Monday, November 08, 2010

Oh what the hell, I'll answer more questions

My friend Vanilla Chunk (he says that's not his real name, but I have doubts) gave his own answers to the questions JC asked last week, and there's some good stuff in there. Then Vanilla followed up with questions of his own. So what the hell, I like answering questions. The rest of this week will be devoted to posts on technique, but I wanted to answer this last set of questions first so I can practice for when I'm in fancy writing magazines talking about my big sale.

Here they are:

VC: You came from the South. How did your Southern childhood affect your writing?

Just yesterday I called Sprint and got a woman who immediately announced that she was in Charlotte. I happily told her I am from North Carolina also, and this started a conversation where while searching for my information she asked about the weather in LA, when was the last time I’d been home, what kind of dog I had barking in the background, how excited my family would be to see me at Christmas, etc. We’re like that down South. We chat. No reason to be all business when you can be friendly and learn something from each other. You don’t get that when you call other places, and it’s one of the things I miss the most about home. Strangers here sort of huff uncomfortably if I get too personal.

I think this means two major things: We don’t like silences so we fill it with chatter, which is one reason I talk so damn much, and that we’re comfortable expressing ourselves honestly but with tact. Not everybody from the South is like this, but I think there is a consistency with Southern women at least, that we speak our minds. Politely. Often with our hands on our hips.

So how has this affected my writing? Confidence, maybe. I’m not afraid to be honest. An ear for dialogue I guess. I like to write quirky characters who all have a sort of Southern bellesque reaction to uncomfortable situations. One of the problems I’ve had is that sometimes it’s tough for me to write characters who DON’T speak their minds. It also gets me into trouble on a personal level when I point out something people wanted to keep quiet. People always say "Emily!" in this horrified voice when I had no idea that what I said was inappropriate.

VC: What is the worst advice you've ever received about screenwriting? (This reveals more about you than the best advice you've gotten.)

Now THAT is an interesting question, and it had me thinking for a while. I’ve gotten a lot of bad advice, but I think I have  a winner.

I don’t even know how many people have told me not to write female protagonists for my action scripts. Nobody wants to watch an action film with a female lead. Sure, Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley were cool, but that was a long time ago and everybody knows women just can’t be believable as action stars these days. Then when Angelina Jolie came along everybody said, oh well, that’s Angelina. She’s an exception. If you can’t get her your movie is useless. And yet after she did it again in Salt, it seemed like everybody and their mom cranked out an action script with a female lead. Most of them are terrible, which is a post for another time, but suddenly the female action lead is trendy.

For the record, the only people who ever told me not to write female leads were other aspiring writers. I’ve never heard that from any producers or agents or anyone else with a career in the Industry. Remember that one time in 2007 when Jeff Robinov decided Warner Brothers would no longer make films with female protagonists? Guess who’s distributing Sucker Punch.

VC: Is there a genre or subject that just bugs the fuck out of you, one that'd make you hesitate to take a check? (For me: vampires. Hobbits and vampires.)

I’m not the biggest fan of formulaic romantic comedies, but what really annoys me is that boring, pretentious artsy shit that hits me over the head with the point, which is always something really trite like “Racism is bad” or “Child abuse sucks”. I’d rather watch The Rock shoot the shit out of some bitches. But I have a feeling nobody will ever try to make me write that artsy shit. If it doesn't have explosions and fight scenes, why in the world would you come to me?

VC: What is the most important thing you know you should be doing for your career, but you still don't do it? (We're all asking ourselves that).

There are a lot of things I should be doing. I should be going to more stuff for one thing. Just last week I was supposed to go see four movies and I missed every single one of them. Part of the problem is that when you think about going to something it sounds so cool, but when the time comes to go and you realize you'll get 4 hours of sleep, it's tough to drag yourself out. I spent the entire weekend in my house and when I had the opportunity to go somewhere I just stayed on the couch because I was afraid of being sleepy at work today. I'm never going to meet people that way.

But the biggest one is simply writing more. When I’m on vacation I write all the time. I read all the time. But when I’m working I tend to only write one or maybe two days a week. My scripts, while good overall, aren’t blowing anybody away over at the management firm. The only way I’m going to land jobs is by writing something spectacular. In order to do that, I need to write faster, finish each script so that if that script doesn’t blow anybody away I can get to the next one. I’m two ideas ahead of what I’m writing right now. I want to get to those ideas, but I’m having trouble getting up the energy to get the fuck to it.

Actually, thinking about this has made me come up with a new plan. Starting today, one page a day during the week and five pages a day Saturday and Sunday. That gives me 15 pages a week, which is totally doable. At the moment I'm averaging 8 pages a week, and that's just not going to cut it.
That said, I’m going to stop writing this and start writing the script. Right now.


  1. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Hmmm, hmmm , hum hum, about the last question...
    about writing something spectacular:

    well, Miss Emily, I got a story that you should write that will blow them away...

    How about a story about a GUY who shares a tight manhattan apartment with three ladies:

    LADY 1 , is a stripper and full time University student, studying physical anthropology

    LADY 2 , is a dum sexy high end escort lady who charges 20.00 per hour

    LADY 3 , is struggling cartonist , specializing in the 1930s mob scene

    And one is expecting a baby and THE GUY is an undercover alien...

    Got it. Now when do you think you'll finish the first draft?


  2. Anonymous3:09 PM

    what is a "struggling cartonist" for lady3?
    Made my closing afternoon.
    Hold on I think I'm going to pee in my pants...damn I sound like Tracy Letts, lol

  3. Where in NC are you from?

  4. That almost sounds like a play, JC. Good luck with it.

    James I am from the triangle.

  5. I'm guessing you're from a small town since you didn't just name one of the cities... Just wondering cause I grew up north of Greenville and went to UNC

  6. I'm familiar with both areas. I just don't like to reveal too much personal information here.

  7. JK (and your read my blog, you saw the photo of the studio back-lot [hint- it's everywhere...], so you know who he is) said
    'there are two ways to succeed. The first is to have such a great, strong, original idea that even if the writing is a little off, well, they can fix that. They want the idea.

    He's making a script about Dracula.
    That's old, been done.
    In this one, Dracula is the hero.

    I just blew your mind. I know.

    The other is to take an idea that maybe isn't so original or high concept...and write the shit out of it.'

  8. and, more JK if you didn't read my blog about meeting him:
    he's looking for a certain kind of movie, about a certain sport...
    naw, that's all the hints I'm giving.

    As I say in class: the smart kids will figure it out...


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