Monday, June 30, 2008

The Writing Week part 26

Twenty six. That's half of fifty two, by my ever decreasing math skills. That means we're halfway through 2008. Halfway. Halfway...


I suppose it's fitting to do some kind of mid-year recap at this point. (But first, let’s get that weekly blabbering out of the way.)

This week was, in fact, a writing week. I wrote. I did. I wrote a page of a play that I had no idea about. I wrote the first two pages to a script just for the hell of it, a script that won’t go anywhere. I wrote a lot of notes about ideas that I didn’t follow up on. I wrote general ideas down here and there. I may have written a poem somewhere in there. I just wrote and wrote and wrote, with little to no direction at all. Which is why, now, I have an extra half dozen project folders on my computer. I’m trying to zone in, to focus my writing, but I’m still in this place where I’m just not feeling lit by anything at the time being. I even had a brief “wow, I gotta write this right now” moment last week, but that passed by the time I had dinner that night.

The goal, though, is to do a rewrite (more like rewriting the first half of a script and writing the rest from scratch), while working on something original. With competition results coming up in a month and a half (we just found out that the five leaguers who submitted to PAGE International Screenwriting Awards are up against 3,860 other writers), I know that I need to have as much polished material by the end of August as possible. Just in case something happens, something good, like someone interested in my submission.

As for the year recap… let’s see. Two scripts (first drafts) written in the first four months of the year, followed by a lull and some minor re-write activity the last two month of the period. (I did get some good notes this week, though, from a few Leaguers regarding my post-Apocalyptic spec. The consensus is that it’s on the right track. There’s a lot of work I have to do, but I think I can see the horizon, and, after letting it sit and build on itself for about a month, I’ll get back to it and hopefully finish it in a fury of re-writing during the month of August.)

The one thing I will say for the year, though, is that, probably two months ago, I wrote about not wanting to just sit and wait for these competitions to happen. I wanted to make something happen. Well, I’m doing more sitting than I would have liked. But, it’s a tricky situation. I don’t really want to push forward without competition results, and I need to do rewrites until then. But, I also have another month and a half of “inactivity” when it comes to trying to get my material seen. What do I do? Do I push ahead and send out query letters, before receiving the competition results? I think it’s a better plan to make sure I have as many scripts in my arsenal for after the results come in, rather than try to sell one thing and not be able to back it up with anything else. So then how do I shake this inactive, waiting feeling?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sifting through the wreckage...

Last night I got a round of feedback from the League on a recently-completed first draft.

It was easily the most interesting round of notes I've ever been given. People touched on things I'd never thought of, and things I *knew* people would have a problem with going in weren't even touched by anyone. What was most interesting that I got different notes from practically everyone - each Leaguer had different things they like and different things that bothered them. There were things that everyone picked up on, but there were also lots of points where Leaguer's feedback contradicted each other.

The barrage of suggestions and opinions coming from every direction was a bit dizzying. You know when Sonny Corleone gets gunned down in the toll plaza? It kinda felt like that. (I think.)

Despite being left a bit of a bloody mess, I feel a lot more confident about the script coming out of that meeting than going in. When I sent out the pages to the readers, I was afraid I was sending a self-indulgent, clustfucked, unsalvageable mess. But now I feel like I can confidently say I sent a first draft.

And despite the many problems, I *think* people liked it. (Except maybe Onyx. He probably won't talk to me again.)

I've got a lot to think about and a lot to work with. I was never entertaining the thought to myself that this could be close to a final draft - but knowing that there are things in there that connected with people other than myself.

I'd known this would due for a long road filled with re-writes. But now I can rest more assured that it's WORTH re-writing.

All said, it feels pretty awesome.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Greatest one-scene cameos

The Onion AV Club staff posted a list of their 19 Favorite One-Scene Cameos in cinema. Worth checking out, especially for the YouTube video links of each scene embedded in the article.

My favorite on the list is Dean Stockwell's short appearance in Blue Velvet. His performance of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" wasn't part of the screenplay and was added on-set, but still gives me chills for it's bizarre creepiness. It's an example of one of those characters with so little screen time that only appears for a few minutes, but could have hours and hours of interesting back story.

I also love Jack Nance's small role in this scene. He's one of those wonderful actors that just didn't do enough during his lifetime...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Experience Points

We all know that part of the challenge of being a young writer (or any writer for that matter) is keeping motivated to write and finding the avenues to best develop what you produce. I’ve been thinking lately about how fortunate those in the league are to have a platform where at any given time we can bounce our material off of several trained writers. In some cases the fortune extends to the point where we can contact former professors, some of whom are continuing professional writers, for feedback on our work. Once you’ve maintained the will to write, the ability to get trustworthy feedback is the next goal in my opinion. But sometimes we in the league strongly question or flat out reject the notes we give one another, and we’ve done the same with notes a professor has given us at one time or another. As I await notes for a high concept script from a high concept screenwriter and former professor, it made me wonder; as a young writer how do you draw the balance between accepting script altering notes from a wiser more experienced writer, and maintaining your vision of the script?

I wish this was where I could make a respectful attempt at answering the question, but the truth is that I’m still trying to figure this one out for myself. Hopefully the league will chime in. This will be my first experience with receiving detailed notes from a professor beyond my time as a student. I’d like to think I’ve vastly improved my craft since those days, but to what degree does my experience allow me to challenge his notes in the event that he feels adamant about some major changes? I don’t know. For now I’m tempted to put his notes on a pedestal, although I may discover something new about myself within the next few weeks. In any event, there’s a lot to say about experience.

One of the most beautiful and creatively fatal mentalities that often accompany a young writer, is his/her belief that they can create whatever they want and have it be gold. I saw that all throughout my time in Tisch and I experienced it myself. There was a time when I learned what I needed and completed a new draft thinking that it was ready and I had left little room for improvement. Then came a brief sit down with chair of the dramatic writing department as I proudly handed him my perfection. He scanned the first act and before I could figure out what I wanted for lunch he’d drawn a line through a few pages here, rearranged a few pages there. He didn’t even read the rest of the script. I took a look at his notes, and whereas over hours upon hours of work I couldn’t find any major room for improvement in my work, in five minutes he vastly improved my first act. I was humbled, in awe of a vision for structure, story, and character that I can only hope to one day possess. He developed that vision with experience. I try to remind myself that at some point in the past he was probably similarly na├»ve and blind as I was.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Writing Week part 25

I saw three plays this weekend. Of the League, I think it’s safe to say that I’m the one most inclined to write for live theater, in addition to film. Seeing three plays made me want to write (plays), which is good, because other than rewrites, I haven’t wanted to write much recently (it wasn’t so much the desire to write a play, but rather to have people respond to my writing that stimulated me). At all. I’m reading Easy Riders, Raging Bulls right now, and there’s a passage that refers to Paul Schrader (writer, Taxi Driver), which says “He was writing like a machine, and although he didn’t know it then, he was writing himself out.”

That’s exactly what I’m worried has happened to me. I wrote at a break-neck pace for the first 4 months of this year, remember making a comment to someone about how I had so many ideas I could write forever, and then woke up one day feeling like I was all dried up. Granted, I’m quite young still and the ideas are there. I just haven’t felt that fire under me for a few months now, which is why I’ve been doing re-writes (if not a result of doing re-writes). I hope it will pass soon, but in the mean time, the going is tough. And slow.

Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning the new rule recently created regarding the Academy Awards. As I’m sure you heard, no movie will be allowed any more than two nominations for “Best Original Song” anymore. This new regulation follows triple nominations for Dreamgirls and Enchanted, neither of which landed an award in said category. Personally, I find it entertaining when a film loses a category in which it has so incredibly stacked the deck, garnering three out of the five nominations. I knew (somehow) that it was inevitable that neither of those films were going to win, and was satisfied when the awards went elsewhere. At the end of the day, though, I didn’t really care either way about the decision to limit the nominations.

However, I got to talking with someone, and they made me realize something: restricting the number of nominations penalizes a film that is truly deserving. Now, to be fair, I didn’t see either of the triple-nominated films, so the songs were out of context to me (and therefore less enjoyable than they may have been otherwise). I didn’t really like the songs, but if they were three out of five of the best original songs in their respective years, then don’t they deserve that recognition? I was trying to come up with a situation where this new regulation would affect me (should I ever receive Oscar nods), and the closest scenario I could think of for comparison would be if the Academy limited the number of, say, Best Original Screenplays a single writer could be nominated for in one year. If, by some miracle, I had three movies released in the same year, each worthy of an Oscar nomination for writing, then wouldn’t it be unfair to neglect to recognize one, simply because the other two had already received nominations?

Anyway, I’m rambling; A) this will probably never be an issue for me and B) it has next to nothing to do with what I did (or didn’t) write this week. I just wonder if it should be taken as a sign of other regulations to come, and if it is, how they’ll affect us.

George Carlin RIP

George Carlin passed away yesterday. Listening to his old routines reminds me of long road trips with his books-on-cassettes playing through the car stereo.

His infamous "seven words" routine.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Naughty joke at expense of Will Smiths's new movie...

Signmakers having fun at the London premiere of Hancock. Via The Beat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Writing Week part 24

All in all, a pretty good week. I got another draft of my post-Apocalyptic spec out. It's tough for me to gauge how it went. On the one hand, I think that the few, yet important changes I made have strengthened the script a lot. Act Two flows much better, the scenes are connected much more, and the characters' desires, especially the protagonist's, are much clearer. On the other hand, though I cut one scene here and reordered a few there, I really changed very little structurally. The vast majority of the scenes are still in this draft, and other than how they're linked and what's said within them, they are not incredibly different.

I don't know if this new draft works on a different level. If this was my first draft, I believe I would have received different notes than I got the first go around, but the League might have told me I had a more solid first draft. Having given up the impact of the first completely new draft already, I know that any future notes I get from people who have already read the script will be in light of what they know. It's inevitable, but the notes will be a comparison to what they've read before, and not a fresh take on a new project. Some larger problems that I'm not seeing might go under their radar, too. This is not to criticize the feedback we Leaguers give one another; I think we offer great insight and incredibly helpful suggestions. But a first draft will always, I think, have an inevitable air of "newness" to it that subsequent drafts, no matter how different, will lack. (Granted, I've written scripts that, by the fifth draft, are virtually unrecognizable as a descendant of the first draft. The people who read the pages since step one, though, still sometimes offer feedback that draws upon that first, wretched draft.)

This current project has gotten me thinking about something, which is probably deserving of its own post, but I'll throw it in here anyway. I've been thinking a lot about perfection versus production. By that, I mean: if an agent or a producer read my comic book script and asked for something else, I would be inclined to give him/her the post-Apocalyptic spec. But what if that script wasn't ready? Not quite. Do I go for production - I'm a young writer; if someone wants to give my $500K (I'm also optimistic) for a script that might not be as good as it could be - who am I to say no? Or, do I go for perfection - I'd be thrilled to have that opportunity present itself, yet I know, deep down, that my script doesn't quite do the justice to my idea that it could, and that if I had more time, not only could I write a movie, but I could write a great movie?

Perfection. Or Production. As a young writer, it seems ridiculous to think of turning down any opportunity. But where should I place the value of my work? I don't want to turn around one day and know I could have written a better movie, but I don't want to risk not having one produced.

Monday, June 16, 2008

More Giant Robots!

Looks like Transformers may be getting some competition in the awesome giant robot market. According to, Lawrence Kasdan is set to adapt Robotech, the epic sci-fi animated series from the 1980s.

For those of you not too familiar with the Robotech series, you and I are pretty much in the same boat. I got my giant robot fix from the Transformers. Although I’m not a Robotech historian, I do have some fond memories of the series over the course of a month back in 2007 when I was crashing on my brother’s couch.

My brother’s roommate recently got the complete Robotech series as a birthday gift. I use to believe there was nothing he could consistently watch more than The Simpsons, but I was wrong. From what I got from the few dozen or so episodes I watched is that humans have this beef with aliens involving a power source called protoculture. Hot shot pilot Rich Hunter is far better at blowing bad guys up than he is with recognizing and dealing with the affections of his commanding officer Lisa Hayes. Is that about it?

Like I said, I’m not the Robotech expert. I’ll let Zombie chime in to fairly represent the series. All I know is that sometime down the line we’ll be getting some super sleek, mach 10, giant robot action. I’ll watch it, not for the giant robots, but because it’s the only way I know how to thank Lawrence Kasdan for Wyatt Earp.

You can read the original Hollywood Reporter article at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's here!!!

For all you who lives in New York, or near New York, it's almost time for

The 7th New York Asian Film Festival!!!
June 20-July 6
Presented by Subway Cinema

I'm not hired by these guys. I've actually been waiting for this for months, and am very excited.

A good amount of them are big-budget hit movies in Asia, rather than the usual art house movies played in festivals. And probably because they are big-budget, star-casted movies, I will admit that I've been disappointed before, the same way Hollywood movies can disappoint. I've also walked away from films thinking 'wow, they've poured more money than God in this movie, and it's worth every fucking cent.' Some of these movies really left me in a floaty daze, and wonder why I left Asia in the first place.

Another reason to see these movies is that if you decided in the last minute, 'meh, I'll just stay at home, it's not a movie kind of night', you probably won't be able to find a lot of them on DVD in the states. So unless you own a region 2 or 3 or 6 DVD player (or just have the player "fixed"), you won't be able to actually watch a lot of them if you miss it. And even then some don't have english subtitles.

Also, pre-order tickets. I've been turned away from sold-out shows with tears too many times.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You know you're a film nerd when...

... you're playing Grand Theft Auto IV and you spend a good chunk of time re-enacting scenes from There Will Be Blood in Liberty City's bowling alley...

Actually, that probably says more about me than "film nerd"...


Monday, June 09, 2008

The Writing Week part 23

It feels so damn good to be writing again. Amazingly good.

I finally decided to really, actually, honestly start re-writing my post-Apocalyptic script. Like I anticipated, bringing my computer on vacation with me (sadly, the vacation ends tomorrow night), has almost forced me to be productive. I've nearly finished my re-write this week (and should do so completely by Wednesday, at the latest). Now, I've said it before and I'll do so again: I detest rewrites.I fully acknowledge that everything I write needs them. But they are just very much not mu cup of tea.

This week, though, I've been making some good headway. I've been making decisions that I tried my darnedest to avoid in the past, because I've come to realize something; writing on a computer allows us the luxury of never really committing to anything put down on the page. Like Zombie was saying with his Frankenstein script folder, we can patch things together from previous files, create new documents, and store everything we write. No change is permanent.

And that's the philosophy I've embraced this go around. Admittedly, there are some things I've done with this re-write, which I'm not sure if they are improvements, so much as changes. On the other hand, there are other things I'm very happy with and glad that I finally had the balls to do. There still might not be enough distance between me and my first draft, but there's certainly enough for me to make some elementary, yet necessary improvements to the script.

Now to just distance myself enough from draft two to see the weak links in that one.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sliding in to home...

I'm within five pages of my projected end. I know exactly what is supposed to happen and how it will happen. At long last, a finished draft is so close I can smell it.

But why won't my fingers type anymore??

Been moving at a brisk pace all weekend despite the blistering heat and an air conditioner that doesn't work quite as well as I could have hoped for. I got a solid three hours of writing in this afternoon and I should be happy with the number of pages I finished, but... five more and I'm done. I just want to barrel on and kill this damn thing, but I'm afraid I might be worn out for the night.

The plan is to head to the living room, lay on the couch with a cold beer and try to find something brainless like Cops or Die Hard With A Vengeance to watch. Chill out a bit. Decompress. Recharge.

Then I'm going to end this son of a bitch.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Writing Week part 22

I know what you're thinking: "Where's Cake Man's writing week? I sure do hope he's ok." (In all seriousness, I know none of you are thinking that.) Other than a few impressive scotch induced hangovers, I''m still here. I actually spent the better part of the last Writing Week in Colorado visiting a friend of mine. The break - during which point I read two Leaguer's scripts but did no actual writing of my own - was exactly what I needed.

I came back feeling refreshed (if not a little leery of being back in a metropolis after spending days with mountains being the only things taller than the trees). I've since started tackling my post-Apocalyptic spec again, which is a great feeling, because I was off of it for so long. In fact, I'm going on vacation again tonight (gotta use those vacation days before I lose them to a new fiscal year), and am bringing my computer with me. I normally tell myself that a notebook will suffice for writing when I'm on vacation, but I'm not letting myself use that lie anymore. I don't write in notebooks. At least, I seldom do. I tend not to like doing it and get far less done. Bringing the computer, lugging it 240 miles back to Arlington, Virginia is proof positive that I plan to work on this script again. If the computer's there, I have to write, right?

I'm excited to get back into this (and any) project again. Being in Colorado was a jolting reminder that the great outdoors are where I'm most comfortable. City life has its perks, sure, but I prefer expansive sky and endless greenery. The only way I know to attain that is through success as a writer. Sure, it's probably a long way off, but it's even longer if I'm not, you know, writing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Trimming The Delicious Fat

I recently finished a draft of an action script, and after receiving notes I am seeing what should have been obvious at the time. My sidekick character has a habit of overshadowing my protagonist. It’s not the worse problem to have. At least I have a protagonist, and you better believe that there are scripts floating around good companies that barely have one. Anyway, I don’t think my problem is that my protagonist isn’t interesting. It’s just that my sidekick is a real bad ass, probably the first supporting character I’ve had that I might write an entirely new script around. But until that script comes, to the chopping block I go.

Take away from my sidekick, add to my protagonist. Add a little muscle, trim a little fat. But what if the fat is delicious and chewy and flavorful? We’ve all been there before, pondering the fate of a line that we cherish, considering where else we might put that half page of golden wit. Sometimes we ponder and consider so much that we make the wrong decision.

I confess that I have recognized in past and current scripts solidly written lines and pages that did not benefit my script, and rather than cutting these tumors I forced them into a draft. I even tweaked small scenes around them for the worse in the hopes that it made the fat seem more like muscle. This is always a terrible idea. It doesn’t matter if your buddy really digs your scene. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to be the line that makes the trailer. It’s hard enough in screenwriting to recognize what isn’t needed in our scripts. When you see something in your script and you know it shouldn’t be there, chop it off. You can put the trimmings in a separate file like Zombie does and eventually use all the scraps to create a screenwriting abomination.