Monday. Labor Day, for us Americans. And for all our Six Week Spec writers: Day One. If they so choose. If not, then…erm…SOME OTHER DAY will be their Day One. I’ve…kind of left this unstructured. And now I’m finding that lessens the impact of a start date. Making said announcement somewhat anti-climactic. Schnarf.
Anyway, for most of the Selected Ten, probably, perhaps, Monday will be the day their script first goes from being Planck-sized electrical brain signals to something digitally tangible. They will put words to page for the first time, and thus begin one of the most harrowing-yet-satisfying journeys of their entire lives.
Or, it will be easy. I’m not omnipotent.
But what have they done since they were Selected to get ready? How have they been prepping or, perhaps, NOT prepping, to actually write? That’s the subject of this week’s Where Are They Now?, as I’ve decided to call it. So let’s check in with them, shall we?
Yes. Let’s shall.
(WARNING: THIS IS LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG. So carve out some time, because they’re all goddamned worth the read.)
“So I’ve finally waded into my outline. It looks a bit terrible at the moment – okay, a lot terrible – but I know that’s normal. Just gotta keep working at it.
This week, I’ve tried to pin down my alien and my human character. I’ve never written aliens before so this should be fun. No, really – it’s fun.
It wasn’t at the beginning because the fear got me. You know, I was thinking of writing along with #SixWeekSpec anyway because the deadline would light a fire under my backside. But really no one is going to beat me up if I miss that deadline. If I chose, no one would even know.
It’s a bit different to be suddenly held truly accountable. The FOS (Fear of Sucking) had me in its grip a while. But then I decided to put all the anxiety in a box (because let’s face it, all those scary possibilities are real) and keep it aside. Like I always tell myself, it’s okay to fall flat on my face as long as I give it my best shot. (Apparently it’s called compartmentalizing. They say only men can do it. I disagree. I know lots of men whose brains are a big jumble and I know lots of women who can focus in an emergency like a soldier.) I’d like to have some fun with this.
And really, this stuff is super fun. I’ve had crazy boring jobs before – admin, data entry – and even they’ve been a little fun. Screenwriting is really fun and I don’t even have to try.
My plan is to have a fairly tight outline I can be proud of by Monday and jam out 10-12 pages a day, so I have time to write a second draft.
Truth is, I don’t know if I’ll be able to achieve that. I’ve tried this method before as per the excellent Kevin Morales (@KevinMorales on Twitter)’s suggestion – it was exhausting. But we’ll see. Never say never, in the words of Bieber.
This is only my third screenplay so it’s unlikely to be professional reader-ready in the first draft. I need a little more time to whip it into shape. We’ll see how it goes.
As I said, screenwriting is fun. Yeah, it’s wicked hard sometimes, often gives me a headache and makes me cry quite often too – but lots of great things have that effect. Cooking. Love. Ski-ing. Video-games. Terrible movies you can’t stop watching. Great movies you can’t stop watching. Shopping sprees.
Peace out and happy writing, everybody.”
Sabina writes about something I’ve discussed a couple times here on the site – fear. It’s been a warm blanket, for me, finding out that it alternately mentally pummels and motivates writers. It’s finding a way to make sure it’s more of the latter that seems to be the key. Also, Sabina is the first to mention that she’s going to try to bang out TWO drafts in the six weeks. That’s a bold gamble. And I like it.
“Week 1 – Preparation
Whenever I have ideas for screenplays, I create a new note on my iPhone and begin writing a flushed out version of an outline. Every paragraph is pretty much a scene or a sequence. Once I feel I’ve got most of my tentpole scenes down, I’m ready to start flushing out my outline in Final Draft. I simply retype the paragraphs into a new screenplay template, adding slug lines for each paragraph/sequence. These are just guides, but I find this really helpful because the overall outline is then created in the “Navigator” pane and I can skip around if I need to.
As for the actual writing of my spec screenplay, my plan is to finish the first complete draft by October 1, leaving myself two weeks for notes, revisions and rewriting. In order to accomplish this, I would need to average around 25 pages a week, or five pages a day during the weekdays (I have to have non-writing days too!) My writing process, however, normally starts with the “vomit” draft, where I try to write as much of the screenplay as possible as quickly as possible. It isn’t pretty, but it gives me a solid head start on my story. I will, most likely, spend the most time writing, and rewriting, the first ten pages, because that sets the pace for the rest of the film!
As for the research portion of my preparation, this particular screenplay requires much less legwork then I have done in the past. I had to do some research into local laws and regulations, spoke to a few “vendors” regarding their services and digging up old books and newspaper articles on the general “setting” of my film. If that sounds really vague, it’s because it’s supposed to be.
I’m rolling up my sleeves. I purchased a new laptop (my first in seven years!) and I’m chomping at the bit to get started. Is it still August?”
And then Christopher quickly became the SECOND writer to talk about writing two drafts in these six weeks. God bless these guys. I love Christopher’s approach, which is much like my own (in theory if not in practice, as these steps exist in my head and not on paper) and also unique in the way he structures his “outline”. Very interesting. And lookee, research! This is some serious shit right now!
JESSE & JERREN
“Quick heads-up: for now, we’re sticking to this third-person conceit where we don’t identify which one of us is writing which words because, honestly, we are trying to cultivate some mystique. We will probably abandon it soon (never).
We spent the first few days of this pre-writing period just deciding on which idea to run with from our deep archive of feature-length script ideas (three). This began with a series of fun, exploratory emails and then QUICKLY ramped up into very intense text messages as days passed. Schedules were a complicating factor here: Jesse had family in town until Tuesday and Jerren left for Telluride on Wednesday. When we’re writing, we are fine working separately and sending scenes back and forth, and maybe even prefer it. But when we are breaking a story, it is absolutely better to be in the same room pitching ideas where we can more easily talk things out, gauge body language and tone, compliment each other, and eat. It also eliminates Jerren’s gross misspelling of basic words, which is an issue. We managed to get together a few times, which helped a lot.
Here’s our initial plan for this thing. We often come up with waaaay too many characters, ideas and gags to toy with, and what usually helps is to finish an entire vomit draft which attempts to include EVERYTHING. Then we go back and refine. As time will be tight for this experiment, we’re trying to talk out as much of that as possible and making sure each character’s narrative is focused and tight. We know from experience that we’ll still have just way too much going on, so we’re going to try to tightly outline each beat so we can hurtle through a draft in like three weeks, and then have the remaining three weeks to refine, hone and focus.
We hope you enjoy reading about “LASER PIGS” as much we have enjoyed discussing it.”
You’ve now seen the term “vomit draft” a couple of times here, and you’ve heard it from me often. Why? Because it’s SO important, in a first draft, to get out ALL your ideas. Once you’ve done that you can see the trees for the forest (fuck it, I don’t know) and get a better sense of what’s works simply as a one-off scene and what really fits in with your story. I think J&J’s plan to use the outline to pare down characters and ideas could either be feast or famine, but I’d have to guess more feast considering they’ve done this before. Will be a lot of fun, for me at least, to watch how a writing team goes at this.
“Geoff told us the subject of this week’s update was to talk about the preparation (or lack thereof) we’ve done in anticipation of our start date on September first. To begin to talk about preparation, I need to talk about why I love it. To talk about why I love it, I must talk about why I love screenwriting.
Screenwriting, to me, is the most creative point of a movie’s creation. I can literally write whatever I want on the page. Dragons? Sure. Talking butts? Alright. Plants that kill people with wind? You betcha. With this powerful combination of twenty six different letters and weird formatting, I can create anything. Now, if you want a screenplay that is coherent, competent, and might actually get made, dragons, talking butts, and plants that kill people with wind all at once probably won’t get you there.
And though Screenwriting is so freeing, preparation is even more so. It’s the place to vomit up every “plants kill people with wind” idea and worry if it actually works later. It’s the place to outline a thousand ways for my heroic talking butts to save their home of Buttopia. Or don’t save it! Who knows! At this point, I don’t have to worry about it! All I need to do is empty my brain of every solution and assemble the pieces later.
As for the preparation for this specific script, there’s a lot of stuff that excites me. Will it work? Again, who knows. But that’s what the next few weeks are for.”
Vomit again! But different vomit this time! I found it really interesting that Dan’s process is to vomit out all his ideas into an outline as opposed to a draft (closer to J&J than Christopher). I wonder how many writers who do notes and outlines and all that jazz see it this way? And that makes me wonder, really, how different an outline is from a kitchen sink first draft, at the end of the day. Also, it’s great to see a writer who admits to LOVING prep, which is a totally foreign concept to me, because I see it as something that expressly keeps me from ACTUAL writing. But hey, we’re all floating boats here, and that’s what matters.
“I am writing this very late at night in my bunk in a very wet, very cold big tent – the kind you saw on MASH – while trying to ignore the snoring, farting Croatian soldiers in the tents all around me. There is no mobile phone coverage in this enormous Tolkienesque forest, so I will send it from the 17 square inches of wifi coverage that exist in the mess hall when I go down there for breakfast in a few hours.
I have been embedded with the British Army this week as they exercise with their Croatian counterparts. It has been stupid busy with almost no downtime but I don’t think I have gone a whole hour without thinking about my script.
I can best describe it as as an ephemeral cloud punctuated with fragments of solidity that revolves slowly above my head and follows me everywhere I go. I was filming soldiers assaulting a “kill-house” this afternoon, close up and hand-held, when I was sideswiped by the realisation that what I had planned for my protagonist, in broad-brush terms, simply would not work dramatically. A brief spasm of panic ensued.
I need to get a grip. I have become consumed with the idea that somehow I am going to produce a work of such quality in the six weeks available to me that it is going to profoundly change my life. I have absolutely no doubt my nine fellow travellers are contending with the same affliction. How could it be otherwise?
I am back home this weekend and feel very ready to get on with it. My plan is to have an outline in place by the end of week 3, but as I have been told more than once in the last few days, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
I am excited.
I have done some work on character bios, and before I left home on this assignment I cleaned up the spare room. I can hardly expect her to whisper in my ear if the place looks a shithole, can I?”
So basically we have a writer here who, embedded in the thick of real, honest-to-God War Games, has been thinking about his script and only his script. I have never felt less like a man. Otherwise, I’ll be honest: I worry about Damian’s plan to outline into Week Three of the challenge, leaving himself only three weeks to write a first draft. That feels like it’ll cut it REALLY close. But, alternatively…maybe that’s the best motivation? We shall see. STAY ALIVE DAMIAN I CAN’T HAVE ONE OF YOU CROAKING ON MY WATCH.
“In the past (not that I HAVE much of a past with this stuff), I’ve always started writing scenes as soon as an idea came to me. Usually jumping in somewhere in the middle and working my way out. Coming up with characters and plot points as I went along. Grinning like an excitable idiot the whole way through. And always ending up with a steaming, jumbled pile of just awful awfulness. But the parameters of this challenge prohibited me from doing any of that. Saint Geoff, in his wisdom, slowed my roll.
So for the past few weeks, instead of tossing every terrible idea and every horrible first instinct into the boneless mushpuddle of a new screenplay, I’ve been jotting them down in a notebook, to be sorted out later. And that later is finally NOW! I’m sifting through all these little notes—discarding the ones that are the mental equivalent of petrified cat turds (and the grocery lists that slipped in…was there a scene where someone eats hummus? Or did I just really want hummus? Because that word keeps popping up…) Anyway, I’m shaping what’s left into an actual outline that makes actual sense and hopefully tells the story I want to tell. ‘Is this what it’s like to stop and THINK about what you’re fucking doing before you fucking do it?’ I wonder aloud to nobody in particular. Because it feels great.
Just imagine if I’d polished all those cat turds straight away like I wanted to. So shiny and smooth…they probably would have been harder to recognize. And a lot harder to throw away.
My outline is almost complete. These characters have been bickering in my head for so long—I KNOW them and I love them and I want to punch them in their imaginary throats. And they’re going to want to punch me back when they find out how much trouble I’m sending their way. But I’m feeling prepared and confident. To quote one of the affirmations l scribbled down in my notebook: as long as I do smartness and use my words good, everything should be work right… Or something like that. God my handwriting’s rough.”
And here we have our first writer admittedly going out on a limb, trying to retool a process that, in the past, they didn’t feel worked for them. I’m VERY interested to see where Rachel’s mind takes her, and I’m curious as to whether or not she’s going to completely figure it out in this six weeks. My guess would be “not”, but that’s OK – she’s still (admittedly) green to the form, and here’s a little secret: no one has it fucking figured out. Ever. You just continually go with what you think works for you and you tinker with it ad infinitum. Like George Lucas. Though hopefully not like George Lucas, because step away from the goddamned computer already, you had it the first time.
“This week kind of started with panic. I had an idea, but it was set in a world that I’m not super familiar with, so it would’ve required a lot of research to pull off. Not to mention, the more I fleshed out the story, the less it felt like something I wanted to write. So I gave in a little, and decided to commit to an idea that I’ve been thinking about for months. Like, I keep hearing the characters talking and arguing with each other in my head (should I seek help?). I had been fleshing them out, imagining possible scenes, and feeling the tone of the whole thing without even being totally aware that I was doing it. The world of the story is something that I know well, and I’m confident that I can get a solid draft done on this tight schedule. After all, that’s all this is: a draft. I keep reminding myself that. My goal at the end of this is to have a solid first draft. One that I am proud of, and one that is ready for criticism, but I don’t expect it to be perfection. And remembering that takes some of the pressure off.
I am committed to having it outlined in detail before putting anything on the page. I want a well structured screenplay, above all else. I can make the jokes funnier, the scenes more concise, the characters more realized in drafts 2-5. But a first draft with spot-on structure is a good place to work off of. I don’t believe in “figuring it out as you go”. Mostly because I’ve tried it, and I get discouraged about ten pages into act 2. So, I’ve deactivated my Facebook, I’ve warned my friends and family that I will be less available than usual, and I’m working this week on a very detailed, scene by scene outline of the story. I’m doing the whole notecard thing, and for the first time, I am liking it. It helps to see it all laid out in front of you, and it gives me a much needed break from my computer screen.
At this point, it’s feeling very doable. I think I’ll be ready to dive right in on September 1st. But if I don’t have the outline totally finished, I’m not going to start until I do. I want to find and solve all the possible problems with my story now, so I don’t run into them on October 10th, realize I have to re-write a huge chunk of the thing, and have a nervous breakdown.”
I’m very impressed with Emily this week, and I’ll tell you why: first of all, I think she made a brilliant decision to NOT write something it sounds like she thought OTHER people would like, but instead to write something that was in her comfort zone and that SHE liked. Huge difference there, and not one many novice writers can make. Emily is choosing to write what she knows – a common philosophy that, as I discussed with one of the Selected Ten last week, can be as vague or as specific as you want it to be, and anywhere in between. Point is: Emily is now writing for HER, and not for anyone else. This is always the path to one’s best writing. Always.
“I love prepping. Potentially more than writing. Actually, definitely more than writing. It goes Prepping, Rewriting, Writing. Writing sucks.
Well it doesn’t, obviously. But out of the three, it’s certainly the hardest I think. That’s why I prep so much, to make the writing part as smooth as possible.
For me, I love coming up with the ideas. Always writing notes on my iPhone when i’m out and about, or when i’m just about to fall asleep. After a buddy of mine (@zackgutin) convinced me to go paperless, I now create these vast Word documents, full of potential scenes and bits of dialogue. I just like to get everything out and onto the page. And then I stop.
You see, I work at a big professional services company. I have spent the last 7 years working with consultants. Process is my bag. Process is my bitch.
Because of that, I have a process for prepping. It goes:
Ideas, ideas, ideas. (Fist pumping a lot as these ideas are WICKED).
Identify similar movies (I watch / read the movies, make notes, and understand how those stories ‘work’ (sorry for gross quote marks)).
Build out the characters based off my ideas, those movies, and how I want to play with the standard model. Then I write character bios for them all.
Laying out the cards, using the characters to drive the story. (3×5 cards and different coloured pens are crucial for a career in writing to my mind).
For a lot of people, Process is a bad word. It implies staleness, or an inability to think creatively. I get that, I totally do. You’re just wrong. Idiot.
And before you start getting all ‘writing is art’ and ‘you shouldn’t limit your creativity’ and ‘be one with your Mana and Gaia’; in the end, Process for me is about confidence. It lets me know I’ve done the homework I need, and that I’m as ready as I can be.
When September 1st rolls around, I’m going to be bricking it. Guaranteed. But all the prepping allows me to smash that first draft out as fast as possible. Then I can start rewriting, and that’s where the magic happens. Like on Cribs. In the bedroom. With the sex.”
First of all, I found out this week that Louis once worked in a shoe shop in London with two members of The Boxer Rebellion, who are featured in GOING THE DISTANCE. That’s awesome. Second, what I really love about what Louis wrote this week is that he knows *exactly* what works for him, and he knows *exactly* why. I also think it’s very interesting that he finds prepping and rewriting more fun than writing the first draft…which is something I hear a LOT from other writers, and befuddles me as it’s the polar opposite from what I experience. Bottom line: he knows how to get what he needs to get out of himself, and the confidence he has in his process is the key. That’s fantastic.
“Most of the feature ideas I have laying about have been devised specifically to be shot here in Tasmania on no budget. Nothing was
really suitable for the Black List, and I am not too proud to admit some fairly serious freaking out occured. Ultimately I thought about
what I really wanted to see on screen and that just flat out wasn’t there. I think the concept I have settled on is potentially quite silly, but
I’m hopefully going to have a whole bunch of fun writing it.
My preparation so far has included begging people to take my children away, hammering my writers group with half-baked concepts,
and a not insubstational amount of nervous drinking. I have beautiful colour coordinated index cards with extremely vague statements
on them (eg: “Something happens to make them like each other”), and pages of character work that contain more questions than
answers. The main reason I have not been successful writing features in the past has been that I write very sparse and concise. I write 40
pages and feel like there is no more story. So an important part for me this time is writing on my index cards how many minutes I think
each scene is. I can then easily see that it’s not a 90 page script in its current form and I need to develop it more before I actually start
writing. I’m hoping this will stop me from writing the exciting scenes and then just giving up.
My day job is already mostly typing, so another potential showstopper is crippling desk related pain. @SiFoulaReel suggested regular
dance parties and being a giant dork I decided to write a python program to enforce them. I have included the code in case you want to
use it for your own Six Week Spec, but you will probably need to change the screensaver lock out command if you run Windows or
minutes = 30
dance_dir = “your directory of banging tunes”
dance_files = os.listdir(dance_dir)
song = random.choice(dance_files)
while pygame.mixer.music.get_busy() == True:
Apart from that I’ve read a couple of scripts and watched some films in the same genre. Once this week I got out of the shower with
shampoo still in my hair because I was thinking about my characters. I’m taking that as a sign that I am ready for this madness. Oh god,
I will admit to not having the first fucking clue what that computery gobbledygook is, but it sounds FASCINATING. Other than that, I want to point out a decision that I’m disappointed Claire made: she chose to eschew a concept that she might have turned into a terrific script because she deemed it not “really suitable for the Black List”. The goal here isn’t to write something that bows down to someone else’s standards – it’s to tell the story that YOU want to tell. As this will be Claire’s first feature-length script, I’m concerned that she’s going into writing with such a mindset, because writing what you think other people want to see never works out as well as writing what YOU want to see. Hopefully, this script IS something she’s been wanting to write, or something she just discovered she really wants to write. But I’m concerned that she’s hamstrung herself with this artificial notion of what’s “good enough” to be read by others. Will be curious to see how this pans out. Fingers crossed.
“I honestly didn’t do a ton of prep work this week in terms of prewriting, which I didn’t do for a few reasons. First, I’ve had this spec idea tattooed in my mind for quite a while now, so I figured it would be just as fine hanging out in my head as it would be manifested onto a piece of paper. Second, when I sit down to write, I have a tendency to go on and on and on until my brain implodes so I had a feeling if I worked on this too much I’d be tempted to go ahead and start writing. And since y’all are such nice people, I didn’t want to be the one that cheated.
But I did start planning on how I’m going to organize my time in the next six weeks. I’m a visual person, so I wanted to have something besides my tiny little planner to note how many days I have left to write and such. I considered for five minutes making one of those construction paper ring chain things we made in elementary school to countdown the days until Christmas but then I remembered 1) my dog, cats, or brothers would probably tear it to shit and 2) I’m 22 years old and there must be a more adult way to go about this. So I’m drawing a giant calendar on a piece of poster board and hanging it up in my writing room.
Speaking of writing room, I established a writing room in my house. I can’t use my bedroom because it’s small as shit (it was designed to be a second laundry room) so I called dibs on the dining room for the next six weeks. I made my family verbally agree to never bother me while I’m in there unless 1) the house is on fire or 2) someone’s dying or 3) mom made one of my favorite meals for dinner. Up until now I just usually wrote in whatever room was quietest and least occupied so it’ll be cool to have my own little corner for a while.
As of right now, I’m not establishing a certain amount of words or pages I’m going to write each day. I figured I’ll wing it for two weeks or so and then, if I feel like I’m behind, I’ll implement something. I’m lucky to be in a position where I don’t have any other obligations (work, kids, etc.) so I can dedicate as much time to this as needed. I am going to start substitute teaching soon, but the beautiful thing about that institution is that I can say, ‘Sorry, I can’t today,’ whenever I want and no one can hold it against me.
I also stocked up on things that I consider absolutely necessary to have on hand while writing, which are: an assortment of teas for the morning, and whiskey, beer, and wine for the other times of the day. I even found a bottle of Petite Sirah called ‘Writer’s Block’ that I thought was funny and needed in large quantities.
Anyways, I’m excited and ready to get started! And I’m also a little nervous, mainly because I’m going to be at the Lake of the Ozarks (Missouri’s only other redeemable quality besides the St. Louis Cardinals and Jon Hamm) for Labor Day and won’t have the opportunity to start writing until late Monday evening. I feel like it’s very bad omen-ish, but oh well.
Good luck to everyone! Not that anyone really needs it… (:”
As you see, Delaney is doing a completely different kind of prepping than anyone else…and there’s nothing wrong with that. Specifically, I think the idea of having a place – wherever you live – that’s just for you and just for writing is a brilliant one. Even if it’s just the corner of a space or you lock yourself in the bathroom. You do whatever works. I also think it’s a big positive that she already knows she’s willing to course-correct after a couple weeks if she’s not firing on all cylinders. Sometimes, for some of us (me included), less is more, at least up front. Again, I’m interested to see how her expectations line up with reality.
As for me, I’m still doggedly trying to finish up an assignment, so I’ve done no prep and might not even be able to start my spec on time with the others – and that’s OK. The spec I’ll be writing is called UNCLE DAD and will be based on time my girlfriend and I had to take in my toddler niece for an entire Summer, both of us with ZERO experience raising children. So not only do I have a few pages of scattered notes lying around, but I lived the goddamned thing. So I figure I’ll be ready to go once I actually get going, as it were.
How’s YOUR prep going? Let me know – perhaps I’ll throw down a midweek update for those of you playing along at home.