Tuesday, December 09, 2008

End In Sight. Kinda.

Cracked 100 pages on the hitman script. A few more scenes and I’m at the end of the story.

But it’s too early to celebrate.

This has been a new process for me.

The two main differences are that, unlike other scripts, for this one I: 1) sketched out the main plot points start to finish to create a rough outline before I got deep into writing and 2) tried really hard not to self-edit as I’ve written.

The rough outline was really helpful. I kept it loose because I knew that some of my best writing kind of comes out of nowhere, so I wanted to allow some space for that. But I also found it helpful to have a good idea of the next big beat I wanted to get to by a certain point – then wing it getting there.

A little yin, a little yang.

And it’s been dadburn plum liberating not to edit as I go. Normally, before I proceed, I need to make sure everything is clicking. This means a lot of stopping, reviewing, rewriting, stopping, reviewing. This makes it so that, by the time I get through my first draft, it’s usually pretty solid – it might not be good, but at least it will make sense. To most people. But it’s very time consuming, and I think it really interrupts the flow.

So this time, I stopped myself from doing that. If I wrote something that wasn’t consistent with a character as developed so far, I kept it. If it wasn’t motivated yet, I kept it. If it contradicted the plot heretofore, I kept it. I tried to be good about leaving notes for myself – like “Plant the seed for this in act one so it makes sense here” or “Where the fuck did this come from? Justify it or lose it” – but sometimes I just plowed on.

I thought this was important for this script, because it’s an action script, more reliant on plot than others I’ve written, and it’s me writing it. It’s a big, twisty, lots of movement movie, for me anyway, and I knew my character-driven, mildly OCD self would get bogged down in plot specifics if I stopped to worry about which day it was, and how they got to this location, if that dialogue was unique to that character’s voice, who they got the gun from, how they traced that car...

For the first draft, I just wanted to get all the fun things in my head out. So that’s what I’m almost finished with. It's been great, and I think it's working, and I like what this script will be.

Incidentally, I have this friend, whom I hate. He writes these amazing, complex movies that are so fun and so goddamn stylish – and he just wings it. He’s so natural at story and so freakishly smart, he just writes scene one, then two, then three, then four – and without outlining or anything, he has this awesome thing that totally works. And he hardly ever revises.

Did I mention I hate him?

So anyway, I’m nearing the end of the story. Which means of course that, like I told Ryan, once I bang out the last scene and type FADE OUT, the real work begins – because then I have to go back and make it all make sense, have relevance, mean something, be entertaining. I have to make it work.

And that’s a lot of work. But I'm up for it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Screenwriter Math

22 query letters regarding last script, The D Line
2 weeks waiting
0 takers
86 pages into next script

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thanks Bro

You know when sometimes you read a sentence and it just makes you smile and you're glad there are people out there writing, because their doing so sustains you and makes you feel connected to them and everyone else and happy to be alive?

Just read this one, from one of my brother's novels (Melvin is the bass player in a jazz band):

"Next, Melvin. Black hat down over his eyes, lowdown like a sunset, all you could see was the smoke rising from a glow somewhere down in his dark horizon."

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Stars Are Aligning

As evidenced by:

· Bruce and Barack on the same stage.

· My kids couldn’t be sweeter.

· Went on a ride Saturday with cyclists who were way stronger than me, got my ass whipped and had a blast. Thought, as I was riding, that doing such is much like writing – so much better to challenge yourself than to do what you already know you can do. Which leads me to…

· Hitting 70 pages in the hitman script – definitely made the right choice to go back and start from scratch on the second half. It’s going infinitely smoother now. Getting into some dark areas I hadn’t really considered before, but it’s feeling really good. I can see where it’s going and know how to get there. And I’m really enjoying writing it. Might take a couple days off, actually, to put in some sustained time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Please, Rewind, Be Kind

I’d gotten to 61 pages in my action script, and it just wasn’t feeling right.

Writing was difficult. Ideas weren’t coming smoothly. The whole thing felt awkward.

I was thinking, writer’s block? Creative juices low? Just a glitch?

Then I realized the problem was that I wasn’t letting it happen naturally.

I’m not a hippie. But for me to write well, my heart has to be in it.

See, through an associate, if I can use that vague term, I’d heard about some producer/financiers who had liked what this associate and I had done in the past. They said they were interested in working together, and laid out an enticing plan to finance a feature, if the script contained certain elements.

Now, I wrote The D Line because it was a story I really needed to write. It was in my heart. It’s not easily marketable. But I can very much see it on screen. It’s good, and I like it, and it seems a lot of other people do, too. Slowly making its way out into the world. Remains to be seen if someone likes it enough to make it, of course…

But this script I’ve been writing with an eye toward easier marketability. I still want it to be good, something I can be proud of, but I want people to be able to read it and immediately think ticket sales. As everyone says, this is show business.

So I understand the need to make something you can sell. The good news is, I can get my heart into those types of stories, too.

But what I realized is that you have to draw the line. It’s show business, yes, but at least for me, it also has to be something you want to write. I want to write. So I can put my heart into it. Which is when my writing gets good.

So what I did with the action script is go back to where I started putting in the elements these financiers had asked for. That was page 48.

Then I deleted pages 49-61.

And now I’m starting over from there.

It’s going much more smoothly now.

I’m feeling more inspired, the direction of the script makes more sense. It’s working.

It’s still a sellable script, just maybe not to those specific financiers.

Of course, when I’m finished, I’ll send it to them anyway, see what they think.

And of course, I admit it – I’m no hardliner. If they read it and say they’ll buy it if I put in these certain elements, you know I’ll dive back in and rewind again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Has It Been A Month?

I’d apologize for being away for so long, but I’m sure I haven’t hurt anyone’s feelings…

So the Script PIMP trip to LA was cool. The days got away from me, though, and I missed meeting up with some friends and Chris over at Deep Structure. Was looking forward to it – next time, eh?

It was good to meet and talk to the other finalists at the PIMP party. Always helpful to swap process stories and hear how other people do it. The guys who run the competition were very cool and helpful – they’d read the screenplay carefully and were able to talk about specific strengths and challenges. So that felt nice – that they were fully engaged.

They set up a phone conference with a manager in LA – had a good chat with him. He’d read The D Line and liked my writing but was honest that a black historical drama wasn’t his thing. He does want me to send him the hit man script I’m working on now when I’m finished though…

Part of the prize is a “recommended” posting on InkTip. I uploaded yesterday, and I’ve had seven producers/agents/managers/exec types read the synopsis so far. No three-picture deals being thrown my way of course, but I’m happy to know people are starting to check it out.

I had been stuck on the hit man script for a while – but recently got some helpful feedback on it from thoughtful readers and it’s encouraged me to dive back into it. Not really blasting away at it – still so hard to find energized time to devote to it – but in the last week I’ve added seven more pages anyway…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Off To The Other Coast

So, I’m heading to LA tomorrow for a few days vacation and to attend the Script PIMP awards ceremony in Santa Monica on Friday.

I’m wicked psyched – looking forward to meeting some new industry contacts and 19 fellow spec writers. Always good to expand the circle. Ready to shake some hands, share some stories, make some plans.

It’ll also give me a chance to reconnect with some friends out there that I haven’t seen in a while. But the dance card’s not full so if anyone’s gonna be in town and wants to grab a beer, I’m game.

Unless you’re a lunatic.

You’re not a lunatic, are you?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hometown Crime

I grew up in Montpelier, VT -- an awesome place to live for reasons that will soon become clear.

My little brother still lives there and just sent me a link to the city's police log, which is regularly published in the local paper. Take a look, and you'll see why it's such a great place to live. Whoever writes these must be having so much fun.

Montpelier police log
August 22, 2008

These are some of the major calls Montpelier police responded to from Aug. 6-13.

Aug. 6

One Cummings Street resident wasn't very happy with a stinky visitor. Police received a call about a skunk that had made numerous visits to the property.

Police received a call around 9 p.m. about three kids in dark clothing on the path behind the high school. When police arrived they found no one at the scene.

Aug. 7

One College Street resident learned that a newly adopted dog named Tank was afraid of thunder. Police were called around 12:45 p.m. by the new owners about the dog's escape during an afternoon thunderstorm. A neighbor found Tank and he was returned to his owners.

A black purse was found in a Main Street doorway with no one around. The purse was turned in to police.

Aug. 8

Vermont State Police contacted Montpelier police to let them know a woman had called on her cell phone to report protesters on River Street. When state police received the call the protesters were in front of Tractor Supply. Around 11:45 a.m. Montpelier officers found a group of about 20 people protesting Vermont Yankee and the use of nuclear energy walking on Barre Street.

A woman called police to report witnessing a vehicle cutting off another, causing the second to drive off the road into the parking lot of Walker Motors. The same vehicle had cut off another at the intersection of Barre and Granite streets. The driver of the vehicle was identified as a 73-year-old woman when she called police. She reported a woman had approached her in the parking lot of the Dollar Store and yelled at her for forcing other vehicles off the road. The driver told police she did not recall forcing anyone off the road while behind the wheel. Police did not hear from the affected motorists.

Around 11:30 p.m. police received a call about an alleged theft of a left-handed banjo from a dorm room on College Street.

Aug. 9

A woman called police to report her daughter's apartment may have been broken into because the deadbolt was unlocked. There were no disturbed items in the apartment.

Aug. 10

A woman called police after a neighbor came by around 10 a.m. on Aug. 9 and found a pot of coffee made. The caller had not been up before the neighbor's arrival and suspected that someone had entered the residence and brewed a pot of coffee. Later that day police retrieved the pot of coffee to test it for fingerprints.

Police received a call from a New York man who wanted a case on stolen art be opened and offered police the name of the alleged thief. The accused party later called police and reported being harassed by the first caller.

Aug. 11

Karl Hammer was issued a citation for a charge of violating a city ordinance around 8:15 a.m. Hammer's neighbors called police to report that his chickens were loose on their property. Hammer is set to appear in court on Sept. 25 to answer to the charge.

A sick-looking pigeon on Main Street was reported to police. Upon investigation, police discovered a bird that appeared to be sleeping out of the rain.

A caller reported loud people throwing balls around in the street that had hit parked cars. The caller was concerned the people may be drunk. Police found kids having fun at the reported location and asked that the activity be moved to Hubbard Park or be done more carefully.

Aug. 12

A man called police to report another man was waiting for him outside to beat him up. The man waiting was accusing the caller of stealing from another friend.

Police received a call from a woman who said she had paid to ride the bus, handed over her ticket and then was told the bus was full as it drove away. With police assistance, the ticket purchase was confirmed and the woman was allowed to ride the next bus.

Aug. 13

Police received a call from a person reporting their vehicle registered in Mass. was stolen. When police arrived the caller reported the car had not been stolen, but it was a rental and the caller forgot what color it was.

A man called police to report that he'd been hit by an SUV while crossing Main Street. The vehicle struck him, knocking him to the ground. The driver stopped and asked the man, "You cool?" to which the man replied, "Yeah, I'm fine," according to what police reported. The man refused to be transported to the hospital and was treated at the fire department for minor injuries.

Monday, August 11, 2008

BlueCat Hates Me

So I didn't make the BlueCat semifinal cut. Poor me.

But I will be heading to LA at the end of the month for the Script Pimp awards ceremony, to press some flesh. Hoping to catch up with some friends in the area, too. Should be fun.

The 48 Hour Film Project was a blast. Tiring, but fun. Hopefully our post guys will create an uploadable file and I can post it here. Winners are announced on Wednesday.

Each team had to include the required character of Harold Ralston, lifeguard, the required prop of a tray and the required line, "That's not the way I see it." Each team drew a different genre -- ours was Holiday Film.

We did a little twist on a Valentine's Day movie. Turned out pretty well, for 48 hours of work. Hopefully you can judge for yourself soon...

Monday, July 28, 2008

48 Hours of Coffee

I'm doing it. Why not?

The 48 Hour Film Project.

Get an assignment Friday night, then write, shoot and post a four- to seven-minute film, to be judged in competition Sunday night.

I'll write/direct/produce, and we've put together a crew of 12 plus a post team.

Interestingly, I'm more nervous about writing than directing.

Should be insane.

And fun.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The D Line's a Mother Effin' P.I.M.P.

It's been a hell of a good couple of weeks, I must say.

Just found out I'm one of the 20 finalists in the Script Pimp competition. So cool!

Check it out:


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BlueCat Feedback

Pat over at The Ruckus posted the feedback he received on his quarterfinalist script Union and asked me to do the same.

So here is the feedback on The D Line:

What I Liked:

Your beginning immediately captures my attention, partly due to your ability to write really beautiful action--there is a nice flow and rhythm to it, and you evoke vivid and emotional images with a relatively few number of words, and setting up your characters, story, and themes in entirely visual means. Not only are you a fine storyteller, but your style as a writer is beautiful and expressive and captivating. Very nicely done. There's a sense of authenticity in your script when it comes to the black Harlem community setting that is really exceptional--it feels very real, and very honest (as someone who lived in Harlem for awhile that may or may not give some validity to my comment). The children's dialogue in particular has a very truthful ring to it--it has an honest texture to it that I love, and you have a great ear for how people talk and what they talk about. Your script really shines when it comes to details like the way the kids talk, or the alphabet game the mother and daughter play on the subway, or the "Make-a-Katie," or the moment when Michael decides to help the couple carry their wardrobe into their new apartment; these moments are really beautiful and really priceless and all give further authenticity and beauty to your story and characters. All your characters also feel very real and believable and interesting, and you deal with a fairly large ensemble of major players seemingly effortlessly, knowing just when and how to weave in and out of each story, which in itself is a huge accomplishment. Your script reminds me a lot of David Gordon Green's film "George Washington" in the way it observes these people with both compassion and objectivity, and this comes through these fine, telling details you include. Your script is really engaging and moving and wonderfully structured--I love that it doesn't feel too rigidly structured or plot heavy, but you follow your characters and the whole story feels very organic even as it's ultimately very dramatically and emotionally satisfying.

What Could Be Improved:

Most of the major problems I had with your script were formatting issues. You've got a number of camera and editing specifications that aren't appropriate for a screenplay--these would come later in a shooting script. Some of your sluglines are also improperly formatted--you can change those like "INT. MICHAEL'S APARTMENT: LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS" to just "INT. LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS". Sometimes you tell us, rather than showing us information in the script--in the first scene with Caroline, you tell us that she makes Michael breakfast every day. This helps the reader, but an audience member in the theatre won't get this information unless there is some visual cue or piece of dialogue that suggests this is an everyday event. Another example is on page 15, when you say "Moses recognizes him as TITO." Your dialogue is interesting, but some moments read unnaturally for me--you almost always communicate the right information and the right amount of information, but the words you use don't always sound right. I'd focus on tinkering the dialogue and reading it aloud in some scenes--some of the early exchanges between Michael and Caroline in particular don't work for me. They feel a little too on the nose; maybe you could give them something specific to talk about that show us the the bigger picture of their relationship. I really like when you use a lot of subtext in the dialogue and leave some things unsaid--I think you could do that even more often and it would be very effective. The priest character didn't have the same authenticity for me that so strongly pervades the rest of your screenplay; his character and dialogue felt more like how a writer would imagine a priest acting and talking rather than an actual living, breathing character, and he didn't seem to totally gel with the rest of your script, rather, he seemed like a convenient means of dealing with some of the issues and ideas you want to tackle.a One nitpicky note--using Michael Powell as your protagonist's name was a distraction for me. I wasn't sure if it was an intentional homage to the British director (a favorite filmmaker of mine) or if it was coincidental, but it distracted me, and, if it was intentional, felt unnecessary and very out of place.

Overall, thoughtful feedback that I appreciate. Notes are funny. Always interesting to see what resonates with whom -- and what pisses who off.

This reader is spot on about the sluglines. A lot of them are indeed clumsy. S/he is also right that the priest is a bit thin.

S/he doesn't like my action-that-can't-be-seen, but I've posted about why I do that before and won't bore you again. S/he likes the loose-ish structure, when a few others I sent it to felt it was perhaps too loose. S/he thinks some of the exchanges are too on-the-nose; another trusted reader felt I needed to be a little more overt.

Like I said, notes are funny. Good or bad. You just have to use them appropriately.

By the way, I have no idea who the British director Michael Powell is. I should watch more movies.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Writing Music

Out of curiosity - and needing a distraction break from writing - I just clicked on the most played playlist on my iTunes here at work.

Turns out this is what I mostly listen to (at least at work) while I'm writing:

How 'bout you?

Monday, July 07, 2008


Just saw this in Variety – an article called Record Wages for Writers.

“Earnings for writers rose 4% to a record $943 million in the fiscal year ended March 31, reflecting accelerated work on feature scripts. Feature work jumped nearly 16% to $502.5 million as studios stockpiled, but TV earnings were hit by the strike, sliding 6.8% to $437.3 million.”

So that’s good news – writers made more money.

Here are some more sobering stats:

“The number of writers employed declined in both categories – off 1.1% in TV to 3,215 and 2.6% in features to 1,899.”

That’s just over 5000 guild writers working in TV and film. In all of America. Total.

So we spec monkeys, all 14 gazillion of us, we need to remember how unlikely it will be for us to hit it. Not to give up hope – no way – but to have some realistic expectations, and use the long odds as an inspiration to write even better. Yes, keep working your ass off. And yes, have a Plan B. And don't kill yourself if you don't get in the club.

My brother has the right mindset. He recently completed his first novel and last week sent out 25 query letters to literary agents. So far, 10 no thanks responses. Which, this morning on the phone, he chuckled at.

It’s hard. Keep trying. And laugh.

Oh, here’s another interesting bit:

“Only 100 of the 150 films projected to start principal photography this year had actually done so.”

So even when you’ve been greenlit, it’s not a done deal. Dear old Greg knows this firsthand.

And this:

“The median average annual earnings for members edged down 0.7% to $60,009 over the four-year period ending with 2007.”

60K median. And that factors in the multi-million-dollar scribes out there. So a lot of people aren’t making much more than their daycare providers.

But really what does this tell us?

We’re an unshakable lot. We are august (and not just John). We have balls, whether we’re boys or girls. We know there’s no chance in hell we’re gonna make it.

But dammit, we’re gonna try.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Well hey.

How about that.

The D Line made it into the quarterfinals at BlueCat.

I’m no mathematician, but from a glance it looks like about 15% of the “more than 2700” scripts entered made it.

I’m not expecting producers to be scrambling to set up meetings with me and a bidding war to begin, but I won’t pretend to be so cool that I wasn’t excited to see my script listed.

Feels good to have made the first cut of my first screenplay competition.

Might use this as an opportunity to check in with the contacts I've sent it to, see if there's been any movement on it.

And it motivates me to hustle along on this action script – which actually has been going along pretty well the last few days during lunchtime writing sessions…

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wow, been out for a while.

Here's where I stand.

I'm fosusing more on the action script right now, because there are some producers/financiers who are interested in seeing it. Which is interesting.

I outlined about 70% of the rest of the plot and did some rough character sketches and have now gotten back to actual writing. Though a lot of it is disjointed with transitions much needed.

But it's good to be writing regularly. Which means actual writing at the computer, but also that delicious percolation while not writing. Like when I last went for a long bike ride -- wrote two scenes as I pedaled along dodging semis and roadkill. Got home and wrote them out quickly in a notebook and typed 'em in the next day.

Or puttering in the garden or on my new fixed-gear bike conversion project. I love that -- when the story keeps spooling itself out subconsciously even when you're not thinking about it.

By the way, where the hell has Greg gone? Man, I thought I was getting lame with this...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Why I Didn't Write This Sunday

The psychology of groups is fascinating. Mark Twain wrote well about how crowds are less moral than individuals – and I experienced same when I was teaching.

Another thing I learned while teaching is that each group has a very distinct mass-personality. It’s specific and predictable, but it’s also conditional and can change immensely if even one or two members are missing. Then it becomes a new group, with a new personality.

I had one class that was hands-down my most difficult class. But only if a certain student were there. Whenever he was absent, the whole class was less of a collective asshole.

Wonder what that kid’s doing now. I’m guessing five-to-ten in a minimum security jail.

Bear with me – I know I’m rambling. Anyway, I was thinking about groups this Sunday when I rode in a new group ride.

Usually when I can get away for a few hours on a Saturday morning, I ride with the local bike shop. It’s a super-nice group of people and their motto is that no one gets dropped. Which means the group essentially travels at the speed of its slowest member.

Sometimes a few of us will go out on sprints and then circle back, but mainly we ride all together. So sometimes the ride takes a while.

Not to mention that the group takes a break a little more than halfway through the ride. At a golf course. With a snack bar. Some of the routes we take mean two stops. One day a few of the guys ordered chili and hot chocolate, and I said my goodbyes and finished the ride myself. I do enjoy the comraderie, and it's not like I'm some super-biker, but I can’t spend all day, boys.

But, at least it’s a ride, so it’s fun.

But last Saturday was pretty busy, so I missed the ride. In fact I’d missed the last four or five weeks and was jonesing for a ride. I checked the website of the bike shop a few miles away in Norfolk (where I actually bought my bike) and saw they were bringing back their B pace Sunday morning ride.

B pace is supposed to average around 18 mph. Cool for me.

20 miles into the ride, as four of us mashed our pedals along the beachfront while surprising gusts of crosswind pounded in from the Chesapeake Bay, I looked down at my bike computer and saw we were going 26 mph.

This was not B pace.

Needless to say, by mile 25 I got dropped.

The other three guys pulled away from me on a long straightaway near the airport. I pushed as hard as I could on my pedals and saw I was still doing 20, but they pulled away like I was standing still.

So I got my ass handed to me.

But it was a great ride – the best I’ve had in a long time.

These three guys were also super-nice, and to their credit, when they had to stop for a traffic light, they waited an extra light cycle to let me catch up. I apologized for holding them up, but one of ‘em said, “Hey, no problem. It’s not that sort of ride.”

So I couldn’t hang the entire time, but it was fun to ride in a paceline the whole time (or the whole time I wasn’t dropped), working hard the whole time, not stopping for chili and cocoa.

This group had a similar mindset of not letting anyone go it totally alone, but they also didn’t mind punishing each other – ‘cause a good punishing can sometimes be exactly what you need.

I like the nice-ness of the regular group. But I liked the psychology of this group, too. And I like the physicality of this one, too: all stronger than me, so I have some work to do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Fork In The Road -- With Four Tines

It’s getting more complicated.

I keep thinking of more things to do. But I can’t do them all at once. And I don’t want to take years to get them all done. So I gotta choose. Choose or lose, baby. Vote or die.

I want to pick two of the following to work on. One will be the primary assignment and the other will be the distraction. I find it best to have two things to work on – when I get stuck or bored with one, I shift to the other and usually doing so breaks through the barrier faced with the first. Natch.

So here they are:

I’m about 30 pages in, and I like it. I keep going back and revising the first act instead of moving on, so my page count hasn’t changed in a long time. I have a loose outline of the plot from here on out, but frankly I’m not wowed by all of it and there are holes. The good news is those things tend to work themselves out as I write, so I’m not that worried about them. The big issue now is that I have a lot character development work to do: the two main characters are brothers and their dialogue is starting to sound too similar so I really need to differentiate them more. I started writing out character sketches but got bored and gave up. Need to go back to them.

Got a lead on a group of investors who like the work a friend and I have pulled off before, and who are looking for a certain type of film – this script, tweaked a few degrees, could be it. And since it’s still deeply in process, tweaking it is no trouble at all. So one option is to do it ourselves. Or I can just try to sell it as a spec to someone else.

I’m a long way from trying to figure that out, though. Hell, I’m only through act one.

My brother and I are continuing to bang out a reasonable outline. I’d say we’re about 33% set with it. Once we sketch the rest out, we’ll have to decide how exactly to write it together. I know sets of partners who do it all sorts of ways: splitting up scenes or sequences, taking turns writing and note-giving, sitting in the same room and actually writing together, etc. Since he lives in Vermont, we’ll only do this in-the-same-room thing at the end, at best. It’s a really cool idea, and very marketable. And it’d be fun to do, especially with the bro.

A friend wants to hook me up with his friend, who’s a producer on one of the CSI shows. I really got into Dexter and am thinking about speccing an episode of that to send to Mr. CSI. My friend asserts that, because of the type of shows I’ve done in the past (lots of forensic and crime stuff), I’m a natural fit for CSI, and I think Dexter is a natural choice to spec for CSI producers.

Haven’t really started planning the episode, though – just thinking of possibilities and jotting down notes here and there.

What? A short? Why?

Yes, I’ve produced a ton of factual TV and one full-length feature. And I’ve directed a little, but mainly small pick-up scenes and second unit stuff. I do believe I’d be a solid director, having been a producer for so long, seeing what works and what doesn’t, knowing what needs to go into pre-production, what has to happen – and perhaps more importantly what needs not happen – on set, and what works or not in post. I certainly understand story and how to communicate that to others – actors, department heads, partners, investors. I think I have a good eye, though I’d need a kick-ass DP of course. The good news is I know just such a kick-ass DP who lives nearby.

I’ve been selling myself as a writer/producer, or at least as a writer who thinks like a producer, but now I’m thinking it might be better if I can show the Bigs that I can direct, too. I think I could raise a little money to finance the short, but I would write the script to exploit available materials and call in favors to get talented pros to work at (drastically?) reduced rates and do it for very little money.

Of course, that means writing a perfect short script. And then deciding to invest the time – and available time is more and more rare these days.


Think I’ll get another cup of coffee and think about all this more.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I Failed

But only kinda.

I was supposed to be totally finished with The D Line on March 31.

I wasn’t.

But I did finish on April 2. That’s only kinda failing, right?

So there it is. Done. Sent out. No more work on it.

Unless someone comes along and wants it, and asks for changes of course.

Barring that, I vow to do nothing more but send it out and talk to people about it.

To that end, a friend handed it off last week to the management team of the actor I had in mind as I wrote the lead character. This past Saturday another friend got it physically into the hands of a veteran A-lister – the kind of guy who gets lifetime achievement awards now – who has his own production company, the mission statement of which says they formed to produce exactly this sort of film. 16 other copies have gone off to various actors, producers, directors, agents and managers, through industry contacts I have – didn’t cold call anyone or generally query it out without a connection. Might do that later, if nothing happens for a while with the Connection Plan.

I started on the first version of this script more than three years ago. It’s been a great ride, but I’m relieved to be through with it.

It’s good. Solid. So much better than that first version three years ago. Man have I learned a lot.

And now I move on. Whew.

To what? That’s still a battle between the action script and the thriller my brother and I are considering.

Wonder who’s gonna win that battle. This is for certain, though: I'll pick soon, and whichever one I choose to pour my energy into, I won’t work on it for three years.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Quick Update

I promised myself I’d be finished with The D Line by March 31.

March 31 is almost here.

But I’m gonna make it. Yesterday I cracked a wee problem in the third act, and I’ve addressed the concerns of my friend/reader mentioned in the last post, in a way that still maintains the intended spirit of the script. The slight restructuring/streamlining in act three will actually also help with the clarity issue my friend was concerned about.

And as for Dismal, we’re just about done with deliverables – finishing up some revised foley after a couple of QC failures. Our distributor, Showcase Entertainment, has closed deals with Germany and Greece and is narrowing in on Japan. The domestic distribution won’t happen until all the deliverables are in, but that should be in the next couple weeks.

So hopefully soon I’ll be posting a link where you can buy your very own copy – it’ll be in Blockbuster, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Netflix, etc. Because I know everyone is gonna buy a copy. For themselves and for their mother.


Until then, if you wanna see us on Showcase’s site, go to http://www.showcaseentertainment.com/ click on What’s New and look for Dismal.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Too Delicate?

I’ve been a television producer for years – mainly docudramas for channels like Discovery and Nat Geo. This has helped me a great deal as a writer in some ways – even as I write, I instinctively think in terms of producibility: locations, casting, props… what it would take to pull off. This nuts-and-bolts mind is good to have – especially since by now it’s fairly instinctive and it doesn’t interfere with the creative mind required for writing a good story.

But in my early scripts, the style of my writing was too much like a producer. I was including far too much direction for the director and actors and art department and… well, every department. Because when you’re the series producer of a cable TV show, you have to do that. You’re the chief, you call the shots. Literally.

And you better make it clear for everyone, because with our budgets, we don't have time to dick around.

But a spec script going out into the thin-ice pond of Hollywood should not have all that stuff in it. Too much of that shit pisses people off. They want to feel like they have some ownership in it, that they can make some decisions. Which they should.

So I’ve worked on paring it down in my scripts, cutting it back, keeping action descriptions lean.

And I was just about to send The D Line out into the world, to see if anyone would bite. I’m comfortable with it – I really like it now. Then a respected friend, with many years developing scripts in Hollywood under his belt, suggested that maybe I pared it down a little too much.

It’s a drama, a lot of emotion – and emotions, though powerful, are best when rendered subtly. Or at least I think so – histrionics tend to make me roll my eyes, and I think the most powerful emotional moments in life are quiet But my friend said I should be careful – that in his experience, most of the people who will be reading my script at the early stages are not very sophisticated, and some of the important stuff, if not spelled out more clearly, might slip by them.

So although I was feeling basically finished, and I keep promising to stop working on it, I’m doing one more pass. Not to dumb it down – I can’t bring myself to do that, and this is not the sort of script that would work dumbed down. But I will go through with an eye to making sure all the important emotional beats are clear.

It's a tough call - finding that small place that sits the appropriate distance between too much and too little. Especially in such a fickle business.

But this is what we've chosen to do, right?

I'm giving myself until the end of the month. And then I will stop and let it lie as it is and get it out there.

Because I need to move on to the next one.

And right now, that’s a battle between the action script I’ve been inconsistently working on for a while and a new thriller that my brother and I are considering writing together.

I was really enjoying the action script – but now I’m really intrigued by the thriller. And by the challenge of writing with a partner, which I’ve always wondered about. Plus it’s my brother, which would be cool.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Last Night: Gone Baby Gone

What. A great. Movie.

Authentic. Compelling. Suspenseful.

Thoughtfully written. Beautifully shot. Rhythmically edited.

Real, round, perfectly imperfect characters.

Even a fine score.

And an ending that hurts everyone with a heart and a brain.

Bravo, Ben. Bravo.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ease Up On The Rule Thing

Gooserats wrote about this recently, and it reminded me that this has been gnawing at me lately.

One note I almost always get on my stuff is about one of the Golden Rules: don’t write anything in action description that doesn’t correspond directly to what the viewer will be seeing on screen.

Not a bad guideline, I agree, but definitely not an essential rule.

I think the rule came into being to help budding screenwriters remember that although the script is written on paper, it’s written for a visual medium. So always think of what it’s gonna look like and relay that. Of course. Absolutamente.

But I think two overriding guidelines are 1) we should enjoy the writing of the thing while making sure readers enjoy the reading of it, and 2) we should trust readers to do a little work themselves.

It’s difficult and lonely work, writing, so we need to have some fun doing it. I mean, come on, not all of us are getting rich off it. Give us something. Also,it’s boring to read a million screenplays as anyone in the business has to do, so readers should take some enjoyment out of it, too.

I’ve heard directors and actors complain about screenplays spelling things out too much for them, not allowing them to draw conclusions, make imaginative leaps, have a brain. You can in fact describe a physical condition without stating it too literally.

I mean think about it: when you’re watching a movie and there’s a bunch of clunky exposition, doesn’t it annoy you as a viewer? You’re sitting there rolling your eyes thinking, “Okay, thanks, I get it. Let’s move on.”

Same thing a reader thinks, I think, when everything is laid out too literally in a script.

I was reading the script for American Gangster recently. A couple of examples from it, courtesy of Steven Zaillian. The first regarding the fact that writers should have some fun writing and readers should enjoy the read:

Bumpy stops before a display of cameras and stares in. They’re all pointed at him as a pain grips his chest and he sinks to his knees. Frank kneels down.

What is it?

Bumpy seems unable to speak, looks to Frank confused.

Somebody call an ambulance!

But the store suddenly seems empty. Frank yells into the emporium but can’t be heard above the Muzak and the cash registers ringing up sales Bumpy will never see a piece of. Looking up at Frank, Bumpy manages weakly –

Forget it, Frank. No one’s in charge.

Nice, right? Now, you can’t exactly see “ the cash registers ringing up sales Bumpy will never see a piece of” but, as a reader, don’t you appreciate the artfulness of it? Isn’t it a better way of saying Bumpy’s about to die and his extortion days are over? And if you were Zaillian, wouldn’t you die of boredom and never write again if you couldn’t write like this?

Another example, a few pages later, regarding how description can actually be visual, without being too literally visual:

Richie lunges at him, hits him again with his injured hand - which hurts Richie more than it does Campizi. The paramedics manage to pull him away.

What can we do, Richie? You don’t want
to do this. For old times sake, what can
we do? Who do you want? Who can I give
you? You want Big Sal’s bookie? You want
his accountant? I’ll give him to you.

Richie regards him a moment. A policy ring’s accountant wouldn’t be bad. He glances back to the paramedic dabbing at his bloody hand, and notices she’s not bad-looking. She smiles back.

Two things there. Some people might call Zaillian out on “which hurts Richie more than it does Campizi” and on “A policy ring’s accountant wouldn’t be bad.”

But I submit that those actually do reflect something that can be seen. You just have to do a little work. And I mean a little work –- it’s not hard.

True, the first one doesn’t read, “Richie screams and cradles his hand while Campizi barely whimpers” but you can see how those two actors would react to that punch, can’t you?

And the second one, to be more literal, could be something stupid like, “Richie raises his eyebrows, smiles slightly and nods his head” but that would be, well, stupid. You can see his reaction to the offer of the accountant. In his eyes you can see he’s considering the offer.

Come on, I know you can.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Big Miss

After reading the first 15 pages or so of the action script I’m (admittedly not consistently) working on, my brother said one scene -– in which one of the main characters, the hit man, makes a protein shake and slugs it down -– vaguely reminded him of a movie he thought we saw together when he was living down here in Virginia -– an early Mark Wahlberg movie called The Big Hit. He said he wasn’t sure why, but when he read that scene he thought of that movie.

I didn’t remember seeing it, but his memory is pretty good, so I figured I probably did –- then I got worried that maybe I had subconsciously lifted a piece of it.

Or should I say, piece of shit.

I slid The Big Hit to the top of my Netflix queue and watched it as soon as it landed in the mailbox. I quickly recognized it –- yes I have seen this movie. And I wondered if I groaned as much the first time I watched it with little brother.

What a weak freaking movie. And frankly, I’m a big Mark Wahlberg fan –- I think he’s fantastic. But this thing: so tired and trite and not fun at all. Bad dialogue, thin characters, unimaginative plot, boring action scenes. Plus they gave ol’ Marky Mark a really shitty auburn dye job.

And don’t even get me started on Lou Diamond Phillips’s character. Or wardrobe.

I will say I liked this movie when it was called Grosse Pointe Blank -– which came out a year earlier. (I wonder if Cusack was mad about that. Actually, he probably just chuckled and toasted himself and his talent.)

Turns out my brother’s memory is flawed -– there were no protein shakes in it, though Wahlberg’s character does slug Maalox like it’s going out of style. Because he’s stressed being a hit man, working for bad people and juggling two women who don’t treat him right. Get it? So he ends up getting together with the cute Japanese teenager he begins the movie by kidnapping. (China Chow, who is adorable.) She’s okay with his being a hit man because it’ll be a “constant adrenaline rush” and she promises that in their relationship, unlike with those other girls, the love will be a two-way street.

It made me feel so much better about my script. Because my script is so much better. So far at least.

Of course… this movie actually got made and mine exists only as 30 pages of a MovieMagic Screenwriter file in my aging laptop. So put that in your pipe, David, and take a Big Hit.

The real question, I suppose is this: why does my brother hate me so much?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oops, She Did It First

I’ve been a little worried about the originality of the action script I’m working on. It involves a hit man and a deal gone bad -– not the most groundbreaking motifs for an action film, admittedly. In fact I just read that two of the buzz movies at Sundance had to do with hit men.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of hit man movies, so I loaded my Netflix queue with them, so I can make sure I don’t accidentally go where a bunch of people have already gone. The most frustrating kind of plagiarism is the accidental kind.

This was not a worry I had with The D Line. In that script, the driving dramatic moment that makes everything turn to shit is when a girl commits suicide by stepping in front of a train. The conductor later connects with the girl’s mother and they both struggle to make sense of all this. There’s more to it of course -– but the image of the girl’s suicide is what started me thinking about the story in the first place.

A couple years ago I was listening to a report on NPR about how long it takes to stop a train -– which, it’s no surprise, is a long time -– and I started thinking about what it must be like for a conductor to see that he’s about to hit something, from a long way off, and there’s nothing at all that he can do. Like if someone steps on the tracks and waits to be hit and killed. I just thought that was a great, powerful image that I’d never seen dealt with in a movie.

Then, last night, I started leafing through the January/February issue of Creative Screenwriting.

And I saw I’m not as much of a vanguard as I thought.

And I said, “Fuck.”

There’s a brief article about a screenwriter named Micky Levy and her first produced screenplay, Rails and Ties.

From the article:

“Around that time, Levy became fascinated by the American railroad system… attempted an action movie in which the climax involved a huge fight to gain control of the locomotive… she grew frustrated… a conductor agreed to meet her… he began talking about rail-related suicides… even when they see the victims, conductors often can’t stop the trains in time… she had found a better story… about a train tracks suicide and the effect it has on a conductor who forms a bond with the victim’s child.”

It’s directed by Allison Eastwood and stars Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden. Check it out:

Fuck, man.

I mean, like I said, there’s a lot of stuff in my script that’s not in this -– and a lot in this that’s not in my script… but is some agent gonna be like, “Oh shit, not another train suicide movie!”

Just goes to show you what we all know -– there are no original ideas.

So it’s all in the execution.

Let’s hope mine is as good as hers, ‘cause she got it made.

Micky Levy actually seems kinda cool, and is now working on a nonfiction film with Amy Berg. You go girl~~

Friday, January 25, 2008

If I'm On Hold, I Might As Well Work

So the weekend came and went with no call from J.

Listen, everyone’s busy. Especially people in New York. Really especially people in the music industry in New York. So I’m not going to sweat it.

Maybe he calls, maybe he doesn’t. (I sound like a 12-year-old girl trying to be brave, don’t I?)

Maybe he handed the script off to the actor’s management, maybe he didn’t.

We’ll just sit back and see.

To tell you the truth, it’s not too bad if he didn’t hand it off yet. See, I’ve decided to make a few changes. Nothing too drastic, but I’ve just been talking to a few trusted readers, and I think it could use a wee tweaking.

I know, I know. You can’t tweak forever. Or rather you can tweak forever, and so you shouldn't. But these are pretty minor, and I know what to do, and I think they’ll make it even stronger with just a little more work.

So I’ll do a minor revision -- and do it soon, because I have a couple of other contacts standing by, graciously waiting to hand it off to some more Hollywooders, and I want to be ready to start showing it around once the strike ends.

And, to those of you who have it and are interested, I’ll track the changes, so if you want to check them out you won’t have to read the whole thing over again.

By the way, the work on the action script went pretty well in DC. I actually worked on it during a few breaks in the conference and for a couple hours each night. It was more adjusting the first act than moving past it, so I’m still only a little past 30 pages, but it’s feeling pretty good.

I never really send out preliminary pages -- doing so kinda freaks me out -- but I did send the first 17 pages of this one to a small circle of folks whom I trust and am PATIENTLY awaiting their FEEDBACK.

Hint, hint.

Mainly I was asking them if they think the general direction is solid. I know it’s messy and has some holes -- but these are BRIGHT PEOPLE who are SMART enough to see where I’m going and can TELL ME IF IT’S IN THE RIGHT NEIGHBORHOOD.

Hint, HINT.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Travels Of The Spec Script

So I got in touch with J (see a couple of posts ago for an explanation) and have an update on The D Line's travels.


Yes, he did receive the script. Yes, he read the script. Yes, he enjoyed the script. Yes, he wants to talk about the script, and he's calling this weekend to do so.

I didn't ask if he handed it off to the actor's management, and he didn't bring it up, but I'll ask this weekend.

So the update is... no real update.

But maybe after this weekend.

As for the action script, I'm about 30 pages in. I have to go to a three-day conference for work in DC next week, so that's two nights in a hotel room alone.

Hopefully I'll cowboy up and actually spend some good time writing while I have it.

Come on David -- you can do it!

Friday, January 11, 2008

If you are in need of reassurance that there is true beauty in the world beyond the type pimped by Vogue, that there is such a thing as soul in a country that created smooth jazz, that there are reasons to smile even when no one is paying you or giving you 20% off –- and if you’re wondering if kids can be born with a deep wisdom before we teach them a thing –- look into the eyes of this little girl.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Holy Hibernation

Fell asleep there for a few weeks...

What's awakened me is the realization that loglines suck.

And I say that mainly because I suck at writing them.

Or one for The D Line anyway.

It’d be easier if this screenplay weren’t a thinky ensemble period piece in a non-standard structure. Or so I’m telling myself.

But hell, don’t you think it’d be easier to write a logline for Spiderman than for Magnolia?

But I’m gonna do it, dammit! Just try and stop me!

Actually, my wife and one of the other bloggers ‘round here both picked the same one from the batch I sent them, and they’re both smart, so I think I’ll go with that.

In other D Line news:

I submitted to BlueCat and will to Scriptapalooza soon.

And, a funny thing.

I wrote The D Line with a certain actor in mind to play the lead. He started out as a music artist and made the jump to movies (though his records are still great), and I’m a huuuge fan of both his music and his acting. From the very beginning of this process, I had him in mind to lead. It helps, I think, if you can picture people as you write characters. Even if you're casting pipe dreams.

The manager of a friend of mine suggested another actor –- an amazing actor who could pull it off without question, but in terms of my initial intention, it was this guy. Not that I'd stop said manager from sending the script to the other guy, mind you.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, we were at my wife’s high school reunion and we met a guy she knew in high school, we’ll call him J. Cool guy, good to talk with, good energy. The kind of guy you meet at a high school reunion and you’re not desperately thinking up excuses to slink away –- “Uh, gotta get me in on that Macarena, looks hot!” I met a couple of those guys, by the way, but this guy I liked.

When we got to the so-what-are-you-doing-now bit, he mentioned he worked for a record company in New York. And it just happens to be the record label of the aforementioned wish-lead for The D Line.

“Really? You know, interestingly, I wrote this script…”

Turns out J is into movies, has worked as a music supervisor, and oh, happens to work in the same offices as the music management team of the guy I wrote the goddamn script for. J agrees to read the script and then hand it over to them.

Now, this is certainly nothing to get worked up about. I mean, maybe J will be too busy to read it, or maybe he won’t like it and won’t want to hand it off, or maybe the music managers will be like, “The fuck’s this? We don’t do movies.”

But still, it’s cool. So maybe, just maybe, the script is a few steps away from its intended star.

Or maybe it’s in the trash can.

Hopefully at least the recycle bin. Let's think of the earth, people.