Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How I spent my Christmas vacation


You'd think I didn't post in the last week because of the holiday stuff, and there was a lot of that. I baked everything this year, so there was a lot of kitchen time.

But the main reason I didn't post anything for the past week is because I was too busy writing.

There's this book, see, that I love more than any other book. It's a project I want very badly that has gone around and around Hollywood for many years and never gotten the green light because nobody has ever been able to crack the script. Word is, the project is completely dead. They stopped trying.

And no, this has nothing to do with Wonder Woman. And I'm not going to say what the project is for a very good reason.

Anyhow, I just finished a script and sent it to Manager for notes, which I won't get back until after the holiday. In the meantime I have nothing to work on. I had planned to make a Youtube video, but before I started that, I got a wild hair up my ass to write the treatment for this adaptation. I thought, you never know - what if I get the chance to meet with the producers who own the rights to this thing - I should be prepared to throw my pitch at them. So I took two days and cranked out ten pages.

And they were ten very good pages.

Turns out, I've loved the book so long and read it so many times that I didn't really need to think too much about what I'd change and remove and add. Apparently I've already done all that in my head over time. So the pages just flowed onto the page without much filtering from my conscious mind.

Then I sat and looked at my treatment and I thought, well, what the hell, why don't I just plunk down a couple of pages of the opening scene, since that's so clear in my head. What can it hurt?

I sat down in front of the computer to write two pages. An hour and a half later, I had 11 pages.

Then I said, hey, I'm gonna keep going. I wrote more pages the next day. Then I said hey, I'm gonna write it before Hollywood comes back. After New Year's the town starts up again and I'm going to have a rewrite, maybe more meetings, maybe another spec to write, and then there will be no time for this project. But maybe - just maybe - if I finish it and it's good, we can take it to the producers who own the rights. And maybe - just maybe - if they see a finished script that blows them away, they'll bring this project back to life. Dream achieved.

It's not out of the question.

If it doesn't go anywhere, what did I lose? I wrote a project I'd been wanting to write since I learned what screenwriting was, and I spent two weeks doing it. So to me, a no lose situation.

And that's what I've been doing. I wrote 13 pages one day, 19 the next, and I've been going up and up in daily page count until today, when I hit my all-time record of 26 pages. I started this last Thursday and took two days off for Christmas. So that's 5 days of writing and 77 pages. And I'm gonna be honest - they're good pages. I haven't had to skip scenes like I usually do, or put in placeholders and figure out how to solve the problem later.

It helps that I didn't write the story. I don't have to spend any time wondering if the story is fucking stupid, which is always something that stalls me out a bit. I also know this story very well, so well that I wrote the entire treatment from memory.

I hope to get the first draft down by Monday at the latest.

This is just one of those times that comes along very rarely in your writing life, when you know what you have to do and you do the fuck out of it.

I highly recommend it.

19 comments:

  1. Really like the blog. So far, I've written 4 pages and that was an achievement...before I read this post :(

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    1. Hey man, 4 pages is nothing to sneer at. I usually consider 4 pages a solid day. Weeks like I've been having are very rare, but they happen to us all every now and then.

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  2. Oh, no. Tell me you're not writing a spec of Infinite jest.

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    1. I always wondered how they'd film the footnotes to that one.

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  3. Um, did you discuss this at all with your reps? I ask because my reps would not let me spec an entire draft (or treatment or really anything) on something I didn't have rights to, let alone on a project that is apparently dead (or "dead" or DEAD, or some combination).

    Generally projects are dead for a reason, often for MANY reasons, few of which are related to script and story problems. You know, the exec who brought it to the company and championed it in the first place is now gone (no one else cares about it), or they're developing a similar property, or a competitor is developing a similar property, or the property is tied up as an asset in a divorce proceeding, or the reason the producer bought the rights in the first place was to be in business with Movie Star X, who they now don't want to be in business with, etc...etc...(btw, all of these reasons may be conveyed as "story problems" when anyone asks).

    A two-minute call from your reps would be all it would take to clear it up. Use 'em -- this is what they're for!

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  4. SuperSned, don't worry about my relationship with my reps. We're good.

    The first draft of this screenplay took me six days to write. I'm giving myself three days of editing. It was an enjoyable experience, and it didn't get in the way of anything else. Like I said in the post, it's a no-lose situation, even if it goes nowhere. That's why I ended up doing it now, when I had no other obligations.

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    1. Sure, not worried about the health of your rep relationships, just curious if they've blessed this endeavor or are aware of it at all.

      Because without their input or knowing anything about the status of the project or its history, you're kind of throwing darts blind-folded in a room that's already dark.

      And sure, hey it only took me six days, no biggie, but the flip side of the equation is the likelihood that a piece of literary material you hardly spent any time on is ultimately going to be a real asset for you. I mean, six days is a vomit draft, all due respect (I call them that myself, even when I spend months on them!).

      And a vomit draft's primary value is to be discarded on the way to getting to a really good draft, which DOES take a whole ton of time and work.

      In this type of scenario the thing that will get you traction on getting this project will most likely be either: a) your enthusiasm and take on the material (pitched in person, possibly with a brief written doc, in conjunction with a great personal rapport with the exec and a sample they really love, etc...), or b) a really, really great completed draft.

      But the vomit draft itself, in all likelihood, will not help you either scenario.

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  5. Stories can be "dead for years and then suddenly come alive again, even after decades in the morgue. All it takes is one Prince kissing the mouth of one Sleeping Beauty and it's back to life we go.

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  6. This is also my thinking.

    And SuperSned, I am aware of the status of the project. That's the first question I asked when I decided to go with my reps.

    And it is not a vomit draft, six days or no.

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    2. OK, I don't mean to belabor the point, I've asked a couple times if your reps actually encouraged you to spec a full draft based on this material, or if they know that you're doing it all -- it's fine not to answer, but that question is a pretty interesting and compelling component about undertaking something like this, IMO. That's all.

      Again, no offense meant by vomit draft. In the usage I'm familiar with six days is certainly a vomit draft (with room to spare), but most writers embrace the term (I certainly do). It doesn't mean the writing itself is vomit, more that it was "vomited" out (high volume, short time frame). Or geysered or volcanoed or whatever. I guess we could switch to Firehose of Genius draft of something.

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  7. Yo Emily, honestly didn't mean to come off at all trollish or Negative Nancy-ish there, it is great and exciting anytime we connect with material and the writing just flows. Your post just struck a chord in me based on a pretty recent experience. The brief version, for your enjoyment:

    So, couple years ago I read an article in a high-profile magazine, and I flipped. The article featured a world that was exotic and exciting and cinematic, all that stuff. I called my manager RIGHT AWAY and started describing the article, and could we look into it? Could I even option it myself? He cut me off, yeah yeah, he knows all about that article, it had a lot of heat in the development community before it was ever even published, he's pretty sure someone already has it.

    He looked into it, bad news, Big Producer bought the rights, so I wouldn't be snatching this gem out from under the big boys. But good news, this producer had taken a spec of mine into several territories just months earlier, was definitely a "big fan." Great I said, set a meeting! Manager calls back, he appreciates your interest, but he's already been taking to big name writers and pretty much has one locked down. So, not even a meeting. I lick my wounds and walk away.

    A few years pass. I'm working with a different producer on a different project, we ultimately don't move forward on it but the exec and I get along great, and in the meantime I learn that low and behold, THIS producer now holds the rights to the article. I call my manager. He calls the exec, what's up? The project, is stalled, but they're open to new takes. So, good news. My manager then calls the studio exec where it's set up, we get better news. Studio exec read my last spec and is a big fan and wants a meeting to hear my take on this project.

    And I have a great take. I'm peeing my pants with excitement at this point. I call my manager and pitch my take. My manager, uncharacteristically, loves it. He hardly ever loves my pitches. He LOVED this one. But he cautions me not to get too crazy, just LISTEN to the studio exec on the initial call, learn about what their history with the project is and what THEY want, and then, if it feels good, we can take them an actual pitch.

    I nod and hang up. I'm so excited, the producer is a fan, the studio exec is a fan, my manger loves the take, they WANT to move forward with this, etc...so I beat out the movie. In my head and on paper. Beat sheets and treatments. I ignore my manger and I go crazy. The world, the characters, the set pieces. Oh my god the SET PIECES! Action, big action. White knuckle stuff. Like nothing we've seen in an action-thriller before. It just gets better the more I think about it and the more I work on it.

    The initial call with the exec comes. And within about ten seconds I realize they are developing this project as....a workplace comedy. I'm pretty stunned. It OBVIOUSLY is an action thriller. That's what I write, that's the sample he read! But for them it's a workplace comedy. Full stop. We exchange pleasantries and hang up. I call my manager. But I already had a KILLER treatment! He says "I told you not too get carried away." I ask if we can see if they're open to hearing an action-thriller take on the material? A really really PASSIONATE action-thriller take? He calls back. They're not. They want it as a workplace comedy.

    Anyway, I can sort of chuckle about it now. And all the time and energy and hope I'd put into my action-thriller version wasn't really "wasted" per se (it was still a "learning experience" and all that), but it was absolutely wasted because I didn't even know what genre we were talking about. And if I could get that time and energy back, I would. I'd spend it on finding my own great spec idea or fixing problems in one of my other scripts. And I'd listen to my manager (which I hate doing!)

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    1. That sucks that you had to go through that. It must have been terribly frustrating. This is a different situation, so hopefully it won't work out that way for me.

      A "vomit draft" is usually called such because you spew everything on the page, then go back and fix it later. I've heard the term used to describe not the speed of the draft, but the quality - the idea being that once you have it all down, even if it sucks, you can go back and revise it until it's good. This was not a vomit draft.

      I'd rather not go into detail about the way I work with my reps.

      Writing this project was one of the most joyous experiences I've had as a screenwriter, so no matter what happens, I haven't wasted my time.

      I suppose we'll just have to wait and see what happens in the new year.

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  8. Re: Vomit Draft. I've had a little success along a path that has included of a whole mountain of experience. (25 or so specs, some commissions, a smattering of TV) And there was vomit. Lots of it. And enless rewrites (one script has had 40 drafts and still not there). But along the way (twenty years apart) there were two scripts that I coughed up in very few days (each under 2 weeks)-- and they were two of the best things I've ever written. One got produced, the other more recent one has opened doors for me and is likely to get produced. Just because you write something fast doesn't mean it's all pea soup and diced carrots. Occasionally a masterpiece can spew out. Good for you for just writing out of joy. No matter what happens that is an experience you have. And maybe it's a masterpiece. I wouldn't bet against it myself. All the best for the new year -- I do enjoy your blog.

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  9. Thanks for sharing that, Bruce. That's awesome.

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  11. Hello, i check in on your blog about twice a month and find it very comforting having someone voice the same set of problems/triumphs I'm going through every week.

    But today of all days I'm posting simply to say---"when you know what you have to do and you do the fuck out of it."

    --is a great god damn line.

    Keep up the good work

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  12. Thanks, Chris! I will have to use that line again somehow.

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  13. Nothing better than writing in the zone, Emily. For me it's writing on auto-pilot, where it feels like I'm being dictated to and I'm just writing it down as fast as I can.

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