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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hit List / Black List 2012

It's list season!
Not long ago we had a Young and Hungry List, a list of writers who are new on the scene and show a lot of potential.

In October we had the Blood List, a list of great specs from this year that had blood all over them. And by that I think they mean horror and thriller. I'm still not 100% sure what the Blood List is because it's not just horror. But I know that it's never going to apply to me, so I don't pay it much mind.

Monday is the big one - the Black List. Not to be confused with BL 3.0, the website where you can upload your script, the original Black List was created when producer Franklin Leonard sent around an email to just about everyone he knew in the Industry asking what scripts they liked the most this year. He compiled the results into a list, and pretty soon it became a thing. So the Black List is the papa bear of lists. If you're on it, that puts you on a new level. It means your script was one of the most passed around works of the year. It's the ultimate in validation that doesn't involve your film actually being made. Because I think all of us would ten times rather have the movie actually made than have the script be on any kind of list. But I digress.

Here's the 2012 Black List.*

Friday, the Hit List came out. What the hell is the difference between the Hit List and the Black List, you may ask? The Hit List is all specs. So while the Black List may have studio assignments, sequels, etc, the Hit List is only scripts written by a writer hoping for a sale or an option. You're more likely to get new writers on this list, and you're less likely to have to compete with Aaron Sorkin. BUT many of these scripts will also appear on the Black List.

Here is the link to the 2012 Hit List**. Enjoy!

*I am not on it.
**I am on it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Writer's Lab - a community worth checking out

Screenwriters need a community. Writing is such a solitary activity that it's tough to have an objective view of your work. It also gets a bit lonely. I happen to be a big fan of joining communities, if not forever, then to see what they have to offer. I've left a few writing groups in my day. I've left a few websites too. I've stuck with Done Deal, this blog, and I am all over Twitter. In fact, I feel like I've made friends through all three of those online sources. Who would have thought you could make friends via Twitter?

The point is, even if you're not a social butterfly, you need to network with other writers. You need reliable note givers, and people who understand what you're going through,  and  people who can answer questions or make recommendations. But mostly, you need reliable notegivers. Not your mom.

So I thought that today I'd highlight a community you may not have heard of. Robert Dillonw (rdlln on Twitter) has often mentioned his online screenwriting group, and I thought it deserved some attention, especially from those of you who are out-of-towners. I asked Robert to do a guest post explaining what his Writer's Lab is. And just to clarify, because it sounds like a bit of an ad, it's completely free. This is an online community, not a company trying to sell you anything. I am not a member, but I love the idea. It is only accessible via private invitation, so your work is more protected.

So here you go. I cede the floor to Robert:

If you’re serious about becoming a better screenwriter then you know how valuable feedback is. While there’s no substitute for live, in person writing groups - they’re not always possible. Enter, the Writers’ Lab.

The Writers’ Lab is a private blog I created where you can post as many pages as often or infrequently as you like. Others can then critique your work in the comments. In addition to the home page (where pages are posted) there is a forum to introduce yourself and discuss all things screenwriting related. You can also use the blog to form your own smaller, more intensive writing groups or to find a writing partner.

I’d like to thank Emily for this opportunity to tell you a little bit about the lab. Please  contact me if you’d like an invite. Here’s what some members have to say:

I think that Writers' Lab is a great chance for writers (and aspiring writers) to share opinions and tips on each others material. It's been very difficult for me to find anything else on the internet. I'm Italian and I make huge efforts to write in English in order to have more chances in the international industry. When I finish a script, I'm in love with my story and my characters but I do know that the first draft (and probably even the next 8!) is crap. And I don't need my mum's opinion, neither my best friend's one. I need an objective opinion from another writer. Someone who can tell me if my structure works, if my characters have an appropriate arch or if it's terribly boring, too much slow or something. And the more he'll be frank and hard, the better will be my rewriting. Re-writing is a sort of catharsis. Isn't it? Everything becomes clearer, draft by draft. And it's the essence of writing itself. But to do it, as I just said, we need a critical reader. Writers helping other writers is a great resource and Writers' Lab is exactly this.
- Francesca     Gajo

The Writers Lab is a place that has the potential to grow into an invaluable and resourceful place for all scriptwriters looking for guidance, feedback, advice and of course like-minded friends who are also working towards breaking into the industry.

I have only been a member for a short time, and I have already made friends with approachable and talented people, and gained superb and well mannered feedback for a number of scripts that I am working on.  My friendships with such people have continued to grow outside of the Lab, and this has been the greatest benefit for me, as trusted readers are something that all writers need.

The Writers Lab is friendly, well run, informative, educational and above all else it’s run by the people, for the people.

It is not pretentious, daunting, or self-applauding and everything I have gained from it has been from sincere, candid and affable people on a similar journey to my own.  I love it, and am very grateful to feel like a part or something that will hopefully continue to grow.

    - Paul Holbrook

Friday, November 30, 2012

Two blogs you should read

You guys should all know about Geoff LaTulippe's new blog. He's a talky bastard on Twitter, and now he has succumbed to the urge to put his thoughts about screenwriting into longer form at

LaTulippe is the writer of that fine Justin Long/Drew Barrymore film Going the Distance, but as you should know by now, IMDB credits only tell a fraction of the story. The guy knows the business and has a lot of good stuff to say on the subject. Hopefully he'll keep this thing going.

And if you're not already reading it, you should also regularly check Doug Richardson's brilliant exploits in the film business. He wrote Die Hard 2, Bad Boys, Money Train, Hostage - in short, the dude has a long and interesting career, and he talks all about it in the most wonderful stories that you must read.

Go. Read. Learn.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let the Holiday Hiatus begin!

 I hope you guys have a lot to be thankful for tomorrow. I know I sure do.

This year I was able to quit my day job and focus on writing, and even though I have yet to be paid, my loving husband has griped about it far less than I would have thought.

I have in-laws in town, so between the cleaning and cooking and general family gathering, I haven't had a lot of time to physically sit at the computer and write pages.

But that doesn't mean I'm not writing.

Part of writing is the planning, and I'm doing that all the time. While I'm mixing up pie batter, I'm working on a story idea. Waiting for in-laws at the airport - I'm reading a script. So at least I know I haven't wasted my time.

In Hollywood, this is the time when everybody starts winding down, so if you're new to these parts, don't expect anything to happen between now and January. There will be reading, though. Lots of reading.

Franklin Leonard created the original Black List because he was an executive looking for recommendations on what scripts he should read over Christmas vacation, so that's exactly the purpose it serves. Execs and agents and managers will all be reading scripts from the list while they're on vacation. That probably means they're less likely to be reading your script.

So the best thing to do right now is stop worrying about who's reading and when they'll get back to you and what they think. Just eat, drink, be merry, hang out with your relatives, then retreat to your computer when you're tired of them and get some work done. But don't spend your time waiting for a phone call, because the likelihood of that is pretty slim until 2013.

And in the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

When your parents don't approve

Whew. Last week was bananas. I had no idea that posting that article on Scriptshadow was going to create such a shitstorm.

But buried in the comments was this question from Astan:

This morning my folks (mom) said to me that "writing films, doing this film thing, trying to do any business, trying to get some big hit was all a fantasy. I'm living in a fantasy world." Then she implied I need to wake up and give up fantasies altogether.

How would you feel if your folks or someone important to you said something like that to you?

And I think this comment deserves some attention because I bet a lot of people can relate to this.

Personally, I say FUCK IT.

In the beginning, my mom was totally against me coming out to LA. She believed I should be a teacher, that Hollywood was a pipe dream, that working in movies was a waste of my talent.

I told her I really wish she felt differently, then I moved to Hollywood. I taught school - that made her happy - and in the meantime I just kept working on scripts. I sent her my finished drafts. She'd shrug - my work isn't her cup of tea. She didn't change her mind.

Then I was working on a period piece about a time in which she's an expert, so I called her up and asked her to help with research. She really liked that idea. Then she started going out with her girlfriends and telling them the story I was writing. Then she started giving me story notes. Then objecting to plot points I wanted to change.

Then I put her now-deceased best friend into one of my scripts, and she loved it. Then I got repped. I told her - and this is true - that the character based on her friend is one of the reasons people loved the script so much.

Now, she tells everybody who will listen that her daughter is writing movies.

In the beginning, I think parents are concerned because screenwriting is such an insecure business. They'd much rather you not going into something that crushes your soul and pays you nothing. Nobody plans for their kid to be a starving artist.

But everybody loves movies, except for crazy people. Non-crazy people, even the ones who don't watch movies that much, really enjoy feeling like a part of the process. Make your mom a part of the process.

I imagine this won't work for everybody's mom, but you can try. I bet she's got a story she thinks should be a movie. Let her give you ideas. You don't have to do anything with them, but tell her how much you enjoy her input.

My mom now sends me newsclippings about stories in the local paper that she thinks I should write about. Every now and then she'll hit on something.

Sometimes it takes some time for parents to come around. Sometimes they never do. Either way, live your life for you, not for them. They'll either get over it, or they won't.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Scriptshadow: How I lost my faith in Carson Reeves

Most of you have heard of Scriptshadow.

I tried to stay out of it, but I can't. I give a shit about the screenwriting community, and I don't like what's happening. I have to say something.

Scriptshadow started as a blog for analyzing professional screenplays. It's run by a man who goes by the name Carson Reeves. In this business, many people represent themselves with pseudonyms, so for the purpose of this article, I will continue to respect Carson's choice by referring to him by his chosen public name.

When Carson started, his goal was to review scripts publicly and share the files over the Internet as a way to break down the barriers between amateurs and Hollywood - an admirable goal. I was right where he was then, still trying to figure out the screenplay thing, and still trying to figure out where one got copies of all those scripts everyone else seemed to be able to find. Carson provided a source for these scripts and a thoughtful analysis of how to make your work more like that work. I didn't always agree with his opinion, but it seemed like a wonderful gift to a young screenwriter.

He also seemed like a really reasonable guy. I remember explaining to him why I loved a script he hated - Tonight, He Comes - and he was completely open to considering alternative viewpoints. I supported him completely.

I took his cue and started reviewing scripts on my own here and there. Then screenwriter John August posted his now-famous rant about why Scriptshadow is bad for the community. Gary Whitta (Book of Eli) was still posting to the screenwriting board Done Deal Pro then, and he agreed with August's sentiments. I asked Gary, what if I LOVED The Book of Eli? (which I did) Wouldn't you be okay with me posting a positive review of your script? Gary said he didn't want ANYONE posting about an unfinished work, as a script inevitably is. I didn't get it at the time, but he was the professional and I was the nobody, so I listened. I haven't posted a script review since. And now that I have had a script hit the tracking boards, I can completely understand Gary's perspective. I wouldn't want my script reviewed either, positive or negative. It's not a published novel - not a public document for the entire Internet to peruse. I worked on a script recently - if it got out before it was ready, while I was still sending it to a couple of people for notes - it could sabotage a potential deal.

But I digress.

I still took the scripts Carson offered, and read them on my own, keeping most of my thoughts to myself or only sharing them with friends. I still read his blog, and occasionally commented.

He had a few little contests that were fun - I entered and did ok, got a few pages up on the site. Carson and some of the commenters gave me really helpful notes that I ended up using. I was grateful.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but one day Carson stopped trying to figure out how to be a better writer, and starting thinking about how to monetize his good idea. Nothing wrong with that, really. People do it all the time. But it's the way he did it that bugs me.

At some point, he started offering notes for money. It makes sense. He gave notes all the time on professional scripts, and eventually started posting reviews of amateur scripts, which was actually great for the community. Plenty of people give notes for money. I've thought about doing it, except I hate reading shitty scripts. But when Carson started charging for notes I thought, "Okay, I don't usually agree with his opinion so his notes probably aren't for me, but good for him if people are willing to pay him for his thoughts."

Then came The Disciple Program. This is a script written by the talented Tyler Marceca. Marceca submitted this script to Carson after already winning one high profile contest, and Carson sent it to his contacts.

The script blew up. It went everywhere. It got Tyler repped at WME and a deal. The Disciple Program was just named #1 on this year's Blood List.

This was all great for Tyler, but also great for Carson. He got a writer exposure. He helped the community. I was elated.

But suddenly, his cost for notes went up and up until he was charging $1,000 a pop. The ONLY reason you'd pay that much for notes is that you think he will pass your script onto his contacts.

(As a contrast, the well-respected Screenplay Mechanic's MAX price is $325.)

Then it started to feel like Carson was the one who made The Disciple Program happen. He posted entries less about Tyler's success and more about his own genius in finding a great script, as if this was somehow a really amazing skill, more amazing than actually writing the script. I'm pretty sure Marceca would have been found eventually, by someone.

Carson's tweets became more and more self-serving, until they started to make me uncomfortable.

Then came this post about Carson wanting to become a producer, but not being entirely sure about what a producer does. His conclusion is that he should find a script and a producer with a big name and a bank account and attach Carson's name to the project.

He's found talent at least once and introduced it to the town, which sounds like a manager's job. So why not become a manager, you may ask?

In the comments of the above linked post, Carson said this: "Thought about it but I tried managing for a little while and it sucked up way more time than I thought it would.  So I think I'm focused more on the producing end."

So managing is hard, but producing - that's something any old nobody can do with no experience or time?

I know more than one actual producer who takes great offense to that comment.

Carson will still review your script for free in his Amateur Friday posts if he chooses it out of his multitude of submissions. Maybe he'll even send it to his contacts - those same contacts that launched Marceca. Or, if he doesn't pick your script from the logline, you can pay him or his employees a small fortune for notes. It's not difficult to see the problem that arises here.

Let me be perfectly clear, and if you get nothing else out of this long post, remember this: Any producer who charges for notes is not someone with whom you want to be in business. Real producers make their money by making movies.

Now Carson has his own official website, where he advertises artists who charge a hefty fee to design a poster for your movie. I'm certain he gets a cut of their take. You do NOT need a poster to sell your script. Ever. If you want to design one, go for it, but no legit producer will ever expect this of you. They might even think it superfluous.

But back to this producer thing.

If Carson took some of his reader earnings to finance a micro-budget picture from a script he found and loved, or even went around to possible financiers and begged the money out of them - then I'd be in full support. That's what an actual producer does. An actual producer also puts together a team that will make a film by recruiting talented directors, actors,writers, and anyone else who can make it happen.

But that's not what he claims to do. He wants to attach his name to a script and use someone else's money, time and name to get it made without actually doing anything at all.

Friday he posted about a script he liked called Sanctuary, announcing his intention to attach himself if anyone will let him. Here's what he said about the script hitting the marketplace: "Really hoping something good comes of it.  And if not, well, that's not so bad either.  Maybe then I'll be able to convince Todd to let me jump on board."

What does he bring to the table? He knows a few people. He can read.

Shit, I know people. Go on Done Deal Pro and hang out for a while, you'll know people too. Take a UCLA extension class. Enter a contest. Get a job as a PA. Please don't pay ANYONE $1,000 for notes, no matter who he knows, no matter how great you think your script is. There are other, cheaper, better note givers out there, some of whom have actually been involved in making an actual film.

Carson used to want to be a better writer. That's where he started. He was a good dude with good intentions. Now he's an overpriced reader and fake producer who loves to call successful professional writers "lazy" any time Carson doesn't pay attention to a plot point.

Honestly, it makes me sad. I used to believe in this guy. I admired his gumption. I thought he really believed in learning how to make scripts better, how to help new writers break down the barriers and find a new way into the business. Now? Now he's just another cog in the wheel.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Back to work, Lazybones (Lazybones is me)

I didn't do much writing in the last week. Two weeks ago I finished a Super Secret script I'd been working on (or at least, I hope I did. You never know until it gets kicked back to you by the next level of readers), so I took a week off to do some other stuff.

But you can't put this off too long or you're not really a writer, so today I got back into it.

Before I got sidetracked by Super Secret Spec Project, I was working on a script that's been giving me trouble. It's a bit of Jason Statham type story - lots of rock 'em sock 'em coupled with a love story. Ok so everything I write is an action romantic comedy, but this time it's an ACTION romantic comedy.

Today I could put it off no longer. I got back into it, and started on page one. I'm doing this as part edit, part B story first draft. I haven't been idle with this story, despite not actually doing any writing; I've been thinking. So today I went through and changed things I already wrote to accommodate the adjusted B story I've come up with, and then added in the B story parts.

I worked really hard and trudged through it, and then was like "Ok, I think I'm done for the day."

But then I looked around and realized that it had been 20 minutes, I added one page, and I was on page 7.


Some scripts you fly through on a gentle breeze. Sometimes you have to put on your scowly face and push through with your hip waders on.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Question #3: Where do I start?

Vanessa asks: 

I've just now started seriously thinking about writing a screenplay, but I'm a bit overwhelmed from where to start. I just have notes scribbled here and there. I downloaded some scripts but want to make sure I'm learning everything. Any suggestions?

This is a hell of a question, and of course, one everybody asks when they start out. And there are tons of different directions you can take here, but they'll all get you to the same place - writing a good script.

This is a controversial viewpoint I'm about to spout, but it's one I strongly believe: This first script is for practice. You will very rarely hear about someone selling their first script, but I would ignore the exceptions. Maybe your script will turn out so great you can do something with it, and if it is, you can deal with that when the time comes. But I think you'll do much better if you accept that this first script is just an experiment, a learning experience, not the start to your career, but to your education.

If you just jump in and use this script to play and figure things out, the pressure to be perfect will be off and you'll be able to try things without fear.

At the same time, don't make it harder on yourself. Don't try to write Inception. That's seriously advanced material. Write a story you're comfortable telling. I'd suggest writing something simple with a clear protagonist with a goal and obstacles, but if you feel really jazzed about something outside the conventional storytelling frame and don't want to work on anything else, then go where the passion is. It's tough to force yourself to write something if you're not excited about it, especially the first time.

As for the actual writing? You've read scripts, maybe a few books - although I've never found a screenwriting book that blew my mind enough to recommend it - and poured over the websites. The only thing you can really do is start writing.

Let me backup about the websites. I'm a moderator at the Done Deal Pro forums, so naturally I'm going to suggest that site as a great source of information. There are some crazy, angry idiots over there sometimes, but we do our best to keep them in check. If you can shake them off, you can get some amazing advice from all the pros, on-the-cusp, and even new writers there. You can also post a few pages and get notes from the group.

There's also Wordplayer, Terry Rossio's site (supposedly Ted Elliot's too, but how often do you see Ted posting?) where you can find articles on screenwriting and a forum. I don't love the forum, but some of the articles are really great. I'd read all of them.

John  August's site is really good. He doesn't post as much new material as he used to, but there's some amazing information there from a long time industry pro.

Speaking of John August, he and Craig Mazin do a regular Scriptnotes podcast which is a great resource for updated information about the industry. They frequently answer reader submitted questions.

In the beginning, I also kept a style guide on hand for when I wasn't sure how to format something. David Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible is one people use. I used The Elements of Style for Screenwriters. That way, you don't have to go online and ask every time you don't know how to format a particularly tricky scene. You can just flip open your book and check out the rules. After a while, you won't need the guide anymore because format choices will become intuitive, but in the beginning, it can help get the format questions out of the way so you can focus on the hard stuff like character development.

So read as much as you can, especially scripts, but in the end, you have to start writing. It's the only way you'll start to figure it out. But don't try to sell your first script when you're done; at least wait a while and see how you feel about it after you start your second.

Some may disagree with me on that, but I feel like it's important to have realistic expectations.

Hopefully this helps. Good luck! When you're done, find someone to give you good notes (not me - I no longer read first-timers) and rinse, repeat until you write something you KNOW is good.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Question #2

Time for another question. 3BrassBrads asked me this question via Done Deal:

I wondered about your "Nice Girls Don't Kill" script -- I was curious if you ever changed what a few (though, if I am correct not your current agent or manger) wanted you to change or if you got even better notes -- or really just, what happen with this from your blog last year?

"It's frustrating as hell. I worked my ass off on this script and I am completely happy with how it turned out, but even though everybody loves my voice and my pacing and the fun action scenes - they all say the same thing about my character's motivations. And it's something I do not want to change."

Did you change the motivations, and if so do you feel that it changed your original story?

I did not make those changes.

The notes you're talking about didn't actually come from either of my reps; they came from other sources. My Manager gives dynamite notes. I'm not just saying that; dude knows what works, and in this instance he was no different.

Sometimes you get notes that call for you to make huge sweeping changes to your story, and you balk. They just feel wrong. You know there's an issue here, but the solution people have provided you goes against every fiber of your being.

I had that kind of feeling with Nice Girls. I kept getting this note to change the lead to the point where it would have been a completely different story, a story I don't want to tell.

Then I got the RIGHT NOTE. The note that addresses that problem, but in a way you've never thought about before.

So no, I didn't need to change the whole story. I just needed to tweak a few moments here and there, and suddenly it all worked.

So the script is very much alive. I can't say what will happen with it at the moment, but I believe in that script and worked my buns off trying to get it right. And in the end, it's great fun - which is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Sometimes when you get one of those notes that makes you cringe, sit with it for a while, think about it, and figure what the person's problem with the scene REALLY is. The note behind the note. Because often, people know something's wrong, but they have the wrong idea about how to fix it. Your job as a writer is to sift through the advice and figure out what works.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I answer some questions

I am so glad people asked me questions last week, because I don't always know anymore what's common knowledge and what's a real mystery to a lot of people. Fortunately, most of the questions were ones I can answer. So I'll start today with Paul, who had three questions.

1. Can I just have one good script when I try to get a new manger or agent again? or is it better if I have two scripts? Here's the dilemma, a script takes forever to write so you see your life literally passing by, but there's also the knowledge that if you do have a rep, you would need a followup to keep your career going or else you get in a position where you might have a rep in name, but they aren't doing anything for you.

It is better to have two or three great scripts, of course. Any rep is going to love script after script they can send out and be proud of, but that's not a likely scenario. It's very common for reps to sign writers off only one script because most of the time, that's the first great script you've written. If you have a lot of great scripts under your belt, why didn't you use one of them to rep you before? So yes, you can have just one good script, but make sure you're working on your next. Always be working on the next thing. They will ask you what you're working on - tell them something good.

That said, if it takes forever to write a script and you feel life passing you by, you probably need to rework your methods. Obviously it depends on what you mean by "forever," but it shouldn't take a super long time to write a script. Even if you move at a slow pace and have a day job, it should still be doable to crank out two scripts a year. Ideally you can write three. If you feel like it's taking too long, look at how much time you spend on your pre-writing, and at your writing regimen.

2. What do you recommend to keep the creative juices going and getting things done? Read scripts, go to the theater and watch movies? Some days you feel like you have found the secret youth serum and the next you're wondering how you'll ever cross the Andes Mountains known as Act 2. 

Read scripts, yes. Watch movies, yes. In fact, I always watch a movie that inspires whatever project I'm working on both before and during the writing process. My last script was very Grosse Pointe Blank, so I watched that film, or scenes from that film, over and over to get the feel for what worked and what didn't. Mind you, this isn't stealing. This is examining what someone did right and figuring out how to emulate that skill in one's own material.

But the main way I keep things going quickly - and, recent stumbles aside, this is something I'm normally pretty good at - is to have a really well established routine.

It starts with a solid outline. I used to think strict outlines were for losers. I did the index cards, but my stuff was vague. I got irritated when anyone suggested I try being more specific with my outlines out of fear that it would curb my creativity. But in fact, it has the opposite effect. Once I nail down the story in outline form, it allows me the time and energy to play with dialogue and all those little things that make a good script better.

I also work on a schedule. Not every day is the same because I do have other obligations, but I sit in front of my computer at a certain time to start work. I plan out the next portion of the script I need to tackle. I have everything set up in the most organized way, and I do the same thing each time I sit down, right down to pulling my hair back and putting on chapstick. It's like your pre-bedtime routine; once you start it, those actions signal to your body that it's time to go to bed. This is the same. I do the same things in the same way before I start work, and that signals to my body that it's time to write.

Then there's music. I have a playlist for each type of scene, so whatever mood I need to be in, I switch over to that playlist, and it helps set the stage for the type of scene I need to write.

I'm not saying these are things you must do, but this is what works for me. I find I very rarely have difficulty anymore when I sit in front of the computer and start working. Sometimes I still do, but not very often.

3. How many drafts of a script is ideal or minimum before showing it to someone in the industry?

Depends on you and how you work. I know writers who blast out draft after draft and don't show anything to anyone until they've rewritten the shit out of their script. I've heard of writers, although I've never actually known any, who claim they sent out their first draft and it was a big hit.

For me, I usually do one draft where I'm basically racing through the outline. I skip anything I don't want to deal with, then go back through and fill in the gaps. Then I go through the whole script and clean it up and fix things I don't like. Then I send it to a friend to read. Then I address those notes. Then I send it to Manager for his notes. So I guess I send him the third official draft. How many drafts I do after that depends on my exchanges with him, but so far it hasn't been that many. So all in all, for most of my scripts, I'd say I do about five or six drafts total. Mind you, only one script has been sent wide so far, so we'll see if that changes with time.

But that's not really what you were asking. You were asking how to tell if your script is ready. I'd say if you've gotten notes from writer friends you trust and addressed them, that's the first step. But once you read through your script over and over and it makes you happy, and there is no scene that bugs you, and you genuinely don't think you can make it any better (aside from random tinkering, which will go on forever if you let it) and you're proud as hell of what you've written, that's when it's ready.

I hope those are helpful answers, Paul. If anyone else has answers, feel free to chime in. And questions are ALWAYS welcome. Never be afraid to ask. I'm a teacher, for heaven's sake. I love questions.

I'll get to the next one in a day or three.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


I've gotten a lot of questions via email lately. Anybody else have questions about screenwriting stuff? If I don't know the answer, I can probably find someone who does.

If you've been wondering something, anything, ask in the comments. I'll do my best to find an answer.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I don't wanna

I've been bouncing back and forth between two projects for the last few months - one, a collaboration with a very talented person, which, if it works, will be the stuff of legend.

The second is my latest spec. I started out pretty excited, but I've had trouble keeping my interest in this project going. I'll sit down and write five pages one day, then spend the next week working on the other project or on developing some new idea I'm all excited about.

But the difference between someone who piddles around with screenwriting and someone who does this for a living is follow-through, so I keep pushing myself back toward the spec.

When I write, I tend to skip the B story. I write all A story, and leave big yellow notes in the places where the B story goes, reminding me of the kind of scene that goes there. This script is no exception.

As I was writing the script, I suddenly realized I needed to completely change an important character. This change busted the thing wide open, made it a much more interesting, much more layered story. It solved so many problems, and I was eager to put it into play.

But when I sit down to write it, meh. I dunno.  I like the story and the characters. I have a solid treatment. I know what's supposed to happen here, but.... but I just don't wanna.

Turns out, when your script is wall to wall action scenes, it's actually HARDER to write. It's easy to work fight scenes into plot elements, but with this script, I'm almost sliding the plot in between fights, and making that feel organic and meaningful is no easy task. So it turns out, what I thought would be an easy script to write is instead turning into a frustrating exercise.

So after a week of trying unsuccessfully to find ways to get my brain to want to go back to the script, I decided to try a new tactic. All those B scenes still need filling in, and that's a section of the script I've already blasted through, so tomorrow I'm going to go back to the beginning and start from page one, filling in the holes. That's a lot easier than working in front of a blank page.

I know a lot of people experience this, but it's actually a rare occurrence for me. I'm hoping that starting from page one again will get me jazzed about moving on. And if it doesn't, I'll just have to suck it up, put on some tunes, and get my shit right. Because this script needs finishing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to watch TV these days

I wrote this whole rant about Dish Network and AMC and how much bullshit it is that I pay so much money a month and they're not going to air one of my favorite shows because of a spat the companies are having and it's an outrage and all, and then thought about rape victims in Burundi and decided I sounded like a fucking asshole so I deleted it.

So I'm just gonna say, I hope they resolve this shit soon. It's not good for either company.

I've also gotten way into Strike Back, which is why I now have (with the exception of AMC, Sundance, WeTv and IFC) ALL THE FUCKING CHANNELS. I added HBO when I got into True Blood. I added Starz when I got into Spartacus, I just added Cinemax because of Strike Back, so I figured I might as well throw Showtime onto the pile since there's bound to be something I want there too. Now I can finally get into Homeland.

I like stories.

With this whole kerfuffle over AMC, I'm thinking of switching to the online model, but I'm not sure it's ready yet. One day everything will be customizable and online, but that day is not yet here.

So how do you watch your TV?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Presenting Game Night, a short film

After years of not really doing anything with the short film I produced/co-wrote/directed in 2007, I finally posted it to YouTube. Everyone in the credits knows more than I do, so I thank them so much for contributing their expertise, and I apologize for being such a lousy producer.

I'd change a few things if I were to shoot this now, but I'm proud of the work we did, and I learned so much about the whole process from start to finish. Nothing teaches you more about filmmaking than making a film.

So here it is, after years of hiding on my shelf, Game Night.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What happens after you get the Manager?

How I feel about a certain someone
After my last post about what a relationship with a manager should look like, Paul asked a question:

what happens once you're signed in terms moving forward? Do you just need one good script?...or do they expect you to follow up with another right away? Are you working with producers to do a free spec...or do they have you go out and try to do assignments? Most of the info out there is about how to get in...but not a lot explains where to go once you get a rep and become a working writer, not just a repped non-working writer.


Everybody's career trajectory is different, and everybody's relationship with their rep is different. You can land a rep with one script, but they certainly don't expect that to be it. You should always be working on the next thing.

Most reps will want a list of ideas you're working on. I've heard of reps who demand X number of ideas per week. I don't know how common that is, but I do know that once you're signed, your rep is going to want to choose the perfect next script. He may reject everything you've ever thought of. If he truly loves your first idea and tells you to go write it, I envy you.

While you're working on your next project, your rep is likely doing two things: 1) Trying to get your movie made. This is where agents are extremely useful. And 2) Setting you up for meetings.

You will do a crapton of general meetings. At some of these meetings, you will be pitched an idea. If you like the idea, you will send the producer a treatment for your take on that idea - sooner rather than later - and then chances are good you will never hear from that producer again.

Will you have to do free work? Depends. It depends on your rep and his relationship with the producer, depends on how much you love the idea, depends on the likelihood that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It's really up to you. The rep gives you advice, but he's not your boss. You make the choice of how much free work you're willing to do.

It's a hustle, pure and simple.

Some people *cough* John. *cough* walk into a room, open their mouths, and land a job. I've been to so many meetings where a certain someone's name comes up and every fucking producer is like He was just here and he sold me a project it was so great OMG isn't he fantastic don't you wish you were him I love him so much blah blah blah fuck off. Seriously, I've been to THREE meetings where he was literally on the same couch like half an hour earlier and pitched something for like a bazillion dollars. I've started to feel like I'm just following that guy around picking up his leftover water bottles.

That's extremely rare, and if you meet a person like that, you should knock him out and steal his identity.

Anyway, the important thing is to ask your rep for advice. That's part of his job - to guide you so that you make both of you look good. And then make your decision. You have to figure out what's best for you.

One piece of advice, though: I don't recommend doing anything behind your rep's back. If he doesn't like the script you want to write, either write what he wants you to, tell him you're going to write it anyway and see if he is willing to help under protest, or find a new rep. But don't deceive him. He can't help you if you don't trust his expertise.

Good luck.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What a relationship with a manager should look like

I got a little busy catching up on TV shows this week. You know how that goes. Everything else just stops until you've caught up to the present episode.

Anyway, I've noticed that on the Done Deal Pro forums, a lot of people show up to ask about what a relationship with a manager should look like. Many of these people have been "signed" and don't know whether or not their relationship is normal.

So what does a normal relationship with a manager look like?

First of all, a disclaimer. I've worked with two managers. One, a couple of years ago before I was totally ready and when that person was in a transitional period, so it wasn't the ideal pairing. The second, my current manager, who is wonderful and gets me and has made me a happy girl. Both great managers with good reputations, but only one that was right for me.

I am speaking partly about my own experiences, but also from stories I've heard other writers tell.

Here's what a manager does:

He has a plan of attack for your work.
He listens to your ideas and tells you which ones he can work with.
He reads your scripts and gives you solid notes.
He gets your name out there as successfully as possible.
He sets up meetings.
He keeps you posted about goings on.
He keeps reminding you about how awesome you are.
When you're ready, he helps you find an agent.

Some managers do a lot more, but they shouldn't be doing less. And of course, there are those who also produce.

And some managers, for whatever reason, sign clients and then forget about them.

You see it all the time in threads on DDP: People asking if it's normal that they haven't talked to their manager in three months. Once, a guy said he hadn't talked to her in almost a year. Honey, if you haven't talked to your manager in almost a year, she ain't your manager.

You should be talking to your manager about two to four times a month at least. They should constantly be working on the next step in your career.

Meanwhile, you should be working, too. Their job is to get your reputation started. Your job is to give them something with which to work, and to show up for meetings prepared and perky.

If your manager gives you no notes, sets up no meetings, never calls you, or seems to have forgotten you exist, it's time to move on. A manager who never calls you is not your manager.

The thing is, most people in this town do not want to reject you. They'd rather you slowly fade away so they never have to face the confrontation. So if your manager stops responding to your emails, or emails back a sentence about how busy they are to every request for an update, or they don't seem particularly interested in your latest project, or they haven't set you up for a meeting since you met.... you don't have a manager.

And if that's the case, you have to throw out the security blanket and go it alone. I know, it's really nice to tell people you're repped. It makes you feel safe, like you've gotten over some kind of hurdle. But if you're sticking with someone who does nothing for you, you're doing your career more harm than good, because the whole time you're with them, the people who would actually push your career forward can't find you.

Only you can decide whether or not your relationship is working out. Your manager has to be someone you trust, someone you're not afraid to ask when you have a question or call if you need an update. A good managerial relationship is really important, especially now that selling a script has become so much more of a challenge. These are the people who navigate the waters for you.

And one more thing: If you go to an Industry party and mention your manager's name and nobody knows who he is, he's not worth having.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Why I Left The Classroom: Part 2

This is a Teaching Post. It is likely to be my last, since I have left the classroom after - well, after a good long while. I was good at my job, but I left.

Part One was about why I became a teacher in the first place.

And here are the reasons why I decided to call it quits:

1) Writing is my first love, and I came to California to write screenplays. Teaching was always temporary. I felt like this next year could be huge for me and I don't want to have to quit in the middle of the school year and leave the kids with a string of subs, which is just about the worst thing that can happen to a class.

But that alone wouldn't have been enough, because that's really risky and there was a lot about teaching I loved.

2) I was displaced this year. See, most school systems operate on a "last hired, first fired basis" they call "seniority". The newest teachers get fired first. The less-new teachers don't get fired, but they get moved to another school. They call that "displacement." When the economic crisis started, I was smack in the middle at my school as far as seniority. About three years ago they started to lay off and displace teachers, and eventually I dropped to dead last. Think about that. That means HALF of our English department was removed from our school. This was going to be my year, and that means that after several years working to build a school that, quite frankly, was a disaster when it opened my first year here, I was forced to go elsewhere. I don't want to go elsewhere. I love my little ghetto school. I love that student population. Not every teacher can handle a school like that, but for me, it was the perfect place. I would have died in Malibu, not that those schools had openings. It's the poor schools that lose all their teachers.

Why do the poor schools lose their teachers more? Because those are the schools that got the newest teachers. I was more experienced than most other teachers when I came to this school, but I was out of state, so I had no seniority, and that meant I got placed at a school nobody wanted. So the teachers who stick it out, who work hard in those less desirable schools, they get kicked to the curb while the older teachers stay with the rich kids. We also lost almost all of our arts programs because once our band/choral/dance/art teachers get laid off or displaced, they don't usually get replaced. So once again, rich kids get the arts programs and the poor kids get... I don't know. I know they still have the yearbook because my replacement adviser was willing to give up a planning period to teach it.

3) I don't like the direction we're headed. My methods are a little unconventional. I do what I want most of the year, and then two weeks before the state test, I cram the kids with test taking skills, and show them how to answer multiple choice questions. This is something I'm exceptionally good at - figuring out what sounds like the best answer when I have no idea what it is - so I spend two weeks showing the kids how to do that. If you check my test scores, you'll see that my kids fare as well on the test as most kids who spend all year prepping. But my kids also know how to think for themselves and didn't die from boredom.

It's obvious to me, however, that I won't be able to get away with that anymore. The district brought in this guy last year -  I'll call him Data Guy. Data Guy spent ONE YEAR as a math teacher, so naturally he knows all about our jobs. For some reason he was put in charge of the English department, where his job became fixing our test scores. His idea? Get rid of novels completely and replace them with short pieces followed by multiple choice questions. No more abstract thought.  What purpose do novels serve if you can't easily break them down to A-E answers? You can't quantify a novel, so we don't want to waste our time on them.

Right before the state tests, we were all given a series of lessons to give. As in, Data Guy guy sent us our lesson plan for the day and we were supposed to follow it, then test the kids, then send him the tests so he could see how we did. I didn't follow his lessons. I did the test the first two weeks, and when my kids did better than most of the other classes, I decided this was stupid. I threw the rest of the lessons and tests in the recycling.

But that's where we're headed. The end game is for every single teacher to teach the exact same lesson on the exact same day so that a kid can go from one class to the other and not experience anything different.

Data Guy explained it to me this way: If one teacher is better than the other, then the kid with the bad teacher has an unfair disadvantage. If every teacher covers the exact same material the exact same way, the kids are all on equal footing.

I am not kidding you right now. This is his reason for making us all follow the same lesson plans day after day.

I can't do that. I refuse to do that, and if I had stayed in the classroom I would have been fired. I might have punched someone in the face by the end of the year. But there was no way in hell I was going to follow an English lesson plan designed by a Data Guy who spent one year teaching math in some other school. He, of course, told us we'd all come up with our ideas together. He said this right before he came up with all the ideas.

I still remember what he said when I asked him if he was serious about ditching novels, because that would mean a kid could get to college without ever having read one. "I had never read a novel when I got to UCLA," he said. Then he thought for a minute and added, "Although I did have a lot of trouble in English that first year."

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Why I Left the Classroom - Part One

This is not a post about screenwriting, other than to mention that it was inspired by a really good documentary I just watched called American Teacher.

This is a post about teaching. More specifically, about why I'm not anymore. And this post turned out to be super long, so I split it into parts. I'm just warning you so you can bow out now.

First of all, this was a really great documentary. It gives a good glimpse of what teaching is really like from the perspective of teachers who are dedicated to the profession. There is a section where some who have quit gave up their reasons for leaving, and it made me want to share mine. I have this forum here, so...

My mom was a teacher and she always told me I'd be a teacher too, so naturally I wanted to do everything except teach. Wait, I should amend that. My mom wasn't just a teacher, my mom was THE teacher. At my class reunion, half my former classmates asked how she was doing. Everybody loved my mom, and I mean EVERYBODY. She was the kind of teacher you remember forever, the one who inspires you to do better with your life. At my last game as a member of the school's marching band, when I was supposed to be getting cheered from the crowd because I was a senior, your parents came down to stand next to you and share the honor. There was no sharing. Everybody in the crowd was so happy to see my mom, I don't think they noticed I was there.

The thing is, I never minded. It was actually a great way to make friends. I'm her daughter, which automatically made me interesting and sometimes cool.

I'm telling you, she was that good. It's been a lot for me to live up to.

I say "was" not because she's dead, but because she retired. She probably would have kept going, but she saw the same things I see in the system. We both left for many of the same reasons.

I was going to be a reporter, except it turns out that I hated being a reporter, so I started teaching because it was a job I could do and not hate, and it would give me an income while I figured out a new plan. I never intended to be a lifelong teacher. When I found screenwriting the next year, I was absolutely sure I would leave this horrible profession I'd chosen as soon as I could.

Because there is one truth every teacher will agree on: Your first year as a teacher will be the worst damn year of your life.

These kids like to test you, and you don't know what the hell you're doing, so they win all the time. My very first day - I looked like I was about 12 at the time - a girl who was now taking freshman English for the third time gave me attitude. I asked her if she wanted to take the class for a third time.

"You ain't gotta be sharing my business like that!" she said.

I told her if she was ashamed of failing classes, she should stop failing classes. And for some reason, she decided she liked me after that. She ended up passing English that year.

That's how I roll, kids. No crap in my classroom. You meet my expectations or you don't get the grade.

But I still remember that first year with horror. I bribed them with playtime on the football field.

That was in North Carolina, which is a non-union state. Now, people have different feelings about unions, but I'll tell you what I know. In North Carolina I had to pay extra for dental and vision insurance, and I made a starting salary of $24,000 a year. In California I made well over twice that much (which comes to proportionately more even when you add in standard of living)  and my benefits were terrific. So, you can rag on unions all you want, but I appreciate being able to get contact lenses so I can actually see the board. Also, eating is nice.

Anyway, time rolls on. I took over the school's yearbook and I loved it. Then I moved to California and took over that school's yearbook too.

American Teacher makes a big deal about how much time teachers spend working, and that's certainly true, but it doesn't have to be as bad as the film makes out. I certainly graded papers at home and stayed after a lot, especially in the early yearbook years, but by my fourth or fifth year I learned how to get things done so most days I could walk out the door at the bell. I loved teaching yearbook, I loved teaching English, I loved my boss, I loved my room, I loved my kids. It was fun - talking about my favorite subject every day with these really wonderful teenagers. I have a picture over my desk even now of my favorite group of seniors crushing me at the senior picnic, all drenched from a water balloon fight. I loved every class I've ever taught. The kids are amazing.

So why did I quit? That's part two, which I will post tomorrow.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My desk

This is my workspace.

Today I cleaned up my desk. It was a disaster yesterday. I was pushing things out of the way trying to find stuff. It was a paper riot.

Then the Beefcake put a letter tray on the wall for me. I highly recommend a letter tray on the wall; I now have somewhere to put my immediate needs papers. I've had file folders beside my desk for long term stuff - owner's manuals, receipts, articles on how to not kill the avocado tree - but anything that needed doing in the next few weeks got thrown on the pile. I did the same thing as a teacher, and that's why nothing ever got done until someone reminded me to do it. It's not an organizational system worth having.

So how could I expect two write in a spot like that? I always felt guilty that I didn't get more organized and worried that I'd forgotten to mail in some important piece of paper. It was difficult to feel relaxed and dedicated to writing when I was so frustrated by my growing mess of papers.

Enter the letter tray. And now I have three categories of papers that are not on my desk. If I have somewhere to put the papers, they don't end up in a pile on my desk, and therefore I can find them when I need them. It also helps to open the mail and sort it right away. These are things I'm working on. Hopefully I can keep this desk clean from now on, because it really does make writing so much easier.

Now, if you look at the picture, you may be alarmed by how many composition notebooks, index cards, glue sticks, and paper clips I have. Do not be frightened. Remember that I was a teacher. The composition notebooks are a result of meetings. Back when LAUSD had money, they would give us a notebook at every meeting so we could take notes. I'd take like one page of notes, mostly consisting of haiku detailing how bored I was, and then shove the notebook on this shelf. I pull them out when I go to story meetings and stuff.

I don't know why I have all that glue. Maybe one day I will make a collage.

Painting the wall was the first thing I did as soon as we moved into the house. I picked the most soothing, beautiful color I could find so I'd always feel comfortable staring at the wall.

My laptop is six years old and it still gets on with its bad self. Unfortunately it is out of space. I have a shitload of software and no room for more, so I have to keep all my photos and screenplays on the external HD, which is good because you never know when your shit will implode and delete everything.

I got rid of most of my screenwriting books, but there are a few still hanging out up there. Joss Whedon makes a strong presence. The book about comic writing was loaned to me and I keep forgetting to give it back. I highly recommend Elements of Style for Screenwriters if you're new to the format. It's a good alternative to the Dave Trottier book.

And that paper holder to the right, invaluable for rewrites. I always print out the notes and then just go through in order.

I always have a glass of water, a tube of chapstick, and my phone handy. I'm very big on mis en place for writing. I don't need to have an excuse to get up once I get started. I generally get up to pee, get more water, or figure out why the dogs are trying to throw themselves through the window (usually to get squirrels or the mailman).

And that's more that you ever wanted to know about my workspace.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

No stakes and no surprises, please

I seem to have the same two problems plague me in my work:
1) I don't start with high enough stakes.

Every script, I start out with a storyline based on individual people wanting individual things. And that's super great when you write romantic comedies or indie films, but if you're constructing a high-octane action extravaganza, you kind of need the fate of the world hanging in the balance, or at least some brand new super scary bioweapon about to fall into the wrong hands, or maybe the code to a nuclear rocketship on a disk someone stole from an embassy party. You just can't make it a simple rescue attempt in an action film, which is probably why everyone in Expendables 2 kept muttering about plutonium.

I always forget to do this. In my first draft of everything, it's always just a story about a person fighting for another person, like Grosse Pointe Blank, I suppose. Not the end of the world, but super important to that one person. It can work for some scripts, but not for the big budget stuff. If your budget is going to be huge, your stakes need to be super high. Plutonium. Bioweapon. Nuclear rocketship.

2) I forget to include plot twists.

I tell the story straight up and forget that you need surprises. The bad guy can't be the guy you expected, but inevitably I forget that on a first draft. I don't do cliches much, preferring to find ways to twist them on their head, but I always forget to be misleading. Figuring out the bad guy is usually the way to go, but sometimes you don't need it.

Again, using Expendables 2, Jean Cleaude Van Damme is all "BAD GUY HAHAHAHA FUCK YOU I'M BAD." And he's awesome at it. No twist needed, really. It's a movie about explosions and muscles and groan-worthy self-referential jokes. The only real twist in that movie was that everyone seemed to know where everyone else was at all times. But that's really not relevant to my point here.

What was my point here?

Oh yeah. But for most stories, there needs to be some kind of little surprise that we can figure out along with the protagonist. I always forget that and have to add it in on my second treatment draft. Only this time I didn't do that, so I stopped for like two weeks while I worked on something else and tried to figure out where I could put a twist into my story.

I'm not saying you have to have a Sixth Sense style twist in every story, but if it's all so predictable, it's boring. This time I got the stakes taken care of for once, but my script felt lacking. Something wasn't right, didn't feel original enough. Then I realized it's because we know who the bad guy is the whole way through and it just doesn't feel very surprising at any point. Because of the way I've developed the story, I have to reveal the bad guy at the beginning. I simply can't change that. So what else could I use as a surprise? I realized there was another way, another element of the story I could twist and change, and that could provide a little Aha! moment to the audience. And since my characters are constantly lying to each other, it's easy to keep everybody guessing. Because I think what I realized is that if you have everyone lying to everyone else, they need to be lying about SOMETHING, otherwise, boring. And you just can't be boring.

You'd think after all these years I'd remember stakes and surprises, but nope. I still get to a point where I'm thinking "Something's missing here." And then I remember that I suck at stakes and surprises and go back to write them in.

That's my issue. What's yours?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My love letter to The Raid

People have been telling me for months that I need to see The Raid, so last night after catching The Terminator at the Hollywood Cemetery, the Beefcake and I headed to The New Beverly to catch a midnight screening of The Raid. Two action-packed movies in one night - sounds good to me.

I like seeing movies at The New Bev. If you don't know what that is, it's a movie theater in Hollywood that screens all kinds of 35mm prints from The Birds to '70s 3-d soft core porn to Pulp Fiction like 30 times a month to movies that just came out. Tourists don't go to this theater - movie lovers do. So when you see a film at The New Bev you're already in an audience of friends. And at a midnight screening, it's an even more devoted crowd. It was the perfect way to see this film.

After about 20 minutes a guy in the front shouted out "I FUCKING LOVE THIS MOVIE!" and we all laughed because that's how we all collectively felt. There was clapping, profanity, gasping - it was great fun. I probably said "Holy shit!" about eight times.

About halfway in the audio fucked up and they had to stop the movie to fix it. In that brief time, everybody turned to whoever they came with and discussed this brilliant piece of film we were all watching. "Holy crap, did you see that?"

So as you can tell, I loved this movie. In fact, "love" seems too tame a word. I want to bend this movie over the kitchen counter and fuck it so hard.

You know how some people consider themselves artists when it comes to film? Like, there are film fans who lose their shit over Malick's cinematography or Coppola's intense visuals or whatever the fuck it is that David Lynch does. Those people often celebrate film as an artform and look down on the more commercial fare that rules my world.

Well, I love fight scenes more than anything in the movie world, so to me, The Raid was fucking art. It was a beautiful piece of filmmaking - so elegant. It was like a masterful painting where violence is the brush.

I've never seen fighting so fast and brutal and still graceful all at once. I was in awe.

The plot was razor thin and there were no twists, really, but it didn't need a fancy complex plot or big fancy twists. It had great characters and surprisingly great dialogue. I cared about these characters. I got scared for some, sad when some died, relieved when a bad guy bit the dust. Your plot doesn't have to be complex if the characters are well drawn enough to make me invested in their well being.

And shot composition was fantastic. The angles, the use of light - it was all there.

When this movie ended, I wanted to kick everyone in the face.

On the way home I saw a few posters for movies I had been excited about mere hours before. Now I looked at those posters and realized they would not be as good as what I just watched. Everything sucks now.

I want to rewrite the treatment for my current spec because it's not good enough. The last time I had that reaction to a film in the theater, it was In Bruges.

So all those people who told me I needed to see The Raid - you called it. It was bananas. BANANAS. I'm in love.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

I have awesome friends

I have been working on a project that genre-wise is right up my alley, but it's in a world I know very little about and takes place in a location I barely know. I have been abusing the hell out of my friends in my pursuit of research, and they have been nothing but awesome.

Every day for the last week, I have emailed one of my friends to ask her geography questions. "Hey, do you know of a building where I can have a fight scene that has some security but not too much security...?" Sure enough, she comes back with a place. "Do you know of a cool place where my villain can put his lair?" After a few minutes of discussion, she gave me a location and a link to more information about the place. I don't know what she was doing at the time - probably cleaning because she's obsessed with cleaning - but I took her away from it so she could look up crap on her city and get back to me.

Another friend knows the world I'm playing in, and he has been amazing. I know when I email him he's probably either at work or writing his own material, but he's never hesitated to get back to me. He even busted out all his books and started searching through them to find the answer I need. He even helped me solve a big story problem in the planning stage. In fact, I probably owe him my nonexistent firstborn at this point.

I also have a group of non-screenwriter friends who love to jump in and offer up suggestions when I'm stumped, and their insight has been the key, sometimes, to figuring out a stuck point. They are awesome.

I've been doing my own research on the old web. I've gotten to be as much an expert on this area as you can be in a few months, but nothing beats someone who's obsessed over a certain subject since they were a wee child, or someone who's actually spent years living in the place you've set your story. I am so lucky to have these guys willing and able to help me, even though they probably have things they'd rather be doing.

So thanks, friends, for all your help. You're going to make me look a whole lot smarter than I actually am.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why I love treatments

I've been cranking out pages lately. For one of my super secret projects, I have a really well developed outline which sits next to me as I write. It makes everything easier.

When I started writing screenplays, I would do the index card thing - not sure why, since I never moved the cards around at all. The main reason for using the cards is having the ability to move story pieces around, but I write pretty linearly. Plot Point A causes Plot Point B, so you can't really move things too much in my scripts. Sometimes I'll change where a B story event happens, but that's a little move, not enough to justify index cards. And in the end, I rarely ever even looked at the cards once I started writing.

So a couple of years ago I began to dial back on the cards until I abandoned them completely. Initially I wrote everything out on paper, then transposed it to the cards, then I realized the cards were just an unnecessary extra step. Now I write out a full treatment on paper. The one I'm currently working with is 9 pages long.

I put the treatment next to me, propped up on one of those paper-propper-upper things. And I follow it to the letter. Every time I forget where I was going, all I have to do is look back at the current page, and I'll remember the next step.

I know people always rail against this - I certainly used to as well - as a way to stifle creativity, but to me it's the opposite now. I do most of my creative thinking in the treatment-writing phase. I get to the bottom of the story I'm trying to tell before I have to delve into details and dialogue. It makes the actual writing SO much easier. I don't get overwhelmed with choices as I crank out pages, because I've already made them. The plot is done.

What I do get to play with is dialogue, blocking, and character development. What you can't always know when you're working on a treatment is what the characters' voices will sound like and how they will bounce off each other. Since I don't have to worry about figuring out plot points at this stage, I'm free to let them play with their scenes the way you let a talented actor toy with dialogue.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, write the fuck out of your story before you even begin to write your story. You may be shaking your head thinking there's no way that will work for you, but unless you've ever tried it, you don't know that. I certainly didn't think it worked for me until I had to do it.

That's the other thing. You will have to do it if you ever expect to be employed. You'll have to do it a lot. For no pay. And most likely nobody will ever tell you whether or not they liked it.

So if you don't think you can ever write a detailed treatment first, walk away from screenwriting now. Ain't no way you'll have a career without that ability, not anymore.

My treatment is the reason I was able to crank out 8 pages in an hour this morning. Last writing session I got to 7. I'm so much more productive with a well-constructed treatment. No more wasted days trying to figure out where to go next. I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The daily screenwriting grind

Thank you, everyone, for the great comments wishing me well. We have a great wedding in our yard and everyone seems to have had a good time. Now I am back - no wedding to plan, no papers to grade, just writing and meetings and whatever freelance work I can pick up to pay the bills. I was going to sub, but the further I get from the classroom the more I don't want to go back to a 9-5. So now I'm pursuing other options.

In the meantime, writing is my job. I treat it like a job.

As a teacher, my body adapted to rising early, and the dogs help keep that pattern up. So I usually wake up before 8am every morning.

Then this is my schedule Monday-Friday:

Whenever I wake up: Eat breakfast. Water stuff that needs to be watered in the morning. Get dressed. I find that getting dressed helps me take my work more seriously. I'm more likely to noodle around on the Internet if I'm in pajamas, so I always put on real clothes before plopping down in front of the computer. Plus my office window looks right onto my neighbor's house. She can look out her kitchen window and see me in here. I like to be decent.

9:30 - in front of the computer. I give myself about half an hour to fuck around on Done Deal or Tracking Board or whatever else I need to do other than work.

Around 10am - work on one project. If I'm working on a treatment, I do that. If another script, it's whatever one is not my top priority. I used to have page count goals or time or whatever, but now I generally go until I run out of steam, which depends on what I'm writing. If it's a dialogue-heavy sequence it's a lot harder for me to write than an action sequence, so dialogue days I'll probably write fewer pages than if I'm in a fight scene. If I feel myself fading, I always give myself one more push, so just when I think I'm ready to stop I try to do one more scene, and sometimes that bounces me into another run.

Around noon - I'm hungry by now, and tired of staring at the computer screen. I'll go until I feel like stopping, but usually I get a good two hours of work. So now I stop for lunch. Watch something - a movie, some TV, the news, whatever I feel like.

Around 2pm - Back to work. Now that I'm warmed up, I work on whatever project is my top priority. I do the same thing I did in the morning - go until I run out of steam, but always try to push for that one extra page.

Around 4pm - quit for the day. Then I work out, walk the dogs, cook dinner, take Foxy to agility class, whatever.

Of course, if I have meetings scheduled I nix the first project for the day because I try to schedule my meetings in the morning. That means everything up to 2pm could be taken by meetings, then I follow the schedule for the rest of the day. And sometimes if something important is going on that I have to deal with, the whole schedule upends to accommodate whatever that is.

Sometimes if I REALLY don't feel like writing, I'll write some of the day and spend the rest of it editing Lost Girl videos while feeling a tad guilty that I'm not writing.

But most days I follow this pattern - loosely, but as close to it as possible. It helps keep me productive.

I take weekends off, just like I would in my old job.

And that's how I do, in case anyone ever wondered.