Thursday, July 30, 2009

Site Alert -

"Screenwriters in America print 180 million sheets of paper a year. In six months, we hope to cut that in half."

This environmentally conscious mission statement comes directly from, a new site that hopes to save trees while connecting writers with agents, producers, and managers. According to the site - which no one at the League currently uses - producers and agents pay monthly or per use to download WGA registered scripts (and treatments, loglines, synopses) in their search for new clients or material. Writers, however, pay nothing to use the site. (As an environmentally conscious writer, the mission statement itself was enough to draw my attention to the site.)

Again, none of us here at The League have tried Greenwriter, in part because it is a new kid on the block - the site only went up about a week ago. But, this could be just the thing that writers are looking for. No, it's not reinventing the wheel, but it is another resource. Proceed with caution, as always - especially when it comes to putting your work on the web - but know that this is another tool that is out there for you to use.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 82 - Getting Closer, Getting Stuck(er)

Re-writes. The cosmetic fixes are done. The I's are all dotted, the T's all crossed. I've struggled over single words for ten minutes or more in some instances. I can't find anything else left to do other than address some of the major changes I still need to make. I just haven't figured out how to make them.

I find myself in a new situation these days, and think that part of why I'm stuck is that I'm still acclimating to it a little bit. When I first started working with the producer who optioned my script, she and her manager gave me notes on the draft they had. While I could get behind pretty much all of the notes, the re-writing process has revealed that I don't quite understand the reasoning for all of them.

This is where the clear issue arises. Obviously, though my previous manager tried to sell my script and I've shown it to other people in the industry, it hasn't yet sold. I'm now fortunate to be working with two people who believe in the material as much as they do, and I know that they have reasons for suggesting everything they did. Those are probably some of the very reasons why the script was passed on at other companies. And, at the end of the day, I understand where they're coming from with their notes. I'm just having a hard time incorporating them.

Last week, I talked a lot about acknowledging that my script isn't perfect. With that now fully accepted, I think I'm still having issues letting go of some of my existing interpretations of scenes. I like a line or banter too much to cut it, though I know that cutting it will be the first step toward implementing the changes. Other ideas I like, yet I just don't know how I'm going to work them in. Ultimately, the solution is simple: sit down and do it. The producer can't move forward until she has the newest draft, and as fun as coming up with ideas for directors or production companies to take the script to it, it's irrelevant now. I just have to write. I gave myself the deadline of the end of the month to have the draft done, and that's less than a week away. The clock, my friends, is ticking.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Hurt Locker

The more I read about The Hurt Locker the more I feel like I’m the only person who left the theatre disappointed. My disappointment turns into confusion when I read about people praising Kathryn Bigelow’s film as “a near perfect movie.” I just don't get it. God knows that when I first saw the trailer, I wanted this film to be near perfect. I wanted it to be the summer gem that you remember for all the right reasons. I’ll remember The Hurt Locker for a long time, but not for its cinematography or fresh angle on the modern war experience. I’m going to remember a frustratingly one dimensional protagonist, an out of focus narrative, and too many key moments lacking realism in a film that's strongest when grounded in reality.

The Hurt Locker follows a three man bomb squad operating during the Iraq War. Jeremy Renner plays William James, the “new guy” on the team and the one who gets to put his hands on the dreaded IEDs that litter the streets of Iraq. I really enjoyed seeing the war through the eyes of a bomb technician. It wasn’t that this fresh perspective shed new insight on the war (the Iraq War still sucks here) but more that it provided a new vehicle to show us how the war is terrible and how it puts an awful mental and physical strain on the men and women who participate in it. Every soldier has a role in the field, some more exciting than others, and some more suspenseful than others. You might think that bomb squad technician gives you a healthy combination of the two, but I found that it was heavy on suspense, leaving the film searching for excitement in other ways.

In the beginning of the movie somebody other than Jeremy Renner is wearing the protective bomb suit, and seeing that Renner is nowhere to be found everyone knows that the film is going to start with a bang. You know exactly what’s coming, yet Bigelow and company manage to create one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen in recent memory. The very nature of a bomb is suspenseful. They’re relatively small inanimate objects, but in the blink of an eye they can literally change the face of the world around them. You know what will happen, but you ask yourself when and how will it come to be. It’s equally impressive in later scenes when the suspense is maintained in moments where you know the bomb won’t detonate. If the bomb that can take out a city block goes off in front of William James, movie over, but we never lose that fear. I personally think it would have been excellent to have a dream sequence where the entire team gets annihilated. It’s a curveball nobody would have seen coming.

In order to keep its excitement on par with its suspense, The Hurt Locker abandons what it does best and floats off into the realm of unrealistic and illogical action scenes. One sequence has James sneaking away from the safety of his base to track down answers in the middle of Iraq, completely alone and armed only with a pistol. On another occasion the three man bomb squad decides to turn into an assault force and go hunt down terrorists in the middle of the night and without back up. All of this happens on a hunch, and why even bother with the other 100,000 soldiers that are there to help you get the job done? Moments like this find the film stretching for the sort of Hollywood action that betrays the nature of the film.

I’d be curious to see what real soldiers think of William James. He’s a rebel, a man who needs the adrenaline from having a bomb in his face much more than he needs authority. William James doesn’t care about his life and he continuously demonstrates that he doesn’t care about the lives of those surrounding him. In one scene his teammates toil with the idea of killing him and having it look like an accident. It’s the most realistic scene in my mind, because all I could think about is how terrible a soldier James is. But that’s his character and some would say that the film nailed that. Sure, but how are we supposed to care about this guy? I found that I cared about his teammates much more, and any tension I was feeling was out of concern for their safety and not James’. It’s possible that I might accept someone like James for a protagonist, but he has to be well developed and we have to understand him. The film’s lack of an antagonist makes it episodic and we often lose the sense of building action. This all makes deep characters that much more important, but the film gives you no depth and no way to understand James. In one of the scenes James’ teammate openly asks him why he was wired the way he was. Why does he take so many risks? Why is he not afraid? My ears perked up at the prospect of understanding this guy, but all he does is shrug and say something along the lines of “I don’t know, I just don’t think about it.” Great, thanks Mark Boal.

I’d say the film is a good presentation of the Iraq War. It's consistent with the theory that it sucks big time over there. Soldiers plod along, mission after mission, often not knowing who the enemy is, never truly knowing how to win. That’s exactly how The Hurt Locker felt, chapter after chapter of men struggling to survive and stay sane, but never really working towards anything. If a clear, traditional narrative isn’t that important to you, The Hurt Locker will be far more tolerable. Last I checked though, everyone needs well developed, likeable characters. I’m still trying to understand how the film managed to satisfy so many viewers (or movie critics at least) in that regard.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Logline Central - Sacred Prey

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro.

I was taking a break from work (one of many) yesterday and came across this.

Title: Sacred Prey
Logline: A loan shark kills a man he believes duped him, only to wake up and find himself in the body of that man three days before the murder. He then must undertake a furious effort to prevent the murder he committed.
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
More: To be adapted from Vivian Schilling's novel. Room 101's Steven Schneider and Energy's Brooklyn Weaver will produce. Warner's Matt Reilly & Niija Kuykendall will oversee.

What caught me about SACRED PREY is that, to me, this is a great logline. I might not want to see the movie, but this is the one that jumped off the screen and stuck with me throughout the day. A man commits murder, and then winds up in the body of the person he killed - with enough time to prevent the murder. Awesome.

Do I have questions about it? Sure. How does his murderous self - whom I assume is still operating, but as a separate antagonist now - change, or does he? Does our protagonist wind up having to fight his physical body from within his victim's body? The more I try to piece it together, the more I question. But, the more intrigued I become. This might be a flawed script, it might fail to address those and a million other questions. But the logline got my interest, and if I was a VP of Acquisitions, I would request a read. (From a VP's p.o.v., I'm sure it doesn't hurt in the least bit that this comes from source material, i.e. Vivian Schilling's novel.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Grant Morrison on writer's burnout

The Onion asked prolific comic writer Grant Morrison if he ever feels burned out by writing too much. His answer:
I write every day, for most of the day, so it’s just about turning into metaphor whatever’s going on in my life, in the world, and in my head. Every nightmare, every moment of grief or joy or failure, is a moment I can convert into cash via words. I use everything. Turning life into stories is how I make sense of my experience. No matter how weird or disturbing or upsetting to me personally, it all finds its way in there. I’ve been close to nervous breakdown, sheer exhaustion, or profound existential crisis several times doing this stuff, and somehow, I always bounce back refreshed with new ideas. “Bend, son,” my mother told me when I was young, “bend and you won’t break!” - Grant Morrison
The full interview is here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 81 - My Script Isn't Perfect (And Neither is Yours)

Every script has kinks. That's just something we have to accept as writers. Evey draft we turn in (to our writers groups, to agents, to producers, to studios) will have some shortcoming or issue. Those issues can (and will) be resolved. While we should all strive for perfection, I think that it's important to realize that perfection isn't probably. This will help more down the line than in the immediate. (This also doesn't mean that you should settle for writing a crappy script.) I'll explain.

First drafts are bound to be rocky. It goes without saying that your plot is liable to change, your characters will develop (or disappear), and the story will smooth itself out. The whole point of that first draft is to lay the foundation and realize what else you need and what you can scrap. Later down the line, though, if your scripts has taken that next step to getting produced (you've landed representation or had it optioned), you'll want to remember that it's still not perfect - at least, you will if you're like me.

With the initial excitement about attracting representation came an unwanted (though luckily short-lived) feeling of assumed untouchable quality of my spec. Someone wants to rep me and send my script out? I'm on top of the world, and the script is a killer. Come down off that high horse quickly, though, because that excitement the rep/producer shows will be quickly accompanied by notes. Lots of notes. (You already know how I had to change my intro, second act, and title.) If you want to play ball and get as much mileage out of that first big potential opportunity as possible, then accept that your script needs work. Truth be told, I'm a bit surprised by how quickly I bought into the idea that my spec needed work; then again, I had a nagging feeling that I'd get one more note that shook all the pieces into place even before I started querying.

Bottom line: be proud of your work and don't send it out until you know it's strong. At the same time, keep an open mind about changes you'll be asked to make, and just figure out a way to incorporate them in a way that suits you (or know when to fight against them). The ink dried on my option in large part because I was so upfront about my willingness to rework my script. After all, it wasn't perfect.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 80 - New Title, For Coverage's Sake

Coverage. You know the term. The feedback that your script gets when it lands atop a VP of Acquisition's desk (or, much more likely, their college intern's). Chances are, you might have even written coverage if, like most Leaguers, you were that college intern at some point.

Coverage can be a new writer's best friend. It can also be that thorn in your paw. Heaven forbid, it can also be devastating. A lot of emerging writers actually pay script consultants or competitions to provide coverage, which they then incorporate into their query letters. (I wouldn't necessarily advocate going that route, at least not until you really have a solid draft that's ready to go out. But that's another post for another time.) Personally, I don't really see the benefit in paying for coverage for a script. I'd much more strongly recommend starting a writers group with people whose opinions you trust, writing and sharing a ton of feedback, and reading as many produced scripts as you can.

Anyway, coverage has recently done an odd thing for me. It required me to change the title of my script. With the thousands of scripts (95% hardly worth reading) that float around Hollywood each year, people don't want to waste time re-reading something that they've already passed on - unless, of course, a rival studio just put a bid on it. To make sure that the latest reading assignment is a new project, production companies and studios will check incoming titles against archived coverage. If something sounds familiar and the logline that the intern on duty comes up with is similar to a logline for a script with the same title in the coverage records, that script will almost assuredly not be read again. Especially if it was passed on the first go around.

You've probably heard the rule: only send your script out once. If you are lucky enough to have your script shopped around, and it gets passed on, you can't tweak a scene or two and give it another shot. It's been covered, read, and passed on. That, my friends, is that. It is also, however, what I'm trying to do with my post-Apocalyptic spec. My old manager sent it to nine companies, none of which wanted it. My new manager and producer who have optioned the script want to take it out in the next few months. Unfortunately, some of the people with the buying power we'd need have already received the script in round one.

The solution? New title. Rewrites. Different page count. And, perhaps, a slight shift in focus. The goal is to change the script enough to warrant a second read, and the title change is a major part of that. I wonder how long it will take to begin thinking of the script under the new title. It's been in my mind as one thing for a year and a half now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

24 and Counting

It feels like it was just a couple months ago that I was sitting down and writing about my goals for 23. Here I am now at 24, an age that has nothing going for it except that it's almost 25. We can choose any day of our lives to reflect on progress and set goals, but I like to check in for a life analysis on my birthday. It’s our personal new year’s day. Looking back at the goals I set for myself a year ago, I can’t say that I’m satisfied with the recent past. But I’m very excited for the future, and a good deal of it has to with the fact that I finally want lots of other things to be great in my life aside from my writing.

The first goal I remember setting for myself at 23 was placing in a screenplay competition. The year before, I had done well and made it to the semi-finals in a competition with my thesis script from NYU. This time around I had finished an action/horror spec. It was a ton of fun to write and I still think it’s got some of my best material to date. It’s the only script I entered into a competition and I didn’t advance one round. Some of these competitions sure make you wait a long time for disappointment. I haven’t given up on the competition circuit yet, and don’t expect that I will anytime soon.

The second goal was to have conversations with three people I've never met before who work in a relevant corner of the industry. I did pretty well with this goal, although today I wish I hadn’t phrased it as someone in a “relevant” corner of the industry. At this point any corner of the industry is relevant. The top tier LA set designer I met at a party is going to be able to help me with my pursuit of being a Hollywood screenwriter a lot better than the LA/NY screenwriter I never met. Luckily I did have a chance encounter with a working screenwriter who lives in New York and continues to work with some big names in the industry. I hope to pick his brain further soon. I also had a great conversation with a screenwriter who took a major Hollywood studio to court over claims they stole his material. He eventually won at the end of an ordeal that spanned many years. That encounter was more cautionary than inspiring, but it can never hurt to understand the potential dangers that lurk in the industry.

The last goal was to have six scripts polished to the point where I wouldn’t hesitate showing them to somebody in the industry. I failed miserably here, but I think part of the reason was that some of my previously valued ideas suddenly didn't seem as movie worthy, or I realized they were a really tough sell for a beginning screenwriter. I have to be honest though, the previous year has been plagued by lack of motivation as well as stubbornness. I got notes from an established LA manager on where my action/horror spec needed to go, and I haven’t acted on those notes in any way. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year not being happy and fulfilled by my writing. It's hard to press on when your therapy starts feeling like torture.

I’m a writer and that’s how I want to make a living. Everyone in my life knows that, and when people want to check in on me, especially those I'm not in regular contact with, they ask me how the writing is coming. But these days I want people to ask about more than the writing. Some people say life is long, others say life is short. I haven't decided for myself yet, but I do know we have the capacity to be great at so many different things. I plan on being a better writer by 25, but I'm going to accomplish that by being great at other things. When the writing slump hits, I'm not going to wait it out by watching movies and playing video games. I'm going to practice other skills and take on new hobbies. I'm convinced that if I can be fulfilled through other endeavors, then I can afford to wait for the words to return to me. When the words do return, I'll have the positive energy from other facets of my life propelling me back into my craft. The first two new endeavors that I've taken on are Kendo, which I've been doing for a few months now and studying spencerian penmanship seeing that I never learned cursive. I don't have any goals for 24 directly related to screenwriting, but I know this will be one of my most pivotal years of screenwriting to date.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

MSPaint Movie Review: Public Enemies




Monday, July 06, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 79 - The Drafts They Are A Changin'

It's pretty common to find us Leaguers hunched over a damp wooden table in some Greenwich Village bar, talking about the degree to which we would let producers' notes influence our scripts. For the most part, this talk is purely hypothetical. "OK, they like your script and want to buy it for $500K, but they want you to make your action hero a woman. And a paraplegic." Or, "You'll get a sale, but they need it to become a coming of age comedy, and not a werewolf horror flick. Teen werewolf comedy and the sale is yours." "Would you sell the script if they wanted to make your Roman soldiers actually lovers traveling through time to modern day San Francisco?"

Read any book on film development or production from the studio side of things, and you'll hear more stories than you can count on one hand about the ridiculous ways that writers have been encouraged or flat out asked to change their scripts. We Leaguers like to pose these "suggestions" to one another as tests, seeing where the breaking point is. A year or two ago, we had very little bend incorporated into our interpretation of ideas. Bend at all, and the idea breaks.

Now, though, the discussion has become less hypothetical, and we've become more malleable. I've spent the past few weeks working with notes from Kevin and Gretchen (my manager and producer, respectively), and have to admit that I'm nearly 100% behind almost all of the suggestions. At first, I was just excited to get notes. Then, after thinking on them, I was on board with most of them. As the rewrite process has gone on longer, I've come to see the reasoning behind the remaining notes. And for any that I'm still not entirely behind, I can at least see the way to do it without compromising my vision of the material.

That, compromising the integrity of the initial idea, is my biggest concern in doing these rewrites. No, I haven't felt that happening yet. However, I did have an idea that could have completely redirected the purpose of the script - if I let it. Kevin and Gretchen had an idea to emphasize one element of the script, which I had not thought about beefing up. Doing so, however, risked diverting the protagonist's goal drastically. So, I revised a key sequence, managed to keep in what I wanted while adding the additional scenes, and wound up being pleased with the way the puzzle fit together. The current version of the script is different, but the character's ultimate goal is the same. I guess I know how I answer that hypothetical question now.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Some linkage for the long weekend

FreeWilliamsburg has their July movie preview posted.

Because we're the last remaining blog not to post about Michael Jackson: the Thriller video remade in Legos.

Something else Hollywood is putting money into that's NOT your spec script: Asteroids: The Movie, based on the gripping Atari video game.