Friday, May 26, 2006

Musical Note

So, our movie is set, primarily, in a swamp.

Therefore an edict:

No banjos or fiddles are allowed anywhere near the score.


Road Work Ahead

Well, if you're reading this post, you've probably been reading Greg's posts (which are always more interesting anyway) so you know about the trip to Minneapolis. 'Twas a fun time, productive too, and a bit of a pain in the ass as well. But I enjoyed it, and I didn't get any raspberry iced tea in my lap or on my taquitos. Not everyone was so lucky.

As a TV development guy/producer, I don't get out on the road much, so it was good to see what it's like -- and what I've been inflicting on others for years. I am amazed at that which is called a "continental breakfast," I think I might have contracted something from the hotel room, and I'm fairly certain there is no non-chain restaurant in existence.

Oh, and the Chevy Aveo simply rocks.

But there was the exhilarating creative challenge of thinking on our feet and working together, and we ended up with good stuff. Let's just hope we sign a show from it.

Lots of work at, um, work as I continue developing a few ideas a few networks are interested in. A lot of that work is writing a treatment for a pilot -- so that's been taking a lot of my energy.

No real work on the Harlem rewrite, besides going through the script while flying to Minneapolis and striking through everything I hate. The good news: it wasn't that much. The bad news: it’s still a lot of goddamn work, because as soon as you take out one important nugget, everything changes.

Off for a long weekend to visit grandma with wife and son (daughter staying behind as friends trump family in the teenager’s game) and I’ll bring the laptop. I know I have to do some work for work. And I know I want to do some work for the script.

May I find the time and energy for both, and a good breakfast, in Cedar Rapids.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Your Script Doesn't Matter

So two good things happened with Dismal today.

One is directly script-related: we distributed the official locked white shooting script. Pretty important milestone for me. Celebrate baby steps, right? I mean, it’s no Oscar nomination, but let’s face it, that’s not a milestone I really need to occupy myself with. The locked shooting script, though? That’s all right. While by no means is the script finished, at least it’s in a good solid place. If we needed to, we could shoot tomorrow. I’d probably get queasy, cry out for my mommy and soil my underthings, but we could shoot.

There are, of course, a few bits I’m still thinking about (there always are, as every writer understands), but they’re the types of things that mean mostly dialogue changes here and there: a possible adjustment of a character’s tone in a few scenes, some professional jargon I’m unsure of, one instance of possibly shifting the placement of a scene. So blue pages – and pink, and yellow, and all the way to goldenrod (HELLO, BEAUTIFUL AND HORRIFYING GOLDENROD!) – are sure to follow, but the heavy lifting is done.

I think.

Who knows? Everything might fall apart, we might lose a couple locations or get that Movie Star the director wants to troll for. And then the heavy lifting will resume. These spaghetti biceps of mine might get more of a workout after all.

The other thing that happened is still script-related, but maybe not so apparently so: tonight we had a very productive, very eye-opening, and in some ways very terrifying post-production meeting.

We collected a pretty amazing team of experts and got them all together, with Ray (director), Jeff (executive producer) and me. Code names: Sound Guy, Editor, Engineer, DP, Visual Effects Guy and Post-house Owner. For a couple hours, we just hashed everything out, trying to solve problems before they have a chance to occur. These guys really know their shit, and they’re willing to pitch in with their knowledge and experience and artistry and skill and make this fucking movie sing.


And terrifying. As you know, there’s far more that goes into a film than most of us realize. And the more that goes into a film, the more potential for things to go haywire. Hence the terror.

But mostly, it was a great meeting.

Those of us up front on these things (writers, I mean) often forget about these fellas. But we’d be lost without them. Sure, superstar, you can write a genius goddamn screenplay, but if no one is there to shoot and post it, how’s it gonna knock anybody’s socks off?

Since I’ve been a producer for years, I have the benefit of having worked with all of these departments, and more, and that experience is invaluable. Or, I should say, the experience of screwing things up and then having guys like this help me figure out a solution and how not to screw it up next time is invaluable.

And by guys, of course, I mean people. Girls are cool, too.

I think it’s made me a better writer to have, lurking always in the back of my mind, the sense of what good sound design can do to a scene, how important lighting and framing is, what music can carry, how FX can alter the landscape (literally and figuratively) of a visual story, how a line will work if you build the edit up to it properly.

Also, since I’m no big budget Hollywood power player, being a producer has trained me to think wardrobe, art direction, casting, locations, schedule – and maybe most importantly, cast and crew morale and collective team energy.

All this -- I hope -- on my best days -- informs my writing. Or at least is a factor in it, at some subconscious level. And with writing screenplays, all this matters. Because, as I just read in a book by Alan Bennett: There are no good scripts, only good films.

That’s right, friends and neighbors. When your movie’s a big hit, and you’re the darling of Sundance, and Simon & Schuster publishes your screenplay in a snappily-packaged paperback… it doesn’t matter. Not really.

What matters is the movie that the schlub just getting off work in Toledo takes his date to.

He might only have this one date to impress that cute girl from the neighborhood with, just ONE DATE… so think it through, all of it.

Your script doesn’t matter.

Okay. Your script matters. A lot.

But a lot of other stuff matters, too.

Because, in all fairness, the Toldeo schlub’s not taking his date to cuddle up at the film section of Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My Brother and I

Okay. So I feel like Blair, taking so long between posts. Sorry Blair, but you’re the cautionary tale I have to cite. I still love you, though.

Baby's been sick, got an offer on our house, put an offer on another house way out of our price range, traveled to DC for pitch meetings, work's in one of those ultra-busy phases, got sick myself, blah, blah, blah.

I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad, though. I'm fairly confident my legions of faithful readers were able to dig deep and find a way to occupy themselves during the last couple weeks without me.

But I really should post more regularly. It's healthy for me as a writer. That's right, O legions of faithful readers, I'm thinking I should be posting more for my sake than yours. Although you will benefit. Oh yes, you will.

When I was posting more regularly (in my short term as a blogger) I was writing more regularly. Like, the screenplay-type kind of writing. If not actually writing, at least working on the things –- planning structure, sketching out scenes, tweaking characters, spell-checking.

It's nothing new; everybody knows this: when you write regularly, you're more likely to find that one tiny gem among the vast expanse of crap that’s spread about your brain.

A couple years ago, my little brother talked me into doing Nanowrimo. Do you know this? If not, check out The basic idea is that from November 1st through November 30th, you have to write a 50,000-word novel. Now, obviously, your novel’s gonna suck. Mine sure did. The point is not to try to write a clean, elegant 50,000-word novel -- it’s only a month, after all -- but simply to bang it out.

And bang it out we did, my brother and I. One great thing was forcing myself to write every day. Kind of like what Greg and Blair did with their five-page-a-day rule. Another great thing was having my brother there to bitch to and celebrate with. Kind of like this blogosphere thing.

What we both found, my brother and I, is that as we wrote regularly, at a disciplined pace, we loosened up, it got easier to write longer, we got less intimidated by temporary writer’s block, we found ourselves strategizing about the story more when we weren’t actually writing, we had that weird thing happen when the character starts to write itself (you’ve had this happen: when you write a line of dialogue and stop and think, “Where the hell did that come from? It certainly wasn’t me.”).

My brother, right now, is trying to take that novel he wrote that year for Nanowrimo, plus another one he wrote, and revise them into a combined, cohesive story by adding a third element that ties them together. Very ambitious. Very cool.

And so I have to get off my goddamn ass and post more on this blog, and hope that helps me dive into the next rewrite of my next script, which I'm just calling the Harlem script right now.

I have to get in there and get revision dirt under my fingernails -– or I’ll end up trying more to figure out the weird story about astral projection, a runaway tractor-trailer, infidelity and abduction that came out of a dream I had after taking my wife’s codeine-laced medicine a few nights ago.

And figuring that out will take some time.

For both my brother and I.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Doin' It To You In Your Earhole

On Sunday morning we did a table read of Dismal with seven young actors from Old Dominion University. Props to Steve at ODU for putting this together. And props plus to the actors who came out to help.

I tell you what... if I can make a humble suggestion:


It's invaluable.

At least to me, it's so goddamn helpful to get the goddamn dialogue out of your goddamn head.

I mean, writers all know this: there's the story you have in your head; then there's the story you actually manage to get down on paper; and then there's the story the consumer consumes.

It's hard enough to formulate a worthwhile story in your head. Shit, I've written more bad stories in my head than all the debt dollars rung up by George Bush. Or, better said, if the bad stories in my head were tax breaks for the rich, George Bush would somehow get re-elected to a third term.

And then. And then it's even harder to get a good story down on paper. You know the drill: the long lonely nights, the self-loathing, the pained and blurry eyes, the vague taste of puke in the back of your throat. And in the end, after all that, let's all be honest: it's never as good as the one in your head -- and that either speaks to our lack of talent or our delusion regarding how good the one in our head is.

So then --- THEN there's the one that the viewer views.

Who the hell knows what that one's gonna be.

I really respect my friend Andrew. He loved Ang Lee's Hulk. I couldn't stand it.

I think my friend Mike is really smart. He thought Kingpin was brilliantly funny. I didn't even chuckle once.

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man is one of my favorite movies.

'Nuff said.

Who knows?

Well, you can inch one step closer if you try to bridge the gap between the story you wrangle onto the page and the one the viewer comes away with. And a good way to do that -- on the cheap -- is to try to fake yourself out and try to act like a viewer... by having people (actors, if you can swing it, just a group of friends if you can't) read your script aloud.

The funny thing is, of course, that real filmmakers don’t need to do these silly exercises. They don't need to bribe college kids with a promise of free coffee and a free lunch. They can hire focus groups. Or run it through a complex development system.

But those of us in the real world, us peons who are shuckin’ and jivin’ trying to get movies made – we, we can use a little help.

Now I’m no one to give advice; I’m a nobody with a bunch of TV but ZERO FILMS to my credit. But from where I stand, I suggest this: once you write it with your fingers, get it in your earhole.