Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 229 - A Little Advice on Working with Others

If there's one thing I would tell anyone who is entering that stage of his or her career where working with producers or directors or agents or talent is about to become a reality, it would be this: be agreeable.

That sounds so simple, so rudimentary and obvious that it hardly merits mentioning. Don't be fooled, though. In a business where connections are sometimes of greater importance than talent, it's imperative that you're someone others can get along well with. (And if you're not, pretend. At least in the beginning.) That alone will help you progress in your career. Though I still haven't really been paid for my work, my congeniality with one of the producers on the post-Apocalyptic spec is undeniably what prompted her to recommend me for the work I'm currently doing on the sci-fi collaboration. It is also to thank for my increasingly strong relationship with my collaborator, someone who has immeasurable amounts of industry experience, which I hope he will bestow upon me. So be kind. Listen. Nod. Smile. Disagree and stick to your artistic guns when necessary, but pick your battles wisely and always do so politely and respectfully.

If you told me I was allowed two bits of advice to dispense, the second would be this: be prepared to do the work. No one owes you anything. Your great idea will forever be just that - a great idea - if you're not ready to put in the blood, sweat, and tears required to make it a strong script. Very rarely will something sell on the idea alone, especially in this climate, and almost certainly not for an unknown writer. I am an unknown writer. If you haven't sold anything yet or been commissioned to do rewrites, you are, too. The good news is that we can still take the industry by storm. The truth is that ours is an uphill battle. Unlike Sisyphus, we're not destined to let go of the boulder, though. We can fight our way to the top of the hill, pushing and pulling the entire time. People might like us; they might even desperately want to help us. But we're the ones who have to do the actual writing, and we're the ones who need to slave away at the computer, in the coffee shop, on the pad of paper, or however else we get our work done. Unless we have pedigree backing us, and sometimes not even then, we must fight our way in. That's both the joy and the frustration of our situation. Rather than being disheartening, though, it's encouraging. We hold the keys to our futures, and while nothing's a guarantee, knowing that if we put in the time and energy and never to consider future success a given will be all the motivation we need. Remember that; fight your way in, and do it politely. 

If, finally, I was told you'd listen to a third piece of advice, it would be this: don't judge your success by others'. This is something I am guilty of on and off. Even today, I slid back into this trap. It's so easy for me to read about celebrities who are my age or just slightly older (let's not even go into those who are younger) who have already broken in. They have a feature coming out. Or a show. Worst is when I went to school with them or know them from some other setting. I remember when we were in the same boat, trying to get through school while nursing dreams of success. Why are they where they are now, but I'm not. No, no, no. Don't do that to yourself. My friend told me today, "I think when you feel envy for what someone else has accomplished that's how you know what you should be doing." He's right. If I didn't care about those guys' successes, if I didn't think about them in terms of where I am, if I didn't take even the slightest moment's hesitation, then perhaps I'd lost my drive. Not necessarily the case, but it's when I no longer crave that accomplishment that perhaps I'll be content to throw in the towel and chalk this all up to a good attempt. 

That, or that's when I'll truly be free enough to write uninhibited and take things to the next level.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 228 - Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

I think it's nearly impossible to make a good script too simple. Look at some of the most successful loglines and movies. Die Hard always jumps to mind when talking about the beauty of simplicity. A New York cop tries to rescue a group of hostages from terrorists in an office building. That's a pretty straightforward premise. The plot has twists and turns and complications, but the driving goal is direct and simple. 

W.A., my collaborator, and I had a call with our producer at the end of last week to talk about the sci-fi spec outline we submitted earlier this month. The call was an illuminating one, though as often happens, the outline we thought we had primed for the pages stage was revealed to be overly complex and confusing. due to its nature as a sc-fi, there's already an inherent degree of complexity in the premise. But the execution doesn't have to be nearly as multifaceted as we were making it. As the producer put it, "you have three layers of things going on in this world, which hardly seem connected." We thought the elements were working together, but clearly they weren't. 

With that little kick in the pants, W.A. and I met yesterday to discuss things. Going into the meeting, I wasn't sure where either of us stood. I was beginning to think we might be facing a larger re-write, but I had no idea if he felt the same. The meeting proved quite fruitful, with us stripping some large elements completely, reducing others, centralizing the story, and working in a great overarching goal that we had subconsciously already been working our way toward. Over the course of an hour and a half discussion, the script became a lot simpler and more manageable in scope, with fewer rules to explain and locations to justify. What was left, though, after we peeled off layer after layer wasn't weaker - it was stronger and far more engaging due to its concision. Both W.A. and I walked out of the meeting jazzed about what we had come up with and hope that those changes become the bedrock for the pages I soon hope to start drafting. 

The simplest stories and often be the most difficult to write. I remember thinking that my Medieval spec was going to be a breeze. It's a simple revenge thriller, but man oh man was it hard to crack. I still haven't figured it out, and I'm two full drafts into it. The protagonist's drive is still very simple, but that doesn't mean that I can be lax in my writing. The story still has to flow organically and logically, and while the overall arc was and is clear in my head, the plot points aren't. 

As the producer also said when we were talking, the outline stage is the best time to catch these changes and work on streamlining the script. The last thing you want is to wind up having to do a page one rewrite because you didn't take the time to plan before you sat down to write. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Writing Roundup

A selection of articles and postings from Leaguers that have appeared in other corners of the internet recently.

Austin (aka Zombie) 

Reissue Review: Sleep - Dopesmoker Reissue

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 227 - Keep it Fresh

Later today, I have a call with my co-writer, W.A., and the producer who paired us on our sci-fi spec. It's been about three weeks since I last worked on that project - what with getting it out for review and setting up a phone call at a time convenient for all of us - so I've had some extra time on my hands recently. To fill that gap, I've gone back to the outline of my demon thriller.

It's been fun going back to that project, but of the four main notes I'm trying to incorporate, one is being a real nuisance. Without giving anything away really, the script involves demons living in the world we know. (On the surface, not the most original sounding idea, I'll give you that. But there are, I hope, some really unique things I'm doing with the concept and the notion of demons, hell, and the earth converging.) My manager's overall note was that the demon aspect of the story is really pretty fresh and offers some great visuals, while the human portion of it is fairly prosaic, almost to the detriment of the story as a whole. His reaction was that he loved the demon parts to much that he felt mired in the sequences that didn't involve them and suggested I try to elevate the temporal beats to match those of the supernatural ones. 

I understand his point. In my mind, it's not that huge of an issue; maybe I just see the full story more and know that the demon elements won't be as fantastical as perhaps he envisions them. Or, maybe having somewhat more everyday components will enliven and highlight the paranormal that much more. I'm still not 100% convinced of the need to change things out, but at least for exercise's sake, I'm giving it a whirl. (It's probably worth mentioning that the earthly sections take place in the legal world, so if nothing else, removing them from that arena will limit the number of parallels drawn to The Devil's Advocate.) 

In my quest for change, I'm looking at the unusual and unexpected careers found in "normal life." What haven't we seen on film that often? What creates and aesthetic that holds its own against that of demons and hell, while also being thematically linked to that world? Demonology and hell and good versus evil have certain tones, certain arcane elements that ideally will find a counterpart in the earthly setting I've established. It's tough going, as you can probably guess, mainly because the parallels were easiest to make when I kept the human interactions confined to the legal world. Court room showdowns and guilty versus innocent are the defacto temporal judgments we're all familiar with, so it's such an easy connection to make. I worry about losing those if I transition the setting somewhere else, but the challenge of determining how to retain them is one I'm enjoying so far.

Either way, the key to a solid script is freshness. I feel as though I'm about 2/3 of the way there. Hopefully, the remainder falls into place this weekend. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Writing Roundup

A selection of articles and postings from Leaguers that have appeared in other corners of the internet recently.

Austin (aka Zombie)

Reissue Review: T.S. Bonniwell - Close

Album Review: Heavy Blanket - Heavy Blanket

Zach (aka Cake Man)

The Hunger Games - An Esoteric Adaptation

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ken Levine Gives His Summer Preview

The ever-funny Ken Levine has once again treated us - the people of the internets - to his recap of the summer movie list. Always good for a laugh.

Part one
Part two
Part three

Thanks, Ken!

Logline Central - Dear Satan

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.

Every now and then, an idea comes around that makes you think, "Damn, I wish I'd done that instead." Today, Dear Satan is that idea for me. 

Title:Dear Satan
Logline:A 7-year old girl accidentally misspells “Santa” in her letter to the North Pole and instead invites Satan to bring her a toy for Christmas.
Writer:Dan Ewen

More:Spec. Conundrum's Bobby & Peter Farrelly will produce.  

It's so simple and yet so smart. We've all noticed how eerily similarly spelled Santa and Satan are; one represents joy and goodness and generosity and love, while the other is death and destruction and denial and sin. Same five letters, though, only a little rejiggered. Thus, it makes perfect sense that someone would misaddress the letter. And a child? Of course. I buy that completely. 

Not to get into a debate on religion and the existence of Satan or not, but the logline does a perfect job of informing us of how this world works. Presumably, Santa really does exists and makes his perennial journey around the world each Christmas Eve to deliver toys. The fact that the girl's unfortunate typo addresses her letter to the Devil makes us think that, in this world, Satan is also very much a real force that can interact with the world. We know there's magic and the supernatural in the world of this script, and we also know that those forces pose very legitimate risks or influences. So, naturally, we beg to know the answer - what happens when Satan gets a request to show up with a present?

My search on Dan Ewen didn't reveal much about past writing credentials, unfortunately, though that doesn't mean much.  It looks like he had an earlier sale this past November and one in 2009. He might have ghost-written a ton before that, or been hired to do rewrites, deals that didn't make the trades. Either way, I don't really care. The title is great. The logline is beyond solid (we know the protagonist - the girl - the world, the rules, and the conflict). The idea is incredibly promising; I want to know where it goes. If I was the executive and this came across my desk, you can bet I would ask for the script. Hell, if I had the spending money, I might even pick it up regardless, just for the idea.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 226 - The Waiting Week

Well folks, I won't lie to you. This week has been a bit of a slow one. I still haven't heard back regarding the producer's thoughts on my writing partner's and my outline for a sci-fi action adventure. My manager is also supposed to be giving it a read, but no feedback from him yet, either. And that's fine - I'll be going out of town for the weekend, so it's not as though I'll have much time to work on it anyway. 

The post-Apocalyptic spec is still out there somewhere in the ether. I think we (my manager, agent, and producers) are nearing agreement that we've about turned over as many stones as we can on the project... at least for now. It's kind of a sucky feeling, but not one that comes as a surprise to me. I sense that my manager's been slowly prepping me for the inevitable, "there's not much more we can do for it now," and considering the project's been out in the Hollywood atmosphere for a couple years, I could have guessed as much. Thankfully, I have the collaboration to actively focus on and a couple other ideas or outlines that I can jump back to and will jump back to. We're trying for one more A-lister to come on board attached to star, but I think that's more in the wish and prayer category than a strategy we're putting any real money behind.

I began to get back to the demon thriller spec, which was nice. By get back to, I mean I re-read the outline I drafted months ago. I was pleased to see that it reads pretty well. In fact, my manager had some thoughts about it that wouldn't change the pacing or overall structure in any major way, but would alter some situations and potentially eliminate certain parallels in the story that work effectively at present. It's hard to tell whether I'm just being intractable or even just lazy, or if there's merit to my desire not to implement his changes. I like to think that I'll be able to achieve an equally healthy outline for an even more unique story by implementing his suggestions, but I'm currently beset by that ever tempting, partially deleterious affliction whereby writers refuse to tamper with something that works. 

Ah well... if nothing else, an attempt at revising yet another outline that seems well-structured might just prove that the current incarnation is the most robust, most effective. And Hell, it felt great to keep working, and in a field where the temptation to procrastinate is ever-present, the drive to work needs to be embraced. After all, who knows how long the next writing break might last. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 225 - The Necessary Outline

At long last! Two months after my collaborator, producer/director/actor W.A. and I first met about the sci-fi project we're working on together, we finally sent our revised outline off to the producer that paired us together. (Actually, two months for revising a project isn't that long at all, but whenever I finish a stage of a project and am able to send something off for review, I feel a small wave of triumph.)

Believe it or not, what we sent the producer was the fourth revision of the outline. I received one before the initial phone call W.A. and I had before we began working together. Then, based on an in-person meeting we did the week after that, I provided him with the big points from our chat and then rewrote the outline based on those. He gave me feedback, which I incorporated into a second draft. Drawing ever closer to something we were both really pleased with, we met again, and out of that came the third draft. That one seemed to require less drastic adjustments, so we met via phone. Of course, drafts three and four are very different in a lot of places, but the result was mutually pleasing to us. Now, we wait to see what if any notes the producer has. 

Naturally, the whole point of this process is to enable me to write the first draft of the script easily and effectively, and for that draft to be a very solid foundation for the final draft. Granted, projects change a lot between the outline and script stages, but we've worked out a lot of the questions and kinks in the story, so hopefully even if the story doesn't adhere, the logic of the world will. It's always impossible to anticipate every question a producer or writing partner or reader or agent or... (you get the point) will have about a script, and that's why the outlining process is so vital. As W.A. and I worked on the story, issues would arise. He would suggest a change based on something that wasn't working, and in attempting to fix it, I would realize that some other piece fell out of place. Or I would ask why something was a certain way, and in his response, he would see the solution to another problem we were grappling with.  Though not every bug or flaw might be addressed, our two minds have raised and answered an enormous number of questions at this point, which should make notes and then writing that much easier.