Sprinting through Sorkinland

I want to live in an Aaron Sorkin world.

Not pictured: me

Not pictured: me

Not any particular world. I was a fan of Sports Night and The West Wing. I enjoy The Newsroom. And I firmly believe that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a television show.

But I don’t want to live in any of these particular worlds. I don’t want to produce sports television, cable news television, or run the world from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I don’t need all my conversations to be filled with witty banter or confusing sexual innuendo.

But what I love about those worlds is the urgency. Things are always happening and things need to get done right now and if these things don’t get done right now then the world will either stop spinning or explode into dust or wait did you kiss me what does that mean and I don’t know if I feel that way about you but Congress is about to shut down and this network is about to shut us down and she’s about to quit and he’s going to get fired and we need to keep this scandal buried and we need to expose this scandal and it all needs to happen before noon or 8pm or tomorrow or RIGHT NOW.

People either thrive in this environment or they run away, screaming. If my personal life was filled each day with the DRAMA those characters endure, I’d long ago have jumped off a bridge or moved to a fishing boat in Central America. However, as a freelance writer it is difficult to maintain the urgency. If you are working on a network TV show, then certainly there are deadlines always looming. But for those of us who are not (at the moment, of course) it is difficult to stay on track without the clock constantly ticking overhead. Projects get sidetracked by other projects, by life, by errands and chores, or by a West Wing marathon on TV. I can fool myself and say that watching and deleting 20% of my DVR catalog is being productive, but we all know it isn’t the truth.

In the two weeks leading up to the table read of my script Closure, I worked harder on the script than I had in months. The final three days were frenetic…I had to get it done. There was a deadline. And this deadline was arbitrary; no one was making me finish the script. After all, this particular project is one I want to do myself. But because I had given myself a deadline and invited people to take part in it, there was now a need for urgency. I got it done. It may not have been 100% exactly what I wanted, but it was definitely progress.

In the days following the reading I could feel myself sliding back into laziness. I spent less time at the computer and more time in front of the TV. I knew that to nip that slide in the bud, I had to take a page from the Book of Sorkin: deadlines. Right Now.

So I did. I noticed that the deadline for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference was in a week, and I had wanted to submit Little Black Boxes, the play I presented at The Actors Studio this summer. But I hadn’t done the rewrites, even though I knew sort of what I wanted to accomplish. So now was the time. Deadline! And it helped. I dove back into the script, completed revisions, and filled out the application online and submitted. In a Sorkin sense, I failed: I filed the application with nearly 48 hours left until the deadline. In Sorkin’s world Dana Whitaker or Mac would be screaming “5 seconds” as I ran down the hall with the paperwork, sweating and swearing under my breath. And again, this deadline is arbitrary. The world would not stop spinning if I didn’t submit. The laws of percentages say I won’t get accepted. But still, I took my script to a new level, and that alone is victory.

And now I’m addicted to the adrenaline high. I don’t want to slide back into a DVR-induced coma. I need another deadline. So here’s my newest goal: in addition to the other writing work I have to do (because Sorkin characters can multitask) I will finish the outline of another play I’ve been working on (and sat on for months), do the revisions on the first act, and complete the new draft. Then the next week I will send it to a director who expressed interest. The time is now.

Reading Recap

Two days prior to the reading, and I am all about revisions. I would happily delay work on the script and procrastinate (look, more baseball on TV!) but I wanted to get the script to the cast at least a day in advance so they could have the option of reading it in advance. Plus, to be green, those who had e-readers needed to get it on their devices. So I worked late into Thursday evening, and Friday before and after work I continued my paper edit. By 5pm I had completed paper edits and sat in front of the computer to input all the changes. By 6pm Catia had returned from her commercial shoot, and since it was her birthday, we opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate, then I continued with my paper edits. That is one stereotype I do not fit, the writer who drinks through the process. Fortunately I was almost done and I nursed my glass. Around 7pm I finished, saved the script, and sent a pdf to the cast. No proofreading here, gonna fly by the seat of my pants.

Saturday a quick trip to the local copy store to print out copies for the e-readerless (double sided, you’re welcome Mother Earth) and before I knew it, time was up. Let’s begin.

The last time I heard a script read out loud was my debacle with The Actors Studio in July. I was not concerned this time; after all, it’s a closed reading, just a handful of talented actors who all happen to be friends. A few other respected listeners. A positive room.

Reading 10-12-13 1

Talented actors hard at work.

And it went well. The pace moved quickly. There were more laughs than I anticipated. The actors connected with each other. Sure, the flaws were glaring when the dialogue was heard out loud. It didn’t go far enough with some of the protagonist’s obstacles, and some moments weren’t believable, but all in all it was a success. The script works.  With a little reworking and revision, this could be something. I am satisfied.

After the reading I opted not to have a group discussion, which sort of threw the cast for a loop. Ordinarily following a reading everyone would sit around and discuss, but since we started a bit late and since the reading was turning into a birthday party for my wife with other guests about to arrive, I decided to abandon the usual critique session and talk to people individually or in smaller groups, throughout the evening. This worked out surprisingly well as people could speak freely without considering the opinions of others. Plus, this allowed me to hear similar opinions without worrying about bandwagon opinions, which are those from people who might agree with something that they wouldn’t have considered on their own. There was some general consensus, though:

* The script is too procedural. Much is revealed in conversation, which isn’t active. And similarly:

* Be more visual and less married to text. A common problem for us playwrights who switch to film. Not insurmountable, my scripts are getting more visual the more I write, but something to always consider. Talk in images when possible. One great note I received from a writer friend who watched the reading is to consider approach each scene as a dance.

Now I will take a few days away from the script to stew it over, but I am encouraged and excited to take this to the next step.

Eight Days until reading

Eight days until the reading.

countdown

Luckily, most of the actors I contacted are available at the same time, a rarity when people are volunteering their valuable time. All I have to do now is do another script revision and we’re good to go. Easy, right?

Well, when it rains, it pours. Another round of revisions are due on Broad Daylight, the short film that is scheduled to be shot in the coming months. And another round of revisions are due immediately on It is Done, as we are getting closer to production and obviously, a completed and excellent script is kind of important at this stage of the game. Three deadlines within days of each other. It’s the perfect storm of deadlines, only without the threat of drowning or getting harpooned like John C. Reilly.

In addition, my wife and I are going out of town for a weekend in wine country, like one does in Southern California in the fall.

So what to do? First, like anyone with a lengthy to do list, it feels good to cross something off right away, so I tackled the Broad Daylight revisions. There wasn’t a ton to do, so it was a quick job. Finished. Emailed to director. Crossed off list. Moving on.

But how to handle two scripts with deadlines at the same time? The younger me would cancel my weekend trip, hunker down with my drafts, caffeine, and carbs, and shut the blinds. Is the older (ahem, current) me a slacker? Am I lazier than my younger self? Less hungry?

Possibly. But I’m going to say I’m a better, more confident writer now. I can make decisions quicker and formulate solutions more efficiently. I don’t have to write something down and then spend hours wringing my hands, wondering if it’s the right decision. It either is the right decision or it isn’t, and those who are reading the drafts will be forgiving if the decisions are wrong. It’s not going directly from my computer to your movie screen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not satisfied with half-assed work. I just no longer aim for perfection.

Because perfection is unattainable.

So off we go to wine country. And in 48 hours I will get back to work. And I will get the job done.