Monday, December 27, 2010

Deadlines Don't Wait For Santa

Note to Hollywood: When did you become Europe?

My friends in Germany, France and Spain hardly ever put in a solid month of work. There is always some bank holiday, some religious thing that no one understands or can define that precludes them from going to work. On top of that they all get about two months vacation...

Well, in recent years, so does Hollywood. It used to be that things shut down for Thanksgiving and didn't really get going again until after Sundance in mid-January. But, lately, it feels like people start checking out day before Halloween and maybe arrive again after Valentine's day. And the summer? Nothing moves forward but the sun.

Well, the sun moves and the writer. We write our buns off year-round. And Christmas or no, I wrote my buns off to make my deadline!

(Okay - you know what? No, I did not in fact write my buns off. I, in fact, think I grew an extra bun during this project. And what I really wanted for Christmas was a Wii Fit. I imagined becoming Gillian Michaels after my son was asleep and I had that precious 45 minutes of downtime before collapsing into insomnia. But, did Santa hear my plea? Still waiting.)

Why is it that stress and being chained to your desk 22 hours of every day makes everything turn to inflatable mush buckets? My son pointed to my belly yesterday and said with a big grin: "Fat." Yeah, thanks son. I'm only sitting down and not getting my workout in order to put you through college. So, we're just going to have to deal with a little extra jiggle.

My script was due at the end of the year and for various reasons I wanted to make sure it was recorded in the 4th quarter (taxes, pension and health, etc.). But, in order for it to be checked in, it needed to be received on Thursday December 16 (before everyone in accounting went on va-cay) not December 31 when it was due. Anyone counting that's over two weeks early. Two weeks of an 8 week deadline is a big chunk of early.

But The studio is doing me a solid and gives me a choice of turning it in early or holding off and turning it in when they return from vacation. Giving me until January 7th - because nobody reads anything until the weekend.

But, because of personal medical issues with my son, I really need to get it in 4th quarter. Which now ends two weeks and two days earlier than expected.

I find this out on Monday December 13th, post-lunch. Up to this point, I had been jamming on the script, keeping up the schedule I had pieced together. Working late to catch up here and there, but not really killing myself. Yeah, well that went out the window. I wrote 60 pages in 4 days. I spent all but about six hours in those four days in front of my computer.

And are you ready for a Christmas miracle? It came out really good. I got notes and everything and took a week away before re-reading myself - and I'm really excited. So now, I'm just waiting for notes - which will for sure come my way by the end of Sundance.

But, once you've lived with something and worked out the story using all your tools. And once all that's left to do is write the scenes - this can go much faster than you could possibly imagine. Kind of like those people on The Biggest Loser who can run farther than they thought they could. (Are you sensing that I'm obsessed with dropping the holiday ten I packed on?)

I'm going to have to remember this "fast writing" technique when I relaunch into reworking The Spec. I have a feeling my agent thinks will be ready when he returns to the office next week. Luckily, nobody really gets down to business until February - so I might be able to buy some time.

Fingers crossed and happy writing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Hollywood Agent: A love-hate relationship

I love my agent because he's always right.

I hate my agent because he's always right.

I finally talked with my agent about the spec. And here are the results:

While he still believes in the concept (and he should because it was mainly his idea) and thinks I can bring this baby home, he told me I need to throw about 2/3 of it out and start again.

You heard me 2/3.

Gulp. (And, yes, if you're wondering, that goes down about as easy as chugging lighter fluid spiked with hot sauce.)

But, I'm a pro. And I took it like a pro. I listened.

Because I had distance from the script. I'm really grateful my wise managers made me sit on it and that it took a couple weeks to connect with my agent about his response.

Emotionally disconnecting from your work before you get feedback is always key. Get away from it for as long as you can and it will hurt less. Kind of like a band-aid that's gotten really gooey from the shower before you rip it off.

I listened to what my big agent was saying, but just as importantly I listened to what my gut was saying. And my gut actually agreed with the big agent. (Traitor! I have a love-hate relationship with my gut, too.) What my gut was saying was, "He's right again, damn him, I'd rather see that movie, too."

So how do I feel about going back to the nearly blank chalkboard? Actually, I feel inspired.

My agent gets paid the big bucks because he's very good at his job. He also is one of the rare agents out there that give really brilliant feedback, not only zeroing in on the market, but actually breaking the story as good as any writer I know.

It kinda makes me want to bash him in the teeth.

But, I can't because... well, I love him.

I needed to write this version of the script in order to get to the best version of the script. Often times, us writers just troll around having no idea we are headed in the wrong direction until the odious evidence wafts up from our falsely landed foot. (Sometimes it's just fun to write really bad stuff like that.)

Luckily, I'm not alone. And I'm very grateful.

So, now that meeting is behind me and I delivered the pitch (news still pending on that one, but it's off my desk for the moment) - here's the plan:

1) Finish the assignment.

2) During Reading Period (this is when the studio and producers and director read and give you feedback) I will dive back into the Spec.

I love a challenge and I'm determined to make the spec the greatest work of my career (so far...)

Keep those emails and posts coming. They really brighten my day, well... they stop me from eating chips for a few minutes at least.

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Writing Truth: You can never really see the end before you get there (and looking for it can really mess you up)...

Trust me on this, I've been stuck and staring into the abyss (while inhaling a bag of chips) all day.

Situation: Two deadlines approaching. (Imagine me tied to the train tracks like in those old fashioned cartoons with two locomotives barreling towards me from both directions.)

Problem: Stress. Fear. Overload. The Holidays. The baby. Stress. Fear. Overload.

Solutions Tried: Alternating between eating Salt & Vinegar Chips and Sour Patch Skittles. Alternating between drinking Pale Ale and Red Wine. Cried. Yelled at my husband. Retail therapy. More binging.

Result: Guilt. Regret. Embarrassment. And saddest of all - the same deadlines approaching, only now I they are so close I can feel the rails rattle.

So what's a writer to do? Back in the day (pre-baby) I would have chained myself at my desk, ordered up a box of jelly-filled and banged it out with about 45 gallons of Starbucks. Working night after night until three or four in the morning sometimes puts you in such an unhinged state of mind that you're will to just go for it, try anything. That's often when you make a fantastic discovery.

But those days are gone. Let's face it, if I accidentally stay awake past 11PM I go into meltdown mode. If there's one thing I can count on, it's that the baby will be up at least two hours before I want to even think about opening my eyes.

This is the new normal. I'm certainly not the first one to land here. I've got to find a way to make this work. And, let's be honest these are good problems to have. Too much work? I ain't complaining. I just want to do a good job. And the more I want to do a good job the more stressed I get, the farther I feel away from my goal.

And then it hit me.

I decided after a "working nap" that resulted nothing but a stiff neck - to go for a "working walk" and try to shake the cobwebs out of my head and some of the "salt & vinegar chip" off my flabby backside. And as I was pushing the stroller up the hill, telling my babbling baby boy what I needed to do to make both of the projects I'm working on work - I realized what I was doing wrong...

I recognized it immediately - because I've done it before. More like again, again and again.

I was trying to see the finished product!

The stress of having to complete two projects simultaneously with my new life pressures kept me worrying about how I was going to pull it off. How was I going to get to the end? How was I going to finish in time? How was I going to solve all the problems and come up with what the producers want?

All of these questions were focusing on the end result. Of course I couldn't move forward. Because you can NEVER see the end when you're in the middle.

The only way to really see the end of a piece (the piece that has subtle and powerful dialogue, subplots that interweave theme and plot effortlessly, the perfect rise and fall, surprises) is to arrive there one step and one discovery at a time.

Yes, you make a plan. An outline, a beat sheet, you cast your path out ahead of you - but you walk down that path one step at a time. Carefully checking in and making sure you didn't inadvertently go in the wrong directly.

That's also why you have drafts. You write one and then add to it, change it, vary it. How could you possibly see the end result if you haven't even written draft two? What are you psychic? No! You're a writer. And we're in this together.

Trying to see the end freezes your brain. So here's what I'm doing next. I'm looking at the next scene in my script and I'm going to write draft two on my pitch. Wow - that feels better already. It's not the final draft - it's just the next one. No biggie.

So on to the next step....