can’t write go do the dishes. They don’t work. While guilt can keep me from actually eating, these humane punishments just piss me off and I end up saying fuck this to my script and watch SVU while the dishes pile up.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Monday, May 05, 2008
Gotta say, I was surprised. The “problem” scenes really weren’t. They read alright to me, and actually wound up being less of a concern than something else. Coming in at 90 pages with a fair bit of quick dialogue, this script is a breeze to read. (Actually, for some reason, I had a target length of 88 pages, which is exactly where I ended the first draft—random, huh?) My biggest concern wound up being the pacing and the time I allotted for detective work within the script. There is, as you might imagine, a bit of police procedural in the project, and I was worried that I hadn’t afforded it enough time to come together cohesively. As a whole, though, I was really pleased with the draft, especially considering I hadn’t outlined it.
Zombie and I are roommates, so I cheated a bit and picked his brain about my script after he read it, despite the fact that the League is not meeting until Wednesday. He assured me that the pacing and police work was on, and illuminated something for me about the problem scenes I was initially concerned with. Basically, they are about interactions between two characters, but I never thought to show the evolving relationship by only using one character on screen at a time. That new idea will solve a lot of the problems, condense the scenes of interaction, and allow me more building room when the two are on scene together.
Writing, no matter how many hours spent at a computer or with a notepad alone, is never a solitary thing.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
I deal every day with a particularly unhealthy but alternately helpful affliction. A curse, possibly, passed to me through genetics, or perhaps stemming from some strain of OCD. In short, if I go a day without putting some time into my writing I'm struck with such an extreme feeling of guilt that I just can't enjoy anything else I may be doing.
On one hand, this makes it hard for me to take the occasional day off, but on the other it helps keep me productive as a writer. It's a necessary evil, I guess. I wish I could take a day every now and then just to relax without falling into a miniature and short-lived bout of self-loathing, but I'm afraid if I wasn't like this I would become much more lax in regards to my writing.
The last week has been a very productive one for me. From Friday the 25th through Thursday the 1st I was able to write 27 new pages on my current project, putting me just into the final act of my screenplay. Twenty seven pages in a week is A LOT for me. I'm a slow writer - I wish I could write at fellow Leaguers Cake Man or DOA's pace (we all wish we could write as quickly as DOA, I'm sure) but everyone's different. I'll take what I can.
I hit a wall this weekend, though. Friday, half a page; Saturday, half a page. This morning I'm awake at 6:30 and staring at Final Draft, just unable to move my fingers to the keys. I've hit a point in my screenplay where I need to hunker down and figure out how I'm going to tie off my remaining loose ends. Where it stands now, there are three hanging threads I need to explain, and I'm not 100% sure. Not to say I don't have ways to solve them - it's just deciding which I like best and which will make the most sense to people who haven't had these characters in their heads for six months already.
I ended up taking my coffee out to our balcony and sitting out there for a few quiet morning hours, making notes and putting a lot of deep thought into my script. I feel like I got a lot done and solved a few problems I'd been struggling with, but I never actually typed a word.
Part of me feels like I had a productive writing session, but another part (the more neurotic part) just sees that my page count hasn't gone up since yesterday.
I guess my question to you guys is: do you still feel like you're writing if you're not actually writing anything? Is a writing session that doesn't produce pages still time well-spent?
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Seeing the (brief) mention and praise that the film got started me thinking. This was something I had hesitatingly passed on, yet it got made. Obviously, the filmmaker was dedicated to her idea, which is commendable. But was I right to pass on it, or, in lieu of the fact that it was produced, should I have been one of the first to say, “someone make this”? I like to think I have a good eye for potential, so now I ask myself, what does this film being made mean?
I should tell you that New Line didn’t wind up producing the film (Sony Picture Classics wound up being the distributor, I think). Of course, that decision not to go with it had very little to do with the coverage I wrote as an intern. Still, here’s a project that, if I was in charge of, I would have said no to. Someone else saw merit in it, and will be distributing it. Granted, a lot of movies get picked up and distributed that don’t deserve it or that have been passed by other companies, and I guess the “rightness” or “wrongness” of my decision will really only be apparent after the release, based on the numbers. But this whole situation just got me thinking about how hard it can be to sell your film, no matter how committed you might be to it, no matter how good it might be. Someone will pass it, someone will scoop it up, and someone might roll in money because of it. You just never know.