Thursday, May 3, 2012

Update from Will Rogers

I'm in the middle of a move and a rewrite and a crime scene investigation.  Sorry for the lack of posts.

Until the next one - here's a great quote:

“If you want to be successful, it's just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.” 
― Will Rogers

Don't you just love Will Rogers?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Big Week

So it's a big week.  At least I've got it started on the right note.

I drug my butt out of bed at 6:30 (child at grandparents COULD have slept in for once) to jog.

Coffee brewed by the time I returned and now I sit at my desk at 7AM.

So what's on the agenda.

Oh, I need to rewrite the third act of my script and turn it in on Friday.  Oh, that.

I have turned this script in now twice - and both times we've gotten closer.  The first was a faithful execution of the outline (that I worked on forever and exactly three days) and the second was one I was given permission to run with.  Running with it got us closer.  But not close enough - I ran into a dead-end in the third act.

I blame the wrong turn on the fact that one of my main characters had not completely showed up to the party.  If you have a problem in your third act - usually you have to go all the way back to the first act to fix it.

I fixed that and to this point I have rewritten that character (and how he interacted with all the other characters) up through the second act.  So now it's time to tie it all together.  In a week.

Oh, and I need to trim 15 pages out.

Oh, I'm playing in my club championship, closing escrow on a house, formulating a marketing plan for the movie I'm directing next Spring*.  I also have two other projects waiting in the wings and during bouts of insomnia I have been writing on my iPhone a spec.  Yes, I'm 30 odd pages in on a spec that I'm writing entirely in "notepad" while my husband snores next to me.

But until I get this third act perfect, nothing else can matter.  We are running up against our production deadline.  It's literally now or never.

My schedule for the week will go like this (mom and dad and husband watching my 3 year old as much as possible since he's on spring break):  Monday - work 7-midnight, Tuesday CC then work 2-midnight, Wednesday 7-midnight, Thurs CC then work 2 until it's done.  Friday re-read, tweak and turn it in, close escrow.  Saturday CC.  Sunday sleep (or is that pack moving boxes).  Monday gird loins for notes.  

So, here I go.  Today's goal is to rough out the bad version and look for as many cuts along the way.  I'm going to have fun with it.  These are the good times, after all.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy Writing.

*Movie I'm producing/directing in the Spring.  The movie that we were preparing to shoot this summer is now aiming for Spring 2013.  In hindsight this momentary setback was a blessing in disguise as I would have not had time to get everything done PROPERLY.  Plus other keys will now be available, we'll have a larger talent pool to pick from in Canada where we're shooting and more time to raise more financing.  Yes, our budget is going up, but so are our expectations.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Finding The Magic

Part of the concept of this "How To" site - is to show by example.

So, let me give you a little update on what's going on with my projects.  Hopefully it will give you a window into what this life - what it's really like.

First of all, long time followers of this little blog know that when I'm down to posting once or twice a month - I'm busy.

My primary focus has been for the last year a medium budget feature film (15-25 million) that I'm under contract to write for a Big Hollywood Producer.  The film needs to be shot in the summer, because of its subject matter.  That said, we have been on the hunt to find the best version of this film before we run out of time.  If we don't find it - well, that's just not an option.

Given that, we were meticulous with our plan.  We outlined and discussed and then we outlined some more, over and over and over again.  Each time we found another clue - but it's a rather tricky plot dealing with several storylines that all dovetail together and build.  So, even though the end result should be clear, clean and easy to follow - making it such is anything but.

That said, the BHP read the first draft and we both agreed that while it was a very good execution of our detailed outine - there was no magic.  No spark.  It felt like overworked dough - you know when you're making a pizza and the kids mess with it too long?

In his infinite wisdom, BHP imparted me with his belief in my abilities and turned me loose to write a draft that turned me on.  He gave me the permission to be me.  That's great - right?  Yes!

But here's the downside - when somebody turns it over to you - it's all on you.  But, once again - this moment always comes.  There's always a stage where it's do or die.  Do equals green-lights and cameras rolling, die leads you to the unemployment office.

But that's why you earn the theoretical big bucks - right?  And it's also such an enormous challenge - it makes it fun.  I love a challenge - you've got to be tough, agressive and up to climb the mountain.  Every time.

That said, I now have the task of finding the magic.  And I think I have.

I had to find out what the movie was about. What was the premise I was trying to prove or disprove.  And how were the characters caught up in this premise.  This started to inform my choices of scenes.  Suddenly, I realized that half of what I'd been writing was actually backstory.  So even though they were great scenes - some of my best work - ever - I cut it from the script.  That's right - the big key near the top right.  Deleted.

But, I had discovered so much from the writing of those scenes, that now I knew all about the characters I was writing.  I also knew the things they didn't know about each other and how to play that off the other character.  They were coming to life.  That's the magic.

I'm now trying to keep that magic going as I also try to finish the script in less than a week.  Honestly, I don't know if I'll make my deadline.  And I always make my deadlines - because magic is one thing that you can't rush.    I might be on page 85 and discover that I have to cut the last 20 pages (like I did in the first act), I don't know until I get there.

All I can do is work as hard as I can without kneading the dough too much.  That's up at five or six and sticking with it until well past midnight.  It's knowing when you're writing babble to take a break to do a blog post.  And more importantly it's getting right back on it.  Because it's all or nothing.  And this time it's going to be ALL.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How To Conquer Writer's Block

First of all, let me tell you I don't believe that writer's actually get stuck.  We just think we do.

We may find ourselves cycling through ideas we don't like, but that is the process of elimination.  It's essential.

Sometimes this can go on for longer than we like and we get frustrated.  We make up labels like "writer's block" and "stuck."

But,  I'm here to tell you:   Just because it isn't coming as easily or as gracefully as it has in the past, you are still moving forward.

Keep going.

On my current project, I am about to start on a rewrite of the first "rough" draft.  I'm not even counting it as a draft - because I had to execute the outline I had worked on in detail for over a year.  But mid-way through the writing I knew it wasn't working, but I had to deliver the execution of the outline anyway.

Thankfully, the brilliant producer I am working with recognized that it wasn't working either.  So, in a way I'm back to the drawing board.  But in a way I'm back for the first time because this time he's letting me run with it.  And the discoveries I made about story and character in the outline and rough draft are informing my new choices.

I realized today that the reason why I ended up with a near miss - that felt D.O.A. and overworked -was because I had skipped a vital step way back at the beginning.

Usually, on assignment or writing a spec the first thing I do is find out what the story is about and what the character arc is.  I have to know these two things before I make choices of how to demonstrate it.

This time around I was given parameters and asked to connect the dots.  I connected the dots again and again and again - but because I didn't do the first most important step, the picture I created by connecting the dots never came out right.  It was totally my fault.

I thought because I was being fed such great concepts that I could just skip that part.  Wrong!  And so for a week or so I've been "stuck."

"Writer's block" is simply a symptom that you need to fix something before you can go forward.

When writers (myself included) get stuck it's because they are insisting on plowing ahead, instead of being willing to let go of what they've already written in search of a better path.

Think of it as a maze.  You start down the wrong chute at the beginning and even though you nearly get to the finish, you hit a wall.  You can either keep going down the same path and come up trapped again and again or you can go back and find where you made the wrong move.

Sometimes going back is the only way to go forward.

Happy Writing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

First Draft - How Long Is Too Long?

So, I'm about to turn in my first draft.  Written in a mere five weeks (okay, I was working from the most detailed outline of my career, but still)...  five weeks is pretty fast, not lightning, but speedy.  Especially when you consider I worked over two legal holidays and through a toddler illness.

So, here's the deal.  It's 132 pages long.  In the genre that I'm working in - maybe 120 is acceptable - maybe.  So, I've got a problem.

But, in this case, I am working with a very hands on (and brilliant) producer who has gone over the outline with me with a very fine-toothed comb.  Extremely fine, like the kind you use to remove lice from school age children.  And I hesitate to cut anything that we have gone over together without giving him a chance to look at it.

This is what's called the "pre-first draft" or "producer's pass."  I'm handing it in, but I'm not counting it as a draft.  I just want to get his opinion on this "rough" assemblage.

But still, come on.  You can't hand in 132 pages!

Okay, so what to do?  A writing professor friend of mine suggested "change the spacing to tight." Another veteren suggested removing the extra space before the slugline.  

What does this tell me?

That I'm not the first scribe to leave in the kitchen sink.  It's so common, we already have tricks to deal with it.

Is being too long really a big deal on a first draft?  Some would say better to have more than less.  Then you can cut what you don't need.

We'll have to see.  My experience tells me two things.

1)  If it's too long - you have a structural problem, you don't know your chararcters well enough and you are therefore overwriting.  You aren't trusting your writing or your audience. You are a control freak.  Fix it.


2)  Producers are way more likely to suggest additions and changes, but rarely cuts.  The BHP I'm working with will probably be the exception to this rule, as he has been an exception to the rule on all other things so far.  But in general, they will add to your page count.

"We've got to cut this down."  Will be their first note, followed by a three page list of what they want added for marketing, the actor they cast and their own story points.  All valid - but not helping the page count.

So, what to do?

I'm going to listen to my friends' advice and tweak the formatting, of course!  Heck, I might even fudge the margins...

And I'm going to celebrate my draft.  There are moments in it that I have never come close to rivaling.

This is a first draft.  I'm going to give it its due and hope that my BHP and some distance from the story will guide me to the next official first draft.

To be continued....

Happy Writing

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Ledge

So I'm about to finish the first rough draft of my script.   My goal is Friday, so I can have people read over the weekend and get it shored up to turn in to the B.H.P. next week.

I started writing on December 28.  My goal is to type Fade Out by January 27.

For the most part I've been sailing thanks to the extensive outline I'm working from - but there have been moments when I was seriously grateful I didn't live in a high-rise.

Let me tell you a little bit about what that feels like - those moments on The Ledge.

First, it comes out of nowhere.  In this instance a little nothing scene.  An exchange between my main character and the romantic counterpart, the b-plot of the story.

There are clues already to how I got on the ledge - can you find them?  A nothing little scene between my main character...  Okay that doesn't exist...  especially not in the b-plot.

I'm zinging along, going to hit my daily page count no problem.

(Daily page count is my tool I use to break out a rough draft, write fast and hot, fix it later.)


I couldn't get past the scene.  I started tweaking.  I hated that.  No that didn't work.  I started cutting huge sections.  I added things that had no relevance.  I cut those.  Wait a second?  What was going on here?

What was going on was I didn't know what this scene was about or why it was important.  Unbelievable that can happen after the many months of detailed outline work - but yet - alas..

I tried to skip it - go back later.  But I couldn't every time I sat down I found myself back on this scene.

I started to hate this scene.  I started to hate myself.  I started to doubt the validity of the entire project.  Of my talent and skill as a writer.

At this point I'm a real joy to be around.  My husband avoids me.  My toddler calls me The Grinch and my dog hides under the bed.

Everything grinds to a halt.  I cannot go forward until I solve this.   I can't sleep.  I am miserable.

I'm on the ledge.  Everything looks hopeless.  I'll never solve it.  I don't know what I'm doing.  Who was I kidding?  They are going to ask for their money back.  I'm going to be sued.

My husband reminds me that I always get this way.  That at some point I always hit a roadblock and I will solve it.   I remember why I love him.

I decide to hang in there.  I look at the scene from a longer view.  The problem couldn't be fixed in this scene because it was a symptom of a bigger issue.  The entire subplot was sending the wrong message.

This sounds like a lot of work - which is probably why I didn't first jump to this solution - but it was the only way off the ledge that didn't end with a long shriek and a splat.

And it made me curious.  I had a lot of new things to explore.  New discoveries to make.  I had to get off that ledge and start writing.   This was the fun part, back again.  The next thing I knew I was whizzing along.  

Happy Writing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ten Scenes A Day

I need to turn in the draft sooner than later.  We are pushing against a shoot deadline.  If I turn it in soon AND if its good - then we are making a movie.  Hundreds of people will be employed.  

If I don't pull it off - then we'll have to wait another year.   A year in Hollywood - I shudder to think - anything could happen.

Okay, so I can't focus on the outcome.    I can't think of how much is riding on this draft.  I can't think about the fact that in 15 years my son will be heading off to college.  

I've simply got to take that next step.  From A to B.

A to B.  The step right in front of me is all that matters.  Getting that step right is all I can do.  

So here's my plan:

Write ten scenes a day.    (I'm half way done right now - and at this pace I should be able to get a draft by the weekend.)

Then, I'll get some key reads.  

And turn it in to the B.H.P.  

Then I'll start praying.

As well as blow the dust off my spec, take a look at some possible future writing gigs, break-down my indie film and create a budget.  

Wow.  Writing ten scenes a day is really going to be the easy part!*

I'll keep you posted!  

PS.  Ten scenes a day is a little misleading.  I have a very detailed outline that I'm working on.  Usually a beat in an outline would be one sentence.  Here I have whole chunks of dialogue and most of the description already written out.  I simply divided the work I still needed to do by the days I needed to do it in. Some days will be long and hard, other days will be easy and maybe I can get a jump on the long and hard days.  But, I've just created a manageable  next step.  From A to B.   Basically the same process of every step of writing.  

Happy Writing!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy New Year - Starting Again

Writing Tip Of The Week:   The easiest and the hardest thing to do:  Start!

--WHEN IT'S EASY - IT GETS HARDER.   Let me explain, you wake up with an inspiration.  The next thing you know you are scribbling on whatever you can get your hands on to get these ideas down.  You're riding a lightning bolt.  That's an easy start.  Often times, the next part gets hard.  The organizing your brilliance and fixing the problems the lightning had blinded you to sucks in comparison.  And you'll question whether what you thought was brilliant actually was.

--WHEN IT'S HARD - IT GETS EASIER.  Right from the beginning you are pulling teeth.  That's when the closets get organized, you answer emails to anyone, etc.  You are starting cold and have to much through unti you grab an  idea.  But once you break through you are on a roll.  Time is sailing, you are underway.

So those are the two ways it can go.  To get through both you just have to stick with it.  Break down your goals.

For example, today I have a three hour window of uninterrupted time (a rare thing for a working mom with a toddler) and so I am setting a goal that if I stay focused and suck down an adequate amount of caffeine, I should be able to conquer.

It's taking the first step and then following it with the next that will get you there.  But just remember, even if it's easy, don't get discouraged when it gets hard.  And if it's starting off with a challenge, keep going it will get easier.

Happy Writing and Happy Monday!

PS.  The new site - although we have it up on our server - has been delayed.  The movie needed more work over the holidays (see previous posts) and so, the new blog has had to be re-prioritized to its rightful place (below actually contractually bound writing jobs... ;)  But it's still in the works.