Friday, May 11, 2012

Screenwriter code switching

There's this term we use in education - one of those jargony terms I don't know if people use in other industries - "Code Switching." Code switching is the ability to turn your brain from one mode like test-taking brain to creative brain, or academic classroom brain to lunchtime fuckaround brain. John Cleese talks a bit about something similar in this video on creativity somebody linked on Done Deal. It's a pretty good speech, but I am too lazy to look it up right now so you're just going to have to Google.

Anyhow, I realized this morning that I have a total code switch going on when I start to work on a screenplay. I suppose we all do, but I was surprised at the way I do it.  All this time and I never realized how super serious I get.

I have been working on a thing with a person, and yesterday I sent a copy of the latest version of a treatment. I got back a list of casual ideas to explore, questions, suggestions, NOT notes. But my brain had switched to screenplay mode, which means everything is a problem to solve. Suddenly I was fucking Sherlock Holmes trying to decipher the Mystery of the Screenplay Notes.

And the guy was like "Hold up, kid. This is just a discussion." And I was like "Oh." And that's when I realized that although I always tried to pretend I could easy in - easy out of screenwriting mode, the truth is I have a very clear mindset when I'm in that mode. I code switch to screenwriting and I'm super focused. My sense of humor is poured into my characters and I am left with none.

To my fiance I've always said "Hey, if you need me while I'm writing it's cool. Just open the door and I'll break off. It's not too tough to get back into it."

What a fucking lie. Last week he went to walk the dogs and called me out of the office to see if I thought the neighborhood smelled like pot. I nearly ripped his head off his body and threw it over the fence. I guess he learned his lesson about that one.

Do you guys do this? Because this has come as a revelation to me.


  1. Very much so. I don't think I operate that way when receiving casual notes. But when I'm actually at my computer, time disappears. I often need a Hurculean bought of will to sit myself down at the beginning, but once an idea/script/outline is started and rolling, I get lost. When I start working it's usually many hours before I realize how long I've been at it. My wife will often wake up at 1 AM and ask me what the hell I'm doing. I find I often have to apologize for getting irrationally annoyed at interruptions. :)

    And once, when she was at a grad school summer program for six weeks, I worked on a script around the clock, only breaking for sleep and my day job. I lost almost 15 pounds and looked like shit. But the script got done in lightning speed and got me a bunch of meetings. Nothing came of them, but still.

  2. Any good writer does this. Nothing new.

  3. Damn, Adam. That's some serious zone action. I'm usually good for about 3 hours, then I lose focus. Never worked to 1am before.


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