The “Let’s just blurt out a whole bunch of crap at once” blog

November 1, 2012

True to form, I haven’t written in a while. The hustle and bustle of reading for Austin Film Festival keeps me in “I can’t talk about the scripts I’m reading so what the heck do I blog about?” mode. This is followed by “It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, what the heck do I blog about?” mode, which is then followed by the “Let’s just blurt out a whole bunch of crap at once” blog. So here goes.

  • Recently finished Lolita. At first, I had it pegged as the best book I’ve ever read. For someone who gets some of the (extensive) allusions made throughout the book, it’s a very interesting read, and I’m particularly fascinated by the way he justifies his actions, at least at first. Also interested how, in the movie, the protagonist Humbert Humbert comes across as someone who can’t really help himself, whereas in the book he definitely comes across as a sexual predator for whom one loses pretty much all sympathy by the end. The middle of the book did drag a bit, but overall a fascinating read and one I’m glad I checked out.
  • Was kind of pissed that they made a movie of Cloud Atlas before I got a chance to read it. It’s been on my list for a few years. So I’ve started reading it now, and hopefully will finish before it’s out of theaters. Another book that’s designed (at least on first impression) for people with allusive minds.
  • Read a few great scripts for the AFF screenplay contest, including The Break-Up Nurse, which won the Enderby category. It’s one of my favorite things to do during AFF is to meet the people’s whose scripts I read. I only briefly got to meet the author of The Break-Up Nurse, but I got her card and am looking forward to sitting down with her when I visit L.A. in December.
  • Two main lessons from AFF:
    • Why is it this character in this particular situation?
    • “Words for actors are a problem. Silences between the words are an opportunity.” — Terry Rossio.
  • Speaking of acting (and L.A.), I’m attending Will Wallace’s acting class for two straight weeks in December. Will be glad to get some intensive time practicing on-screen acting. I think that’ll make a huge difference for me.

I’m sure there’s a lot more, but I’m happy just to get something on paper … er, server … again. Ciao.

Writing is Hard; Rewriting is Easy

December 12, 2008

I had a breakthrough the other day.  I was on the phone with my Dad, harping at him about how much he needs to change this or that about some play he’s written, and silently cursing him for resisting completely rewriting every play he’s ever written.  And then it came to me.

You see, the reason why I think I’ll make a good professional screenwriter is because I’m really good at completely rewriting other people’s stuff.  If you know anything about the industry, it’s an incredibly nasty field to be in (read William Goldman’s Which Lie Did I Tell? if you don’t believe me).  On the one hand, it makes sense – everyone has an opinion about how a story should go, and writers, actors, and directors, all being creative people, think that they have the right to express that and make it so.

Unfortunately, the invetiable result is the complete destruction of the original screenplay, which, often enough, was in very good shape to begin with.  <a href=”>Rossio and Elliott</a> talk about this and it makes you want to cry.  The number of times a screenwriter has heard, “This is so good, it’s almost perfect … we just need to bring in one more writer to do a clean-up …” Someone I saw at AFF said “It’s a reality of Hollywood that a studio isn’t going to make a hundred million dollar film on a script they paid a hundred fifty thousand dollars for.”  And on it goes.

The point is, many times have I pissed off a writer by interjecting my opinion about particular dialogue elements of scenes.  But in Hollywood, pissing off screenwriters and rewriting their work is fair game, which can only mean it’s a job I was destined for.

The thing is, I’ve never actually finished a full screenplay.  At least not one that I’m willing to show anyone.  I’ve got lots of ideas, I know story structure inside and out, I’m a whizz with dialogue and voice, and I’ve started about twenty of them, but I’ve found, as everyone does, that it’s easier to criticize someone else’s work than it is to write – and finish – your own.  Maybe it’s because second acts are hard.  Who knows.  But until you finish your own work, you’re not a writer, you’re just a critic.

And then it came to me.

Since I’m so good at rewriting, rather than writing it to make it perfect, I’ll just vomit it on screen and then rewrite it later.  Someone famous once said, “Scripts are  not written; they are rewritten.”  Just so!

Today I vomited about four pages of Charisma in about an hour.  I need to go to jail to do some research to up the level of realism in that scene, but who cares?  At least it’s no longer blocking me from writing the next scene.  And as long as I go into the rewrite process not attached to anything; knowing that it will take quite a bit to get it right, then I can avoid the nasty fear of being attached to my work.

He shoots … he scores!  And that’s the game!

Highlights from the Austin Film Festival

October 19, 2008

Things I learned at this year’s Austin Film Festival:

  1. Read Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot’s website, Wordplay, cover-to-cover, as it were.
  2. Just like a film has a three-act-structure, so too does every act and every scene.  Setup, turn, and completion that drives the action forward.
  3. What makes the chase scene interesting is how the hero overcomes the obstacle in his path – what changes along the way?
  4. Get a manager.
  5. Always be working.  Don’t ever stop writing.  If you’re the guy that churns out three or four screenplays a year, your agent loves you.
  6. Screenplays are really boring when read out loud.
  7. I came to this year’s AFF knowing a small handful of people.  Through each of those people, I met two or three more.  The lesson: keep coming, and you’ll double your circle every year.
  8. Danny Boyle is frickin’ amazing.  If you haven’t seen Shallow Grave, go watch it.
  9. Make your movie cool.  Always look for what can be done differently.  How can we write this chase scene in a way that no one’s ever done a chase scene before?
  10. If you want to do a screen adaptation for a project that’s been “in development” forever, find the themes and the genre elements that turn you on in the source material, and write a different script with those in mind.
  11. A screenwriter’s job is to keep rewriting his (or someone else’s) script until everyone involved is okay with it.  If you don’t look at your job from this perspective, you’ll only get pissed off because you keep having to change something that you already knew was really good to begin with.
  12. Don’t be creepy, annoying, or overeager.
  13. They’ll read the first five pages.  If you haven’t captured them by then, they won’t keep reading.
  14. Apparently, Robert McKee sucks.  This was news to me – I love his book.  But a lot of people don’t, and they say it results in formulaic films.

I’m sure there’s more.  Check back for more details.

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