Status Report

Another week down, more work done, and more to do. Here’s how I spent the week, in case any reader out there wants to file a report with the productivity police.

I am almost finished with the outline for the script I have been hired to write. The director and I have been working on an outline for a few months, but now it’s my time to polish it, smooth it out, and make it coherent to people other than the two of us. Almost finished is good, but my deadline is tomorrow, so much more work to do.

Because of that, I have not really touched the play that will be presented to The Actors Studio, even though I promised the director I would get her a new draft my June 15th. My priority is on the screenplay right now. However, the changes I want to make are on a low simmer, and I’m thinking about what I need to do, even if I am not doing it yet. That pot should be boiling over by the time I wrap up the outline tomorrow, so I’ll be more than ready to dive in and make changes.

So that leaves the screenplay for the movie that this blog is supposed to be about. As I predicted last week I will be pushing work on that a few weeks, but certainly not abandoning it. So much to do, so little time.

Just for Me

This draft is mine. Keep your grubby paws off it.

Not that you are clamoring to read the rough draft of a screenplay. I’m sure you have books to catch up on, magazines quickly stacking up in your bathroom or on your counter, or even a slew of other screenplays to read. That said, this draft is only for me.

Any screenwriter can tell you that once a script is finished, the instinct is to show it off right away. “Look what I made! Congratulate me! I’m the shit!” And like any new parent, we expect our script to be treated like a newborn. “Be kind, it’s a brand new baby. She’s unfinished, ugly, and clumsy, but she’s all mine. Now tell me how cute she is. Isn’t she the cutest baby you’ve ever seen?”

Except your script is not a baby. And when you put it out in the world, people will point out the warts, flaws, drool, and frankly they will not be polite in telling you how much that baby stinks. And your baby does stink. Because unlike a real baby, a script has not gestated long enough; it is simply not ready for the world. Because a script is not a baby, but a mature, fully grown adult. Sure, there may be warts, flaws and drool in an adult, but at least the adult structure is all there. We find drooling and crying babies cute, but drooling and crying adults? Not so much.

almost_done_with_my_screenplay_baby_t_shirt-re19a499189474fcebbeb1792cc82bcf5_f0c6y_512

(for more shirts that argue my point go to zazzle.com)

Okay, before I get on the bus to Analogyville via the Digress Expressway, I think you get my point. And this point is a valuable lesson to any writer. Before you seek feedback and validation, take some perspective so you can reflect honestly on what you wrote. Let the passion and excitement of completing a script ebb before letting others in, and before you let others in, reread it. After a week or so away from it, is it still all you thought it was? Notice any errors you didn’t notice before? Are you happy with all the characters? Does the plot unfurl on paper the way it does in your head?

We’ve grown accustomed to reality show competitions like American Idol and Top Chef where artists are INSTANTLY judged on their efforts. They finish their warbling cover of When Doves Cry or their braised pork cheek and red snapper with collard green slaw and fennel puree, and nearly fall over themselves as the judges offer their cleverly worded (and often scripted!) opinions. They always hope for the best but often get the worst.¬† Whether the feedback is good or bad, they are always getting slightly more famous (for the time being).

We also overlook the effort that got these players to this level. Even an amateur showcase like American Idol requires hours and hours of preparation, both before entering the competition and during the run itself. How many hours has that singer spent rehearsing one song for this week’s tribute to Abba? How many years of singing did it take to make that voice stand out to the audition judges to get on the show? How many years were spent in the kitchen perfecting cooking technique?

My point is that my script is a baby, and needs to grow up a little before you get your judgy, judgy peepers on it. So thank you for your patience but this baby ain’t ready.

Deadline Day

Ever since you were little you were sternly warned about deadlines. In second grade, if you turned in your drawing late the teacher would say “I’ll take it late this time, but in third grade they don’t allow late papers.” Each year, the same thing. In sixth grade it’s “when you get to junior high you’ll have a tough time, because they won’t let you turn things in late.” On and on, each level scaring you with the hellish consequences of the future, while letting it slide today.

Sure, maybe it’s difficult to turn in a college application late, but it’s probably not impossible. And that’s when anarchy sets in. In college, late papers are commonplace. If your excuse is at least decent (or if you can muster up a few tears) then usually an extension is granted. In the adult world, it’s more of the same. Sure, missing a work deadline is troublesome and a few too many of them will lead to you getting the axe, but one or two can slip through. They say the only thing you can’t avoid are death and taxes? Well, it’s not that difficult to file for an extension on taxes. And decades down the road, when we merge with the robots, we may even be able to cheat death. So how am I, a lone pen-slinging cowboy, going to possibly keep my own self-imposed deadline with all this open land before me? Plus, I started a new job this week, plus I had a few meetings. I mean, it’s easily been the craziest week since we landed in L.A. in November. So you can forgive me if I don’t reach my silly, stupid, and meaningless goal.

Well, I finished the script. With 18 hours to spare. Take that, haters!

It was going to be close. All week I struggled to fit in writing time, often in 15 minute blocks throughout the day. With less than 24 hours to go, I had about 7 pages left when I crashed. Done for the day. If I make it tomorrow, good. If not, no biggie. I tried, right?

Then I had some help from an unlikely source: Insomnia.

The demon of the night, who haunts me with regularity, came knocking. Half of the time I sleep well, a deep often dreamless 8 hours. The other half of my nights are touch and go. I have very little trouble falling asleep, but on those nights my eyes blink wide open, usually between 2 and 4am. From there it’s anyone’s guess…sometimes I’ll only be up 20 minutes, other times it’s over 2 hours. Last night was the latter. After going to bed at 10:30pm (we party animals have a busy day planned and needed to be up at 5:45am) I woke up at 2:30am. Blink. Blink. Blink. Etc. The clock hit 3:30am, 4:00am. Blink. Blink. Blink. Eventually my mind settled on the ending of the script. It was all unfolding perfectly. Three more scenes, and then the big finish. So get out of bed, dummy!

I slogged out of the bedroom and planted myself at the computer. Wrote for a half hour. Nearly finished. One scene to go, but I was getting drowsy so I thought maybe I’d get a power half hour of sleep in. Didn’t happen, so when the alarm went off I planted myself in front of the computer and finished the job.

First draft complete! Well, sort of. More on that after I…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The Final Countdown

“Beware the ides of March, for your deadline doth approacheth, and if it shall pass without the completion of your task, then woe be unto you and all of yours and be branded for all of eternity as a failure.” Clarence Shakespeare (no relation)

I have a self imposed deadline of March 15th for completion of the first draft of the screenplay. I set this deadline with my friend Brad, who is also writing a screenplay. We gave ourselves this date as a deadline. A completely arbitrary date. Why this date? Who knows? At the time (three weeks ago) it felt like a reasonable date to complete a script. But things change. Life happens. Other side trips are taken. And here I am, four days away from the deadline, and I am in trouble.

Deadline

I have written 71 pages so far. Brad gleefully mentioned a few days ago that he was on page 79 (stupid overachiever). The average screenplay is roughly 90-100 pages, so by conventional logic, I have about 25 pages to write this week. But of more importance than the page count, I have to actually finish the script. And here’s my scary secret:

I have no idea how this movie ends.

I have a good idea of what might happen. I have been making discoveries along the way that are exciting and surprising, even to the author of the script. The other day a character revealed something that was a big plot twist, and even I didn’t see it coming.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t have a concrete ending. And the clock is ending.

So what? It’s an arbitrary deadline. Why don’t I go sit on the beach, launch my computer into the surf, and laugh heartily at rewriting my own destiny. This isn’t a paid writing assignment. No producer is breathing down my neck for this script. My manager isn’t politely but firmly inquiring as to when it will be done. No one is gathering outside my apartment, watching for white smoke to spew from the chimney. This deadline is for me (and now Brad, that stupid overachiever). And without self-imposed deadlines, I may never finish this script.

I could go on, but I should really be writing something else other than this blog right now, don’t you think?

See you on Friday.

Why hello, Oscar

Another week, another few pages. 55 pages into the rough draft, and so far I’m happy with where it’s going. I don’t worry about page length with the first draft, but I’d guess I’m about halfway finished.

It’s that time of the year again, the Super Bowl of the entertainment industry. The Oscars aired a few days ago, and like always I look forward to it, then a few hours in get bored and wonder what I was anticipating. My wife and I attended a party. Good food, good friends, and like all good sporting events, there was a betting pool. Last year, despite my extensive knowledge of movies and the business, I came in 17th place. ¬†There weren’t even 17 people at the party, which means I lost to people who literally phoned it in. This year I did a little more research and vowed to do better.

Oscar Statuette

Say what you will about the silliness of everything, with who’s wearing what and what jokes tanked and who got ripped off and who shouldn’t have been nominated (and which 9-year-old got called the c-word!), not to mention the whole concept that one can beat other people for an award for something as abstract as artistic accomplishment is tough to fathom, but it is still exciting to watch people at this place in their journey, both with their careers and with a particular project. That said, I would be lying if winning an Academy Award didn’t cross my mind on occasion when writing a script.

Honestly though, visions of tuxedos, red carpets and front row Jack Nicholsons have not been swimming through my head while writing this script. Not that I wouldn’t want to touch that gold ring, but at this point in the script I don’t care. I’m writing this script because I want to make this movie. Plain and simple. I want to make it for me, for fellow artists and collaborators who are underworked, and hopefully for an audience that will appreciate the story I want to tell. To me, winning is getting the movie made. Winning is completing the script. Winning is writing this blog entry.

I’m a writer, and I’m doing what I should be doing. The more I write, the better I get. And the same goes with Oscar prognostication: this year I came in 4th place.

Lesson learned: never underestimate Ang Lee.

Stay on the tracks

So far I have written 40 pages of the first draft. Screenplays tend to have three acts, and I have already completed the first act. I’m happy with the progress, but now it’s time to fight all my instincts and press forward.

The hardest part of my job as conductor of this script train is to stay on the tracks and keep aiming for the station, which is roughly 50-70 pages away. It’s a hard job because more than anything I want to go back. Now that I’m this far in, I know so much more about my lead character and I want to enhance the details. My supporting characters are barely sketched out now, and I know what they desire and need. Locations now have detailed items in them. Some scenes can be shorter. Other need to be longer. I want to go back and fix these things.

But I won’t. I can’t speak for every writer, but I know from experience now that if I go back and fix things I will fall behind, and will unlikely catch up. Once I get into tweaking things, that process will never stop. Little tweaks beget little tweaks, and before I know it I’ll have an extremely tight and brilliant 20 pages, and I’ll be 85-years-old and straining from reading my script on my iPhone 37G.

It’s not too dramatic to say if I stop the train and it’s momentum, I will not get it going again and I will never reach the station. Also, like most trains and modes of travel, there is an arrival time. Writing a script should be no different. I’m going to say that the First Draft Express is due to arrive at Completion Station on March 15th. Arbitrary? Sure. But an arbitrary deadline is much better than no deadline.

The Story

Monkey-typing

When it comes to my writing, I have only one superstition: I won’t talk about the script until a first draft is finished. Like Fight Club and the C.I.A., I operate on radio silence until the words “The End” or “Fade to Black” are typed. There is no real justification for my superstition, like my idea will get stolen or armageddon will strike. I just feel that if I talk about something before it’s complete, I may analyze it in the wrong way. The angry monkey named Self-Doubt that sits on our shoulder during the writing process may stretch his legs and dance around if I open my mouth. So I keep it quiet.

This makes it hard to blog. No one wants to read a blog where nothing happens, no new information is revealed. So I have to open up a little bit. So here’s a little tidbit about the script I am writing, the genesis of the idea that sparked the story:

A woman goes to L.A. to find her sister, who has been out of contact for a long time.

That’s it! I did it. And the monkey is still snoozing on my shoulder. Everyone keep quiet and maybe he’ll stay asleep for another month so I can finish the draft.