Monday, January 04, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 105 – The Second Half of Act Two and How Drinking Affects Writing

Last week, with little else to do besides watch movies, drink, eat, and scour the internet, I got a lot of writing done. For probably the first time, I was writing multiple hours per day, multiple days per week. All told, over the course of about a week, I churned out over 40 pages of a revised second act. After all that work – which I spoke about last week – I was left feeling very comfortable with pages 60-84, but less so with the new pages 43-60. A call from my producer last night changed all that.

Gretchen, my producer, called me yesterday night to say she’d read the pages I sent her. She had been quite excited about the first half of them, and then found that they ground to a halt – a typical second half of Act Two problem. My main concern had been a lack of concrete information in the first half of the act. Often, when setting things up, we allow ourselves to be overly cryptic, and then later try to fill the audience in by being too expositional. I think that’s what I was guilty of, as Gretchen thought that pages 60-70 were out of place. The action built and built (and the details were clearer to her than I thought they would come across as), and then I inserted the expositional scene and slowed everything down. Of course, I still have to go back and re-read everything, but those pages are extremely difficult and can kill a script if not done right.

Still, regardless of how much work there’s still to be done, I have to admit that I’m eager to get back to it. Like a child who excitedly wakes up to continue building his brand new Lego castle, I’m anxious to get back to the toy I abandoned last night when bedtime finally came around. Part of me is actually relieved there’s more work to be done, which I can only take as a good sign, both about this project and about my decision to pursue a writing career.

Changing pace a little bit, I don’t normally like to share too much about my non-writing life on here, but as I get older and deeper into what I hope will become my screenwriting career, the line between what’s writing-related and what’s not begins to blur more often. Since I was back with my hometown friends over break, enjoying a number of nights out at the bar – including the ever popular New Year’s Eve – I got to thinking about writing and drinking. It’s easy to look back through history and find wildly successful writers who drank excessively every day. And while I enjoy a good drink, I’ve decided that I have to come out as saying that I disagree that drinking heavily makes you a better writer.

When you’re trying to launch your career, so much hangs on those initial relationships and working experiences that one too many mistakes, drunk dials, or missed meetings due to too much drinking can ruin you before you start. Mind you, I’m not speaking from personal experience here, but I think that many people carry a notion that drinking and writing are romantically linked, and I think that the first can destroy the latter. People my generation have such instant and easy access to communication, that a night at the bar can lead to unremembered calls, texts, and emails. Ideally, these are all harmful and received only by friends, because the last thing you want is for one of those to go out to someone you’re working on your first big project with. You don’t want to lose a day of writing due to a hangover, especially if you’re on a deadline. Nor do you want to read what you wrote the night before, only to realize you have to erase all that “progress” because it was hardly coherent.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had more to drink some nights than I should. I also know that if I’m serious about my career, it will wind up being crucial to be able to comport myself when drinking in a professional environment and to maintain an active writing schedule. As the year rolled over into 2010, I realized that control is one of the most important tools a writer has, and that extends beyond the page. I’m going to cut down on my drinking, not because it’s affected my writing career yet, but because I never want it to.

SuckerFlix: Up in the Air

A friend and I caught Up in the Air on Saturday afternoon. I went in with mid-level expectations. I really enjoyed Jason Reitman's Juno, but was lukewarm about Thank You For Smoking. Still, the cast seemed strong and Reitman's pedigree was mostly good.

The movie tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who travels the US doing the dirty work for major corporations -- mainly, firing people. Ryan has become so good -- and fond -- of his life in the air that he's disconnected from any semblance of a life back home in Nebraska, or with his family. Then he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a sexy corporate traveler who has almost as many hotel and airline discount cards as he does. After hooking up, the pair swap schedules and continue to meet on their respective travels when said calendars overlap geographically.

Clouds start to appear in the form of Anna Kendrick, who plays a youthful, recent college grad at Bingham's company. She's come up with a firing method that doesn't require personal contact -- just a T1 connection and two monitors. Bingham, of course, want nothing to do with settling down or this new method. He takes Kendrick on the road with him to teach her "the ropes."

Up in the Air was a very pleasant surprise. It avoided trite plot twists and overt melodrama and instead focused on its three main characters and how they play off each other. There were a few moments I preemptively cringed while watching, half-expecting Reitman to take the tried and true route and wrap the plot up in a nice bow. Instead, we get a realistic and modern look at life in the 21st century. Where relationships sustain themselves on Blackberry Messenger conversations and getting fired via video conference is a potential reality.

Clooney and Farmiga are kinetic together, less so in the few scenes they have apart. Farmiga is so charming in her role that you end up surprised near the end of the film when you realize you've fallen for her, too, which then plays right into the film's third and best act.

Kendrick comes off as a bit of a nuisance at first, both as a character and as an actress. But after a while she smartly steps back and lets the leads do the heavy lifting, making her performance passable and solid if not spectacular.

Overall, Up in the Air was a great way to kick off the cinematic year. Though painfully depressing at times on a number of levels -- romantically, socially, etc. -- it only strays into cliche and predictable territory a handful of times, which is fairly forgivable. Worth a look.