Quick turnaround this week along with a rapidly-ticking clock: all you writers have officially LESS THAN ONE MONTH left to write. IT IS CRAZYTOWN UP IN…WHEREVER YOUR TOWN IS.
Let’s check in on the Selected Ten, shall we? Yes. Let’s shall. Funny/interesting note: several of these guys sent in their weekly summaries with a note saying some form of, “Um…sorry, this week’s entry is long. Really long.” Good thing I didn’t try to make anyone adhere to that two-paragraph bullshit, eh?
JESSE & JERREN
“So we haven’t yet talked much about the benefits of being a team, but we’ve hit the time when that aspect is definitely informing the way we’re going about this slash getting us through this.
The way we generally work is Jerren writes ahead at a pace Jesse considers to be superhuman, laying down the skeleton of the story, while Jesse spends time focusing on how our main characters speak and act. Jesse’s scenes then get dropped into the skeleton and Jerren keeps blasting ahead. At this point Jesse begins a pass starting from PAGE ONE wherein he’s revising and, in theory, trimming. (When either one of us ‘edits’ a scene, it often ends up longer. This became very apparent when the skeleton draft hit 84 pages and we were in early ACT II stuff.) So being a two-person team gives us the ability to get to the “editing/revising” phase before even technically finishing a draft.
We know the big Act III beats, so Jerren has jumped ahead and started on that stuff, working backwards to meet Jesse in the middle, like a rogue wave (if we understand rogue waves correctly). The tricky thing is that any change Jesse makes can have far-reaching implications for future beats that Jerren is writing. Likewise, Jerren sometimes realizes that we haven’t sufficiently set something up that needs to be addressed early on. The interesting result is that the middle of the story, the belly of the beast (Act II if you want to call it that), is constantly changing. This is a huge benefit and also a challenge. It requires a LOT of checking in.
For this process to work, it is imperative that our “voices” match, that it becomes impossible to tell where one of us stops writing and the other begins (as Geoff so graciously brought up at the start of all this). It is something we’ve worked hard at on all our projects together, leading to this.
This brings up another crucial benefit to working as a team: Having a pal! (To boost morale/confidence). We were writing long hours during Week 2, mostly apart, so we both inevitably had moments of second-guessing that sometimes turned the corner into deep existential panic. There has been a lot of late-night emailing. Here are some excerpts, along with translations:
From Jesse: ‘I did 3 shifts today and still have a ways to go. Lollllllllllll. I’m a little anxious about my pace vs. the deadline, but I hope we’re still in good shape. ‘
Jerren knows Jesse well enough to understand that this translates, roughly, to: I am fucking freaking all the way the fuck out.
From Jerren: ‘If it makes you feel better, I’m actually way intimidated by the scenes you’ve been turning out. It usually takes me so long to get to a point where I’m even ready to show YOU stuff, and we’re skipping that step because of the time limit, and it’s making me just full up on self-doubt.’
Rough translation: Actually, exactly what he said. This was a very honest, confessional email. What a mensch.
This initiated a series of frank, VERY intimate messages wherein personal insecurities were expressed and much appreciation and support was offered in return. CAPS LOCK featured heavily. Jerren wanted to include this part, but Jesse felt like: can we maybe keep some mystique intact here?”
I am fascinated by these guys and their process. I want to point out: THEY’RE WRITING THESE UPDATES TOGETHER. Their seamlessness in such kind of blows my mind. Way, way back in the day – we’re talking late 90s/early 00s here – I attempted to write a script with a partner (I had totally forgotten about this until very recently). It was kind of a halfhearted attempt, and the script was terrible and I had no business trying to write such a thing, but my writing partner was (and still is) a very cool and passionate guy with a shit-ton of creativity…and I just couldn’t do the sharing-the-stage thing. Still can’t. Probably never will. My ego is too inflated and my need for control too consuming. So I’m duly impressed by two extremely talented people that can blend their voices together and make it work. I am genuinely excited for their script, and I think you should be too.
“Week 3: Page count 44. This week has been a hoot, a cracker, a bobbydazzler! I’m in a sweet spot where I understand my characters well enough that I can put them in a situation and everything flows from there, but I haven’t run out of scenes to write yet. The only thing I’m struggling with this glorious week is budget. I have way more things going BOOM than I meant to. They’re important BOOMs though. There’s stakes and drama and character growth and shit. I’ve decided at this stage to not let it hold me back. This is going to be my aspirational spec and the next can be more realistic. I’m focusing on what works for me to get it finished, and just to try and have fun with it.
I feel I should report on the wine-as-literary-lubricant experiment. I did write a few pages, but it quickly devolved into inappropriate instant messages. What did work was to sit with a friend across a desk and make each other feel awkward about slacking off. I wrote 10 pages in 4 hours with that method. If you don’t have a writers group then find one. Those wonderful people do amazing things to my writing quality and productivity.
If you don’t hear from me again it’s because I am spending a long weekend alone in a caravan. I’m hoping to finish a first draft of at least 70 pages and to not be murdered.”
First of all, let’s pray like gangbusters for Claire and her caravan-based safety. Second, it’s great to see that Claire seems to be breaking through a little bit and getting more comfortable within her story – and she has PLENTY of time to get all the way there. Third, while I’ve never personally worked in a writer’s group, I have worked in group writing settings (in the industry we call them “roundtables”, which I love more than anything), and let me tell you…sometimes there’s nothing more productive than bouncing your ideas off other smart people. DO IT. But lastly, I want to highlight something Claire’s worried about that no aspiring writer should never be: the “budget” of your script. First of all (hey looks like we’re doing this counting thing again), your script has no budget. It does not exist. It is imaginary at best, and it’s not even for your imagination. Second of all, coming up with a budget and/or worrying about what it might be IS NOT YOUR JOB. It is someone else’s entirely, and they get paid very well to figure it out. And third, just write. Just write. If you get lucky enough that your script is in front of someone who wants to make it but they think some stuff needs to come out to make it more economically feasible, worry about it then and only then. Until that point, JUST. WRITE.
Don’t worry, I’m not expecting any sympathy. #SixWeekSpec will be full of tweets such as ‘Old cocky-locky Bennett with his completed first draft is worried, I’ll save my tears for the children starving in Africa (which I hate, the situation that is, not the children)’.
Let’s back it up a bit. I read my script all the way through for the first time. I’d spent a few days away from it. I went in with soft eyes (Oh Prez, how I miss you). Afterwards, I felt pretty darn good. I mean, it wasn’t anywhere near good enough to submit. But, my story, it was there, hidden in the rough.
Why am I worried I didn’t hear you ask. I’m worried about what to do next. I have 130 pages sat before me. I have a laundry list of things I know I need to do. I am struggling to know where to start.
There is only so much I can accomplish in the remaining time I have. What should I work on the most? Is it the plot? Is it the characters? Should I just make the whole thing funnier? How many pages do I need to cut? When should I get people to read it? What do I usually struggle with? How many days do I have left? Ideally I would work on all of those things.
But, I’ve had an apostrophe, lightning has just struck my brain (Oh Bob, how I miss you). Any of the Selected Ten who say that they’re not secretly hoping for four 10/10s is a liar and a braggart. We’d all love that, if someone were to receive that they’d be made King or Queen of Hollywood. But I cannot write with that goal in mind, I must write the story I wanted to tell in the first place. It will not be perfect, it will need work, but it will be my story, it will be my voice. That is all I can do.
Still worried though.”
Ah yes. The fear. When you hear the old saying, “Writing is rewriting,” you often don’t hear the afterwhisper, “And terrifying as a crispy fucking hell.” Louis faces a daunting specter: potentially having to cut 30 pages out of his script. And when you’re happy with what you’ve written, you don’t want ANY of it to go. And yet, you must start culling pieces of you. There is no escape. Good luck, Louis. Also, I’ve nominated you the Selected Ten’s Jewish Mother of the Year.
“Happy to report I finished my first draft. I was worried that going into this with an outline might stifle me in some way, or discourage me from changing course as I went along. Fortunately that wasn’t the case at all. It was nice having a battle plan, but once I got down into the trenches…parts of my “strategy” induced so many forehead slaps that I’m pretty sure I knocked myself unconscious at one point.
So I deviated as necessary. Even when there was nothing technically bad about an aspect of the story as I’d conceived it, I still found myself coming up with better options on the fly. Everything stayed fluid.
That said, I’ll definitely stick to this process of creating an outline going forward. Even though doing it sucked like a Hoover, and some of it wound up either altered or discarded–when I got to the actual writing, to the FUN part, it felt so much more focused and productive right from the beginning. It was like it helped me tap into the good stuff sooner.
Like the effort I put into outlining was me shaking the mustard bottle so I wouldn’t get that gross dribble of neon yellow water when I took the cap off. (I guess another option would be to use my brain more often so it doesn’t have a chance to settle and separate in the refrigerator. But whatever.) First draft done!”
Congrats to Rachel on finishing, but an even bigger congrats for finding a process from FADE IN to FADE OUT that worked for her as well as it did. Make no mistake about it: the ability to adapt on the fly and know if you need to shutter an old idea for a newer one is a skill you will spend the rest of your writing career developing, and it will NEVER be a sure thing. But when you learn to get it right more often than not, you’re in a very, very good place. Now Rachel enters Louisland and the inception of the first rewrite. Fingers crossed.
“It’s been a week in which I have done almost no formal writing work, but where I have been gifted a couple of golden story nuggets all the same. I think I am still in credit at the bank but will very shortly be overdrawn unless I sit sit down and put the graft in.
It was my last week at the day job before my summer holiday, and those weeks are always heavy going. It was also my rota’d weekend, and I then had to pack and get us to our holiday destination, which took 2 days. So I have a proper sick note from matron.
I’m stuck in Act 3. I know how it starts and how it ends but I don’t know how to get there. But that’s ok; I now have 2 weeks on a small Greek Island, with more time available than I know what to do with. That’s a double-edged sword; I work to deadlines every day of my professional life, and deadlines have a way of making you turn in the goods. Too much time could easily lead to a sense of beer today, writing tomorrow, but I know it’ll be ok. I’m working to a 6-week deadline anyway.
I have absolutely no fear of not finishing in time, but I have plenty of misgivings about the quality of what I am producing. Part of me feels that since we only have 6 weeks to write an entire screenplay, no-one can reasonably expect it to be any good. A bigger part of me wants to believe I can actually produce a gem-quality script in that short timeframe. Dangerous thinking which is very likely to lead to big disappointment, but being knocked back is as much a function of being a writer as anything else.
I have no words of wisdom to offer fellow embryonic writers save for one: when you do the work, when you sit at your desk or table and actually write, in a way that makes you tired and gives you a headache, things start to happen. Ideas and thoughts do accrete, and come to you seemingly out of the blue, often when you are least expecting it.
This is my third script in 10 years. My first was pretty good, the second (following a 9-year gap) was utter rubbish, and I hope to be able to say my third is the best so far. We shall see.”
Fun Fact: Damian posted a picture of the island he’s on (https://twitter.com/DamianONeilBBC/status/512892239304200192/photo/1) and all the beach umbrellas there look like penises. Neat! Damian also assured me that some of the locals’ penises look like umbrellas, so he seems pretty set to me.
“This update is a play in two parts called, ‘The Two Fucks’.
Ugh, fuck Act 2.
So for that reason, I’m doing Act 3 first. When I plan out a movie in my head, paper, or Etch-a-sketch, I always start by picturing the beginning and the end. That great attention-grabbing scene paired with that touching, emotionally fulfilling ending. They’re like the delicious, butter roasted buns of a meaty movie sandwich. From there, you simply find the right lettuce, roast beef, ham, bacon, cheese, and everything in between to slot inside for an enjoyable cinematic experience.
Geoff described his screenwriting method on Broken Projector one week about just sailing forward and seeing where the story takes him. That blows my mind, because I have no idea how he does it. My brain needs to know where all the ingredients go before I can start roasting that hamburger. But even then…
Ugh, fuck writing jokes.
Writing jokes is the best and worst part of screenwriting. When a joke just pops into your head that you will just fucking kill at that moment in the script? It’s the closest thing to a magic I will ever experience. But when you’re coming up like California in the past six months (read: dry), it’s a damn slog. (See that garbage ‘joke’ I just wrote? That was painful.)
That is compounded by the fact that I come home from work after spending 10 hours with some of the funniest people I know. The ONN writing staff at the Onion is cranking out what seems like five thousand jokes a day. They’re an endless bowl of funny soup, and some days it seems the only thing keeping me sane is that I have, on average, eight years before I ‘have’ to be as funny as they are.
Have being in quotes because, well, if I wanna play with the big dogs, I gotta be that funny now. But for now, back to the joke mine.”
I know how Dan feels. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, do I know how Dan feels – about the jokes. There is pure terror as a comedy writer – and I’ve spoken about this before – that you’re going to sit down one day to write and find out you’re just not funny anymore. Or that you never were in the first place. “What if I’m out of jokes? What if I can’t get it back? What if I never had it to begin with?” It is absolutely maddening, and the only thing you can do is write and pray for the best. And you know what I’ve figured out? The jokes always come. Always. As for Act II issues, welcome to probably the greatest existential bane in the history of writerdom. Act II is tricky as shit – you have to keep the story going forward, but you have to keep knocking your hero back a bit. You have to learn SOME things, but you have to save others for Act III. You need to pay off beats from the first act and create NEW beats to be paid off in the next. Of all the Acts, it’s the most philosophically retarded. Goddamn it all to hell. Sorry I don’t have anything here for you, Dan. Just keep on truckin’ and focusing on making the pages turn-worthy at the very least.
“I just finished writing the climax of my screenplay and I pushed all the way through to the FADE OUT. I still have a handful of scenes I have to go back and write, but I am confident that I have a solid skeleton to build on and refine in the coming three weeks.
I think it is important to take a break from your writing time to time in order to ‘cleanse your palette.’ Tunnel vision is a real thing, and I can see my scenes becoming more narrow as I get toward the end of the screenplay because all I want to do is get there. Sometimes it’s easiest to just push through a scene with expository dialogue and making the intent of the scene outwardly obvious, before coming back to it later and reworking the dialogue to be not so ‘on the nose.’ That is why, quite frequently, my very first draft of any script comes in shorter than I expected. Accordingly, I won’t post my page count on this update, but I will tell you that I have currently written 17,082 words (although this quantifier is essentially meaningless).
Unfortunately, my writing schedule has become somewhat more sporadic than I would have liked. I’m in the process of finding work in Los Angeles while sleeping on my brother’s couch, but I do have a few days off a week where I can find solid blocks of time to work. This weekend I have two full days to myself, so I should be able to write those last scenes and next week start working on my ‘Penultimate Draft’ (more on this next update).”
And we have our third finisher of a draft! WHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, these guys are flying. I couldn’t agree more with Chris about walking away from your writing every now and then for a matter of perspective. In every script I write, without fail, I’ll come up with a handful of jokes that are so good that I’m positive I’m going to walk out of my office and get blown by angels…and then I come back an hour or a day later and all I can see is the worst fucking writing by the worst fucking writer that ever lived anywhere ever. Likewise, I’ve been positive I was never going to crack a certain scene, only to walk off to clear my head and crack it ten minutes later. Your focus can indeed narrow, and sometimes you just need a goddamned break. Give yourself one.
“Whoa. This week flew by. And my pace is slowing waaaay down. I think I wrote ten pages total. I’m at the point in my screenplay where I might be putting it down and working on something else for awhile if it wasn’t for this strict deadline. I’m pretty far into Act Two and writing this thing is becoming a lot more of a chore than the fun, quick Act One was. As always, my outline wasn’t quite as detailed as I thought it was. I’m winging it a lot more than I thought I’d have to.
I find myself avoiding my screenplay for as long as I possibly can throughout the day. I’ve been super productive in other areas, in an attempt to not feel quite as guilty about my neglect – I’ve been reading a ton, cleaning everything I own, exercising – but then I’ll get to my computer at about 8pm, feeling guilty as ever. When I wait all day to start writing, it creates this sense of dread towards my work, as if it’s been looming over me like a dark cloud all day. And that’s really not good. So this next week, I’m going to TRY to be one of those people who writes while the sun is still out.
Overall, this week kind of sucked. Act Two is hard.”
Another one bites the Act II wall. It is a real thing, and it is daunting. And the only thing I can say is: keep writing through it. Just get words on paper, make sure your ideas are somewhere in there, and come back to it as you need to. But also…don’t feel guilty walking away for a couple days. Sometimes you need to. Sometimes you need to allow yourself not to be stressed about it. And Emily? Give Dan a call. Maybe you two can force each other through the haze.
“I’m trying to feel more than think this week – my gut is much smarter than my brain. I don’t want to charge into things as much. My adrenaline levels are much lower, which is good for my health generally.
And my gut has been telling me that my protagonist is the key.
The odd thing is – I’ve never really written a single protagonist film. Ha! All of my films so far have been multi-protagonist.
Maybe that’s why I felt the need to experiment with structure. But I’ve realized – dude, I NEED that first act. To set up the protagonist, to build the world, to introduce the alien – the benefits of that first act are legion. I am however keeping what Linda Aronson calls a preview flashback- a little flash-forward right at the beginning to the second act turning point where the protagonist has lost everything. Hopefully the contrast between that and her cock-sure self in the first act will be enough to keep people flipping those pages.
I realize what I lost last week. Fun and joy. And hanging out with my characters is a lot of fun. I started a sci-fi novel when I was 19 and I had so much fun researching that I spent six years doing it and never really wrote the novel. Ha! I was probably too green to get it done anyway.
I also had a mini crisis of faith as well. It’s pretty normal around this time in a project. My husband says he can pretty much set his watch by my crises of faith. And he even parroted back to me what I usually say, ‘What am I doing? This is stupid. Nobody cares. I should just get a job. At least then my parents would be proud of me.’ He even imitated my voice. If you ever meet him, tell him I do NOT sound like that.
Jobs are funny things. For some reason, society gives you a badge of honor for killing yourself doing something you hate. I had all kinds of health problems when I had a 9-to-5. And I was generally good at what I did. I still got laid off twice and fired once. And in later years, I tried to get back into the workforce but like Legolas from Lord of the Rings, ‘the pain is too near’.
Still the old question was raised, not just by me, but by someone who wrote into John August and Craig Mazin – at what point do we say, ‘This isn’t working?’ I guess the answer is different for everybody. Chip and Dan Heath (who wrote this great book about decision-making called Decisive) might like me to put a deadline on it. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life so I can’t do that. But I’ll know that time when I see it. When I’ve done everything I can and screenwriting still isn’t working.
But right now, the only deadline I need to worry about is October 15th.
And goshdarn it, I’m happy writing and I feel better than I have in years. Without the over-eating and over-sleeping. I call that a victory.”
Anyone sensing a trend here? As we reach the halfway point, many of our Selected Ten are feeling the pressure condense. What they should see – and what many of you writing along should take to heart – is that this happens to EVERYONE at one point or another in one script or another. How you end up overcoming it or not simply comes down to how you choose to respond. And here’s the only important thing about that: it doesn’t matter HOW you respond, just that you do and get on with it. So figure it out. And get on with it. Yeah, that’s easy for me to say, but don’t make it harder to do than you need to.
“Remember that one time I mentioned I wasn’t really worried about this yet? Yeah, that’s all gone. Poof. Vanished.
The anxiety officially kicked in this week, but I’ve decided that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It made me realize I kinda need to get my shit together.
Looking back on my first two weeks, I was moving at the speed of a glacier. I don’t regret that, even though I cranked out pages at a significantly lesser pace than almost everyone else, because that’s what worked for me. For those who don’t really know me (aka everyone), it’s a truth universally acknowledged that I do pretty much everything at a much, much slower pace than the average person would. I walk slowly. I write slowly. I’m always still sitting at the dinner table 20 minutes after everyone else is done eating. That’s me. So I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that, after reading last week’s updates, I was miles behind some of you Energizer bunnies.
But I’ve finally realized that I can’t keep moving at this pace and expect to finish in six weeks. It’s probably not so much that I just realized, because I think I really knew all along, but I’m just now coming to terms with this harrowing fact.
Hence the anxiety.
I tried working at a super quick pace on Day One, because I heard that’s what all the cool kids were doing, and it felt weird to me. So I slowed way, way down. To be honest, it makes me nervous to speed things back up again. I’m out of my element, here. But to be equally honest, I’m also kind of excited to be writing in an environment that I’m not at all comfortable in. I feel like there’s a lot to learn in this situation. And to be ultimately honest, I really don’t have much of a choice if I want to finish this damn thing. So, roll tide.
I’m hoping to have an entire first draft and a partial second draft by this time next week.
In other news, I just want to say how much I love reading everyone’s updates. Y’all rock my socks. But Rachel in particular said something last week that I can one thousand percent relate to so I wanted to mention that quickly… She worries that her story’s great, but she’s not smart enough to write it. THIS FEELING IS WHAT MY NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF. Reading her update made me feel as if I was reading my own mind. I’ll go on the record and say that I think my story is awesome. Really. I’m in love. If my story got down on one knee and proposed, I’d say yes without any hesitation. But I’m now living in a constant fear that I’m not smart enough, funny enough, witty enough, whatever enough, to do the story justice. Not that I would wish that feeling on anyone, but it was nice to find out I wasn’t the only one experiencing it.
Also in other news, I started letting my friends read my script this week. I discovered I have exactly one friend who will give me something more than ‘this is good’ or ‘this is funny’ so she’s been extremely helpful. I originally didn’t want anyone to read my script until it was done, and I’m so fucking glad I changed my mind. She’s been helping me a ton with character development and pointed me out to a few different issues I didn’t even know I had. For example, the other day we were talking about my male lead character and she asked, ‘Is he supposed to be an asshole or are we supposed to like him?’ My response was, ‘Both.’ But I hadn’t really written a character that was both an asshole and likable. Or at least she didn’t think so. Of course I’m going to like this guy, I created him. But that doesn’t mean anyone else will. So she helped me realize that every once in a while I need to take a step back and try to read what I’ve written from the perspective of someone who didn’t write it. I honestly hadn’t thought about doing that before, so infinite snaps to my awesome friend.
Good lord, I rambled. This felt very much like free therapy. I’m already looking forward to next week’s session.”
Love that Delaney connected with something that Rachel was feeling, and I want to be very clear about something, and I mean this: I don’t think either of them have anything to worry about, but I’m glad they’re worrying. It shows they care, and it shows they doubt themselves, and the best writers use that to propel forward. So that’s great. I also want to speak to the light and the dark of Delaney having her friends read her script. On one hand, it is VITAL that you have someone that you trust to look over ALL your drafts. What Delaney experienced is, in my opinion, one of the reasons movies so often fail after going the whole way through the development process: the people who’ve worked on it are too close, they have the ENTIRE UNIVERSE of the story in their heads, and no one can see the holes or what’s missing. It’s impossible to – your brain fills in the gaps. Enter: your trusted reader. They are clutch. That in mind…no offense personally to Delaney’s friend, but people who don’t read scripts…you know, ever…are only going to help you to about 10% of the capacity you need them to. This is why it’s vital to make contacts with people who work in the industry and/or read scripts for a living in some form or another. These are the people you need. Find them however you can.
Some week, huh? Will the Selected Ten overcome? Will they be battered back? WILL THEY GIVE UP ENTIRELY???? Those pussies! Check back next week and see if they’ve written themselves out of trouble or into more of it.