Sorry for yet another delay in getting this out – trundled through a birthday, continuing work on the script and now have come down with a fun cold. I LIVE A SOLDIER’S LIFE BECAUSE I AM A CHAMPION OF SOLDIERING ON. Despite my aggressive soldiering, however, the updates this week shall be presented with minimal commentary by yours truly. I apologize to the none of you who are truly upset about this turn of events. Must save what precious little space is left in the brainmeats.
On to the Selected Ten – who, at the time of this writing, have just a tic over two weeks to set their scripts in stone and foist them upon the world via the Black List:
“Ahoy hoy, it’s Bubbe Bennett here. After being christened the Jewish mother of the group (that doesn’t work does it?), I’ve decided to thoroughly embrace my new Jewish heritage in time for Rosh Hashanah.
Mazel tov! Rabbi!
In completely unrelated news, I also spent the last 4 days in Miami. For those of you who have never been to Miami, it’s preposterously, bafflingly brilliant. It was with work sadly, plus is was raining pretty much throughout, but I still loved it. I drank rum, I watched lightning storms deep in the ocean, I had a blast. What has that got to do with writing? Nothing. But this is my weekly update, so shut up.
So, we’ve got three weeks left, and in a break from your regular broadcast, I’m mega excited! There are no worries, no panic, no scares. Now I just write the next version. But what if it sucks? Give. A. Fuck! I’m on that post-modernist, new wave, Kanye West shit from here on out. Now it’s time for some balls out / to the wall hot writing action. In the straight to TV movie of my life, this is where Shannon Elizabeth would turn up.
There is a motto that I have, that keeps me writing, keeps me motivated – ‘Just be better than everyone else.’ But Bubbe, are you saying you’re the next Aaron Sorkin, or Quentin Tarantino? Yes, I am.
I’m not. ‘Just be better than everyone else’ means tell the story you really want to tell. Don’t try to tell stories you think they want to hear. Just be better than everyone else in doing what you’re best at. As Marge Simpson would say ‘You don’t win friends with salad.’
So give them the meat.
Shannon Elizabeth would probably say that line.”
In my opinion, always helpful to step away for a bit before you start a rewrite. Fresh mind, fresh eyes, time to ponder. Yay.
JERREN & JESSE
“Being part of a writing team allows you to worry in shifts. Last week was Jesse’s turn to lose his shit. But this week he’s entered a Zen-like calm and is coolly churning out pages. So now Jerren’s up. He’s freaking out about his pages, about the deadline, about where he and his fiancée are going to eat. Whatever he’s doing, he does it at a fever pitch. It doesn’t help that Jesse keeps saying out loud, ‘Dude, I’m so calm. Look at my hands.’ And now constantly wears sunglasses when he writes.
We had a big realization this week. In the beginning of the challenge, we worried whether we’d picked the right script to write. Not because we didn’t love it, but because we knew it wouldn’t be easy to pull off. We had three solid ideas to choose from, and we thought two of them were ‘more in line’ with what we usually do, what our supposed style is. (Though we like to think we had a lot of variety going on in our past projects). The third idea–the one we ultimately went with–well, we thought it would be overwhelming, that it required a certain degree of research that we didn’t have time for, and a certain degree of responsible writing that we maybe couldn’t pull off. Most importantly, we didn’t think we could put our personal stamp on it.
Now, after four weeks of writing and updating, this script has become the most personal project we’ve worked on together. We both think the script COULD be super fucking cool. We’ve seen glimpses in our pages of what this could look like if we keep hitting the right notes. Because our process had never been truly tested in a pressure-cooker situation like this, we wanted to maybe go the easier route. That was dumb. The tight timeline has been an unbelievable motivator. It’s created an urgency that can be hard to manufacture without a deadline. Additionally, the weekly updates have clarified a lot for us. We’ve never had to detail our process before, and doing so has crystallized what (and what doesn’t) work. If we had known this stuff in our ‘der, which script?’ deliberations, it would have been much easier to just immediately go with the idea we were scared of, to trust that our process would get us through.
On the actual writing side of things, one thing we’ve been focusing on is not forcing jokes. It’s tempting, especially in the early going when we’re still figuring out our characters, to just jam-pack punch lines into the script in lieu of authentic character moments. It’s a nice thing to fall back on when we’re finding their voices, but we’ve had to remind ourselves that the more realistic our characters are, the better our jokes will be. The nice thing about this script is that we have a built-in device/story line that allows us to hit some bigger laughs, to be a little broad and heightened, but then we can still scale it back when we need to and have our characters just speak and behave like people.”
I like all of this.
“It’s nearly 3am and once again, I am lying awake and my mind is chewing over this bastard script.
I have to be honest – I am sick to the back teeth of it. I’m supposed to be on holiday, but I am spending the majority of my time either sitting down and writing, or being mentally distracted by my story while ostensibly doing something else. It’s starting to piss off my girlfriend.
I normally devour books while on holiday, but this time it’s impossible. I can’t get into them, as my mind is constantly drawn back to my work.
I almost swam into a sizeable jellyfish yesterday afternoon because I was thinking about how to make a particular sequence less shit.
But let’s be positive – I have an almost finished story down on scene cards. A big structural problem was solved when I excised an entire sub-plot because I could see that it was bolted on and did not serve any useful purpose but simply slowed down the pace.
It’s clear we all approach this in different ways, and I was worried that I was getting it wrong since a lot of the ten seemed to be blazing away at the screenplay stage very early on. For me, I have to know exactly what happens in each scene, and the whole story constructed, before I start laying down the script and dialogue. But I’m almost ready.
I knew this was going to be hard work, but I very definitely underestimated just how hard. And I have no way of knowing if what I have come up with is any good, or absolute drivel. Not long til I find out!”
Worried at the chances of Damian having shot himself in the foot by pre-writing this much. Hopefully this worrying is unfounded, but suffice to say I think he has an uphill climb at this juncture.
“I’m now working on the ‘penultimate’ draft of my screenplay. In a dark and twisted way, this is my favorite part of the editing process. I get to vandalize my own pages. I print out my script and go through it page by page, editing by hand. I make notes in the margins. I highlight themes and circle important plot points. I make squiggly underlines under the dialogue that I need to rework. I keep track of the biggest issues on a separate sheet of paper. What can I say? It’s complicated but so necessary. I love it.
I scanned the edited document and side by side, I will start from the beginning and apply the handwritten notes. I have the physical copy on my actual desk so that I can jump back and forth, tying up loose ends and planting seeds. Once I am finished with this draft, I’ll let someone else look at it. Maybe.
[I tend to keep my scanned edits, just in case something comes up in the future.]
So I just finished the handwritten edits on my screenplay, and let me tell you, this first draft was a car crash that I should have seen coming. In an effort to move quickly through the story and get it down on paper, I made a TON of small errors (mostly syntax and grammar) but I also made a few glaring story mistakes that I’ll have to work out in the rewrites. It shouldn’t be a too much of a problem, it’s just going to take a long time.
Time to get back to it!”
Love Chris’s approach to melding the digital and the tangible. Cannot recommend you try hand-written notes enough. Something about the act of physically writing deepens your connection to the material psychologically.
“I walked away from my first draft for a couple days, after giving it to some people to read. My exclusive harem of feedbackers is composed of two groups. Folks in Group 1 are genetically obligated to love everything I write–but awesome at catching typos. Group 2 is made up of screenwriters I only know via the interweb, so they have no problem ripping my heart out of my chest Temple of Doom style whenever my actual writing is unclear and/or unfunny and/or the worst.
I fixed everything the first group pointed out, and MOST of what the second group took issue with. At the end of the day I have to trust my lady beer gut to steer me in the right direction. There were times when I asked myself, ‘Self, what should I do?’ And my self was like, ‘You’re a grown woman. Do whatever the fuck you want.’ So I did.
It was unnerving how much I still loved my pages when I came back to them. Sure, the bitch needs botox and a nose job. But I couldn’t fault the bone structure….which isn’t reassuring at all because I’M only smart enough to know how dumb I am. (Insert long, drawn out sigh.)
I do take considerable comfort in sharing this experience with everyone. Speaking of comfort, it’s especially nice to know Delaney and I both find solace in the exact same children’s pasta entrees. We also have identical neuroses, leading me to the obvious conclusion that we’re estranged test tube twins and oh god I just realized I’m the DeVito.”
Enraptured applause to Rachel for taking criticism AND sticking to her instincts at the same time. Love love love this update.
“Helllo, all. Shorter update this week because work has been craaaaazy.
I can see the sun on the horizon. The promised land. Where the jokes flow freely and the scenes grow tall and strong. I’m of course talking about…
Act 3 is probably my favorite. It’s the culmination of everything. Jokes that seem stupid or unnecessary in the depths of Act 1 and Act 2 make more sense and have bigger payoffs. It’s where your characters on our their last thread and are fighting to keep what shreds of dignity, family, and limbs they have left. It’s joyful madness.
And bunches of fun. And best of all, the easiest (for me) because that’s where a lot of my outlining and planning took place. For me, what happens in Act 3 is dictated by what happens in Act 1 and 2, so why not start there? Also, Act 3 takes place in a single location, which is doing wonders for my creatively exhausted brain. I’ll keep trucking on, because endings are the best part, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a LIAR.”
Intrigued that Dan’s third act takes place in only one location. Lots of pitfalls in such an approach – and lots of cool opportunities too.
“So this past week I’ve read and re-read my previous draft. Asking questions of my characters. I sometimes have to force my more taciturn characters to open up, but these two (protagonist and antagonist) just won’t shut up. Perhaps why they are well-matched.
This process has helped a lot with coming up with new scene ideas for the new draft. I have what I think is a workable outline. I won’t say it’s good until the whole thing is actually good, which I hope, God willing, will happen a few drafts from now. It might even happen with this draft. We’ll see what my own hyper-critical eyes and the Black List readers say.
More questions must be asked. More pushing will be done. More choices will be made. But that’s in the future.
A big challenge this week was something quite mundane – filing! I’ve got a million notes in a million different places. I had to gather them all up so that I wouldn’t lose any insights.
Was feeling a little homesick this week, so I did what I usually do – watch a few Hindi movies. Even though India isn’t home for me, they somehow manage to do the trick.
I highly recommend Kai Po Che, an independent (I think) Hindi movie, now streaming on Netflix. It was set in Gujurat, rather than London or New York, where every other Bollywood movie seems to be set (don’t ask me why). It had three very relatable protagonists. And best of all, it had a little Muslim kid who was a prodigy at cricket. No, not at bomb-making or wife-beating. At cricket. He gave his poor father – a Muslim man involved in state politics and, judging from the workers in his home, a bridal tailor – hell with his sullen behavior and fighting. But when he played cricket, he mellowed.
Yeah, towards the end, their being Muslim became a plot point. But still, it was nice to see Muslim people on screen just being normal. Going about their daily lives. Working, fighting, playing, raising their kids. Happythankyoumoreplease. Which is why I’m writing what I’m writing.
Oh yeah and I can’t think of a good title for my screenplay. My working title seems to be it for now – Alien Love Story. What do you guys think?
Will be jumping into pages today. Godspeed, #sixweekspec –tacles.”
Trend this week seems to be “Stepping Away for a Minute” – which, again, I highly advocate. I share Sabina’s issues with fabricating titles. I wish I shared her love of Bollywood.
“Had a pretty good week. Last week was the ‘I should quit this whole stupid thing and TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD’ week. I think I was feeling a similar thing that Sabina mentioned – a mini crisis of faith. That, and I totally related to Delaney’s post about not feeling like I had the skills to do my story justice. And Dan’s post about how Act Two sucks. Basically – everyone who was struggling with anything last week, I related.
But I combatted these feelings by just forging ahead, and I got a lot of good writing done since then. I’m sure someone’s mentioned this already (maybe I have), but allowing myself to write crap, garbage scenes has been extremely helpful. It’s so much better to write a total shit scene, than to stare at a blank page for an hour. Because of this, my first draft will definitely be rough – and way too long. I’m around page 90 and still have a fair amount of story left to tell. As I was figuring out my characters, I meandered a little, so I have some scenes that probably won’t be missed at all. But, it’s good that I wrote them, because they helped me get a clear picture of who these idiots are. I’m glad this draft will be way too long, because I’ll have a solid objective for draft 2 – cut a LOT. Cut everything that doesn’t move the story forward. And I love cutting.
It’s still intimidating that people are done with their first draft already, and I’m not. I wish I were faster, but it is really hard for me to write a ton in one sitting. After I write a particularly strong, or emotional scene, I need a break! I need to think about something else for awhile! I need to go stare at the wall! I THINK by next week I’ll be done with a first draft. But, damn, these weeks are going by fast.”
If all Emily gets out of this experience is a sense of commiseration and a gelling of her process as a writer, this will have been a huge success. I think she’s going to pick up more than just those, though.
“You know how runners say there’s that ‘high’ they sometimes hit where they feel as though they could run for ever and ever and ever? Is there a screen writing equivalent to that? If so, I think I just hit it earlier today.
That’s not to say I killed my goals for this week. I’m not quite where I want to be, but it’s cool ’cause I’m not really sweating it. Okay, I’m sweating it a little. But not nearly as much as I expected I would or probably should.
My point is I’ve finally gotten to that point where I don’t really want to stop writing / thinking about writing. I’m finally enjoying my story. The fear that I’m not funny, witty, smart, etc. enough to write it is still there, but it’s been rearing it’s ugly head less and less lately. Writing my favorite scene (thus far) probably helped that a little. Or a lot.
There were also a lot of holes in my story I finally patched up this week. I always knew how I wanted my story to begin and how I wanted it to end but I had some shit in the middle missing until just a few days ago. Now they’re filled with ideas I don’t completely hate. I also replaced my very mediocre opening scene with a slightly less mediocre opening scene. Overall, exciting progess.
As for page numbers, I’m in the 70’s. (Someone please tell me if I should be legitimately worried about this.)
Let’s see… I think that might be it. Mostly good stuff from me this week. All hell is due to break loose this time next week ’cause, ya know, it’ll be October. Holy shit.”
On page numbers: remember that, for the vast majority of scripts, 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. So if you’re sitting on only 70 pages and your script is finished, you’ve probably got some more work to do. If you’ve still got stuff to write, you’re probably in good shape.
“The writing retreat thing went pretty well. I won’t bore (disgust) you with tales of the drop toilet and the time I heard a noise outside and WENT TO CHECK WHAT IT WAS LIKE A HORROR MOVIE DROOLING IDIOT. I am now on page 68 and I think I have the bulk of the story. I have practically no description and the action is limited to stuff like ‘A picks up the stick’ and ‘B enters’. So I’m fairly certain I can make up another 20 pages telling the reader what the hell is actually going on.
Since I have come back I decided to step away from it for a couple of days. Last night I let myself think about why it’s just not very good. I think I have a logical plot, lots of conflict, and interesting characters. So what’s wrong? I think it’s that it all feels a bit easy. I’m putting the characters into very dangerous situations, but there is not a feeling of real fear and threat of true loss. I’m trying to write something fun, but I still think without those moments it’s not satisfying. So I need to stoke up my fires of blackness and despair.
I’ll need some of that panic to get me over the line as well. 20 days to go and I’ve slowed way down. Soon I’ll be forcing four poor professional readers to sift through my garbage. Fuck. Yeah, I think that worked.”
Once again, there’s the need to step away. Once again, my guess is that it will cast a positive spell on the script itself.
That’s it for this week – check back in next, when hopefully I won’t feel like I’m dying.