Sorry for the delay on updates – wanted to give these guys a little room to breathe in their prep/first stages of writing, so we took last week off.
For my part: I’m still working on writing a pitch that I recently sold, and it’s taking a bit longer than expected – but in a good way. You can never say enough about working with the right creative team, and so far in my (very short) career, I’ve been lucky enough to be tethered to people who have the same vision for our projects – for the most part, at least. No exception this go-round, and what I’m really excited about is the fact that everyone wants to get it *right*. We’re not even remotely trying to reinvent the wheel here, nor are we imbuing some false sense of importance on our story. That being said, it still needs to work, and it still needs to sing, and most importantly it needs to be fun. And I can’t tell you how confidence inspiring it is to place those necessities above rapidity.
Also worth mentioning: since this WAS a pitch, I’ve been working off an outline, which is a double-edged sword for the way I work. I’ve spoken before about specs vs. assignments/pitches, and by nature the latter require a fleshed-out story to be conceived so you can walk into a room and make sure everyone knows EXACTLY what kind of movie you intend to write. These days, writers are required to do more than ever before when it comes to pitching – you’re expected to have every detail of the story down cold and be able to answer any questions about it at the click of a snap. And while it’s good to have all your core ideas set, it’s tough for someone like me who thrives off the improvisational aspects of writing – that is, writing yourself into the story as opposed to writing the story out as you’ve already planned it. It’s something I’ve always struggled with and that I’m STILL vying to make peace with on a creative level. I’m confident I’ll get there, but in the meantime, I’m frustrated with myself that I’ve not yet figured out how to optimize the process.
Based on my pitch, I have a responsibility to the studio and the producers – I am to deliver them the story I promised. And deliver it I will. And if I’m being honest, I’m VERY happy with what I’ve come up with so far. I’ve actually pleased myself, which, contrary to the way my substantial ego often shows its hand, is a tough feeling to come by on first drafts. That, again, I owe very much of that feeling to the people who are, so far, developing this story alongside me. So perhaps playing the tortoise in this particular race isn’t such a bad thing after all. I hope. Maybe this will be the adventure during which it all clicks into place. We’ll see.
Of course there’s always the frighteningly legitimate chance that I’m completely blowing it and this is my last ever spot of gainful employment as a writer. In which case I should let you all know that this has been an incredible amount of fun, and also, where can I learn how to write a resume and do you have any applications I can fill out?
Onto the Selected Ten:
“I have a confession. It’s something I’m hesitant to admit openly. I’ve finished my first draft. And I feel awful.
I finished my first draft in nine days. Part of me thinks that this should be cause for celebration. That it gives me five weeks to rewrite the hell out of this script. That part of me is an idiot. A romantic, and a fool.
I have never written a script this fast, ever. I tried something new with my outlining. I broke my story up into eight 15 minute chunks. I wanted something to happen every 15 minutes, and I wanted to be building up to that each time. I had an index card for, roughly, every 2 minutes. It was a lot of index cards.
It meant that I never stopped writing, I had scenes in front of me at all times. I added a tonne of additional scenes whilst I was going through as well, but I just kept on writing. I was very pleased with my outline, I knew the scenes, I had acted them out in my head, it all poured out of me. It was joyous.
Now I’m done with the first draft, and I’m full of doubt. Is it all guff and blunder? Will I spend the next five weeks polishing a hefty turd? Urgh, I hope not.
I really like my story, I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s a movie I would want to watch. I really like my characters, I know I can make them sing. But, nine days…dude. If I’d spent three or four weeks writing it would feel more (too) legit (to quit). But, I’d have less time to rewrite. I’m never happy, am I?
Plus, now I have the added stress of potentially being the knobhead that finished in nine days, had five weeks to rewrite, and still got four 1/10 reviews…oh god, I think I’m going to be sick.
In the end, fuck you playa haters. I wrote a first draft in nine days, and now I’ve got more time to rewrite. I’ve got material to work with, pages to edit, and cut, and improve, and…
I just thought about those four 1/10 reviews again…”
First of all, a standing ovation to Louis for getting to FADE OUT. That’s incredible, especially in nine days. But do you know what I love about this most? That Louis is scared. That he’s doubting himself. That he feels almost self-assured that he’s blown it. In my mind, those are the most healthy traits a writer can have. Unease and worry and fear drive us, in some odd and counterintuitive way, to force ourselves to not settle for failure. Remember just a bit ago when I was talking about how good I feel about the script I’m currently writing? That feeling is BLANKETED in terror. Because of that, I may be confident, but I’ll never be SATISFIED. And I think that’s what Louis is experiencing here. And to me, that’s the sign of a writer who gets it.
“I started bright and early on September 1, working as quickly as I could through my outline. I had hoped to have most of my script finished by now, but at the time of writing this review, I’m on Page 63. I still have three pages of outline to write through, so I’m sure I’ll be done with the first draft by the update next week.
Along the way, I’ve skipped over a few of the larger, more important scenes in the film. I’ll come back to these once I’m done with the skeleton, spending more time to make sure these scenes are just right. Spit shining.
I do most of my writing in the mornings, when the world is still quiet. I can settle in with a big cup of coffee, and get into the “atmosphere” of my story. I have a playlist on my computer of songs that remind me of my story. I have books and pictures around me that focus on my topic. I listen to some music and look at the pictures and then I’m ready to write.
Back to work!”
I’m really becoming more and more confident that I picked the right people for this challenge. Sixty-three pages is incredible in this amount of time, but much more than that, two things stick out to me here: Chris knows what works best for him as a writer, and he’s having fun writing. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it please me to hear that. I’m chuffed. I feel chuffed. It’s so easy to distance yourself from your writing when it goes from being a necessity to a commodity. But there’s ZERO reason that it can’t be both. I talk to writers all the time who love the end product but hate the process of sitting down to write, and nothing makes me sadder to hear. And all too often it leads to the sense that this is JUST a job, JUST a paycheck, JUST a work-for-hire that you need to bang out like an automaton. Commerciality does not have to equal banality; creativity does not have to be vanquished by the perception of “selling out”. It’s great to be reminded of that every now and then – so thanks, Chris.
“I have 52 pages written so far. None that look good enough to introduce to anyone. But a few that I’d consider making out with if all the lights were out. And I was drunk. And someone dared me to.
Whenever I get stuck on a plot point or a piece of dialogue, I go for a long walk. Of course I’m in Phoenix, where the average temp is still hovering around 105, so occasionally the heat stroke gets me before the inspiration does.
Sure I get weird looks from the neighbors when they catch me doubled over in their front lawns, feverish and dehydrated. And naturally I want to reassure them. “This is what following your dreams looks like, BITCHES!” But the dry heaving makes it tough to say anything so I usually just give a big thumbs up instead. Then I hallucinate my way home and tap out some more words.
Some days I worry my story’s not good enough. Other days I worry it’s great and I’m just not smart enough to tell it. But it’s mine, and I’m inclined to show it to the world, even though it’s a guaranteed embarrassment. Basically I indulge in the same kind of thinking that keeps the Sears Portrait Studio in business.”
After reading this, does anyone doubt for a moment that Rachel’s 52 pages contain some absolutely terrific stuff? No? Me neither. Rachel hits on much the same territory as Louis did, but I love the part about thinking it’s good but wondering if you’re actually capable of knowing the difference. NEWSFLASH: this feeling never goes away, nor should it. As a writer, you have to strike the delicate balance between believing you know what’s good/trusting your instincts and also being dead certain that you will never be sure and may very well be totally wrong. That’s the only way you stay open to criticism, and that’s the only way you’ll ever get any better.
“Okay, so I’m kind of worried about how not worried I’ve been so far. I figured I’d have my first panic attack about this around September 2nd, but I’ve kept really, really calm since beginning and I have no idea how. Even after someone announced they’re damn near done with a first draft (I won’t say any names but you know who you are LOUIS) I didn’t really freak out. This is all very unlike me and I’m hoping this new, awesome nervous system of mine sticks around for a while.
Anyways, pages-wise, I have about 30 put together thus far and I don’t totally hate them, which is also a very new and unexpected thing for me. Writing hasn’t been too difficult yet, but my story’s really just an exaggerated retelling of personal experiences, so I’m really just writing what I know. My roadblocks as of now have really just been family-related. My parents like to come in the room, stand over my shoulder, and ask me what I’m doing even though they KNOW GODDAMNED WELL WHAT I’M DOING. (You’re all writers so I’m sure you know the totally awful feeling that is someone standing over your shoulder while you’re trying to fucking write.) And my brother, Jordan, is now constantly bombarding me with all his film ideas because he’s convinced he can do this better than I can. The other day he said, “You know that movie about the dude that’s born old and gets younger? Benjamin Buttermaker, or whatever? Yeah, you should do something like that, but the guy does the opposite.” I said, “You mean someone that just ages like a normal person?” He said, “Yeah, exactly.” This is what I deal with here.
So I’ve been taking a break from everything/everyone and couch surfing in IL. Currently writing this in grandma’s basement. Back to MO and writing tomorrow.”
And, articulated at just the right moment, here’s Delaney with a different kind of fear: she’s worried that she’s not worried. This is a real thing. Writers are terrified at having created something good – it opens up the doors to too many other possibilities that we might not be ready for. “What if I have to do it again? WHAT IF I CAN’T DO IT AGAIN??” I haven’t read any of Delaney’s work yet, but I’m glad her process has been smooth for the most part (save for her family hanging over her shoulder – if you know a writer, DO NOT FUCKING DO THIS, as it does indeed make you the worst). Could she just be lulling herself into a false sense of creative security? Sure. Could she really be clicking and on top of her game? Absolutely. But the fact that she’s self-aware enough to have even thought this way is a damn good sign that she’s on the right track.
“The past ten days haven’t been too bad. I’ve kind of just decided not to panic during these six weeks. I’ve been writing pretty much every day. A good day for me has been 6 or 7 pages, a bad day, zero pages. But the thing I’ve really figured out that works for me is to free write before every single scene. Or before a scene, and then during a scene, too, if I’m getting lost. I use the site 750words.com (it tracks your word count and the days you write and makes me feel accomplished), and just do a big ol’ mind dump before I face my script each day. I think this is why I haven’t been panicking. Because by the time I get to my scene, I know exactly what needs to happen in it, and where my protagonist’s head needs to be by the end of it.
Also, I’m used to writing with a partner and endlessly discussing what we’re working on, so this free writing thing kind of serves the same purpose. It’s like I’m endlessly discussing with myself what I’m working on.
I’m on page 45, and feeling okay about it. I’m not really letting anyone read it. I have a weekly writers’ group, and I haven’t been sharing pages. It’s too fresh, and the deadline is too soon. I don’t want five different opinions on it. I’m worried it will make me doubt myself. Or make me want to rewrite the whole thing. Or somehow just mess me up. So I’m protecting it, for now…”
I sense that Emily is slightly frustrated at the moment (please correct me if I’m wrong, Emily), but her update was one of my favorites this week simply because she’s finding her way. This is an early script, it’s early in the process, she’s just finding out how to get her head in the right place, she’s working for the first time without a partner…these are all hurdles. What’s great is that Emily seems to be just leaping over all of them, doing what she can to lock into the best first draft she’s capable of. That’s tremendous. She’s even found practical tools that help motivate her. Emily strikes me as someone who’s as intent on learning about writing as she is about writing itself. I think that’s going to serve her brilliantly. And anyway, some of the most fantastic work comes from the people who don’t know any of the pitfalls or contrivances and just go and WRITE. Maybe that’s Emily.
“Shit, are we really 3 weeks in?
My plan to have a completed outline/treatment from which I could write the screenplay by the end of week 3 has not quite come to pass, but neither is it far off.
I think overall, I am reasonably happy with what I have got down. There have been a couple of lightbulb moments where things have come together and problems have been solved, seemingly without
any effort on my part. I know that is nonsense; the fat, juicy worms have come wriggling up because I have been ploughing the field, but such moments are memorable.
It is not the most original story, but as far as I can tell, it makes some kind of sense and most of my scenes seem to lead into each other for valid narrative reasons. Most of them. Some of them. I think. I hope.
Six weeks is nothing. Absolutely nothing. But as far as my chosen avocation is concerned, this is the most intensely productive single period I have ever had, and for that reason alone, I am loving being a part of this. My day job has been especially busy the last month or so, and taken together with the Challenge, I have been feeling pretty strung out on occasion lately. But there is light ahead; my beloved and I are heading off very soon to a Greek island for our annual holiday.
I am massively looking forward to it, and feel that pressing on with my screenplay on a sunlit balcony overlooking the Aegean or whatever it is fits in quite nicely with my delusional, romantic notion of what it means to be a Writer.
So, halfway. Whatever happens, in another 3 weeks, I will have a finished script.”
I ask a serious question: how can you read the above and NOT want to immediately drown yourself in whatever Damian is writing? What I think is so important here is that Damian has a demanding job that keeps him away from his script, both practically and mentally/emotionally at times. So many of you struggle with the same, and that’s not even taking into account, you know…LIFE. How do you keep yourself jazzed to typetypetype and be clever and tell a story you’re not even sure anyone else wants to hear? That’s a question without a one-size-fits-all answer, but are you starting to notice a pattern? In case you aren’t: writers learn to figure shit out, and writers learn how to make their time work for them. I’m not worried about Damian in the slightest, even if he lost time at the outset of this embedded in (basically) a war zone. But what can YOU do to keep the flame alight? Whatever it is: find it. If you can’t, that’s a pretty big sign.
“I have a day job and children so there is no chance I am going to join these young upstarts with their bajillion pages by day 3. I have been dependably plodding away producing at least two pages a day and am now on page 24. On day 2 I nearly switched stories to something about emus as I had not done nearly enough world building for my science fiction script. I couldn’t describe *anything* as I hadn’t figured out what anything looked like. Suddenly something set in 1930’s Australia seemed so, so appealing. But I pushed through, putting in place holders, which I am gradually filling out as everything becomes clearer to me.
I write academic papers all day so I am accustomed to writing precisely and concisely. This makes it extremely difficult for me to waffle in a screenplay and therefore my page count creeps painfully slowly. If I’m going to make it to page 90 I need to chill the fuck out. I think tonight I am going to drink a bottle of wine and set my characters free. Every line doesn’t need to advance the plot. I’m not writing a scientific argument. It just needs to be entertaining.
Don’t fret. I’ll get back to the emus.”
I get the sense that Claire thinks she is behind in this challenge, and I would like to dispel her (and any of you feeling the same way) of that notion; you are, indeed, not. Some people write quickly with no regard for their own personal safety. Some are deliberate and considered. No way is better than the other until it comes to what you’re comfortable with. Once again (and seriously, I’m posting these in the order I receive them each week), we find someone who has a demanding job and an entire life that come before writing. It’s nothing to dismiss, and being that she’s (approximately, statistically) 1/4 of the way through her script with all of that on her plate is remarkable. The idea that having a few drinks will cause you to pour forth all you’ve been holding back in your writing is a terrible cliche and one that I support wholeheartedly. Sometimes you just need a pressure release. Claire may think she’s hit a wall here, but in reality she’s just softening it up so she can finally break through.
JESSE & JERREN
“Just to reiterate Jerren’s ongoing spelling struggle, we are now actively working with a document he created titled ‘ACT II CHORNOLOGY.’ Cool.
On this note, we tend to send ideas back and forth via whatever email thread we have open, some of which have subjects like ‘NEW MAD MAX TRAILER OH FUUUUUUCK,’ so it’s been a challenge keeping track of things we’ve discussed. For this project we made the long overdue move of attempting to centralize all of our ideas into one document, which lasted 9 hours.
On Day One, Jerren was still at the Telluride film festival. We had prepared for this by divvying up Act 1 scenes before Jerren left. BUT HE HAD TO WRITE HIS SCENES LONGHAND WHILE WAITING IN LINE TO SEE BIRDMAN, which is very gross for other people to see. I know, tough life, huh, Jerren?
Though the condensed time frame for both preparation and writing had us a little worried at first, the actual typing of the ‘vomit draft’ — a term we both hate because we are always always ALWAYS eating while writing–has been moving quickly. (We’re at about 64 pages now) (Which should really be about 35 but oh well) In fact, because of that pace, we took off this past Monday to throw a giant ‘One Week Of Writing Excellence’ party. Nobody came. It was a block party.
The unexpected speed at which words are being vomited (uggggh) gives us the confidence to ease up on the proverbial gas pedal and keep talking about everything. We scrutinize, outline, email, and scrutinize some more, weighing the effect of every single choice and beat we make and what the ramifications are. This shines a light on areas we haven’t thought all the way through, disconnects in plot points/tone/CHORNology, or when one of us beat-for-beat writes a whole sequence from DREDD. We know from experience that it’s just so easy to lose track of what we actually started writing thematically, especially in a comedy, so we’re constantly stepping back to re-assess what the ultimate goals and arcs of our characters are, and to nail down the most compelling way to disseminate that info through the narrative.
The other big thing we’re striving for is creative ways to get in some set-ups/pay-offs. Our project is dealing with a genre that has no small amount of iconography and standard tropes, so we’re working very hard to mask or obscure all our set-ups behind character beats and/or jokes, usually a combination of the two. We think set-ups can usually be seen a mile away and thus blunt the effect of the ultimate pay-offs, so a lot of our focus is going into this aspect.
But good God for reals have you guys seen that Mad Max trailer?!”
Focus on the last paragraph here, because…well, this is where I’m telling you to focus. Don’t question me. This is important: these two are ACTIVELY thinking about what they can do to make their script stand out, to make their story more memorable, by paying attention to the details. Look, there are no new stories left in the world. None. It’s all been done in one form or another. That in mind, never be afraid that you’re walking a well-worn trail – you are. You definitely are. Everyone is. So what sets you apart is how you make those details your own, how you this familiar tale into your own. Seen it before in a movie? Change it. What to? Well, what HAVEN’T you seen before in that situation? Moreover, what would YOU like to see in that situation. Here’s the best way I can describe it: everyone’s gotten into an argument that they’ve walked away from, only to twenty minutes later come up with a line that’s the nail in the coffin – the “AH FUCK ME WHY DIDN’T I SAY THAT??????” conundrum. Well here’s the great news: if you’re a writer ALL OF YOUR ARGUMENTS GET TO END PERFECTLY IF YOU WANT THEM TO. So manipulate that shit. This is where you get to be you to the very apex of your own narcissism. Have at it. You can’t give us something new, but you can give us something better or unexpected. And then, at the very least, you’ve piqued our interest.
PS – If it makes you queasy, you don’t HAVE to call it a “vomit draft”. Anything excretory will do.
“Nearing the end of week two I find myself nearing the end of Act One. That’s good, right? Six weeks = two weeks per act. I haven’t taken a math class since senior year of high school so it sounds right to me.
I know there’s a bunch of hubbub in the screenwriting ether about act structure, its benefits, its negatives, who its going to take to prom, etc. I personally just use it as a general guide. Act 1 is setting up your rules, Act 2 is playing around, and Act 3 is the big finale. The length, tone, if they’re divided into smaller pieces, and everything else about those acts depends on what story you’re actually telling. It’s a helpful guide, not a formula.
For this one, Act 1 is a bit unique. Chronologically, it takes place over the course of half a day. The entire script will take place over about two weeks, so that is a full 1/3 of the page count all taking place in half a day. It’ll hopefully give it a full-steam ahead energy that’ll grip the audience and not let go. When they blink and realize they’ve been following along for a half hour, they’ll realize they are past all the boring setup and into the fun stuff. And their wallets are gone.
Another fun element is the transitions. For the first twenty or so pages, almost every scene transitions to the next through either a sports show or a phone call. Why? I don’t know. Seemed like a fun idea. Stop asking so many questions.
Next week, I dive into the untamable quagmire that is Act 2. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think a pest control guy is knocking on my apartment door. Cheers!”
“It’s a helpful guide, not a formula.” Dan, I am going to kiss you on the mouth. You could not be righter. This is part of something I try to tell writers as often as possible. There are “rules”, but there are really no RULES. At the end of the day, the only thing you ever need to worry about is keeping your reader entertained enough to want to flip from page to page and ultimately satisfying them in one way or another at the end. That’s it, and that should always be in the back of your mind: “Have I made the reader care?” Structure is only necessary insofar as the people making the movie agree the story needs to unfold. You can have the tightest, most bit-by-bit screenplay imaginable…and it can still suck big fat wet dogcock. On the flipside, you can have a thrillingly exciting set of scenes that absolutely go nowhere without glue to bind them and an engine to propel them forward. What I’m saying is: don’t be concerned about the box. Be concerned what’s in the box. If someone gives you a stack of cash in a paper bag, are you going to bitch at them because it didn’t come in a suitcase? No. If you would or have, I’m calling the police.
Also, I’m very interested in Dan’s transitions, because I consider stuff like this to be the ultimate hit-or-miss tool in screenwriting. If they feel organic to the tone/theme/story, they can be great. If not, they come off as sad gimmicks. The fact that Dan’s putting a lot of thought into it leads me to believe it’ll be the former.
“Well, these past few weeks have some new kinds of challenging. I was mulling over my outline the Sunday night before lift-off and thought it looked pretty boring. Not visual at all.
One possible solution to that – this seemed like a good idea at the time, I swear – was to get rid of the first act and instead pepper the rest of the movie with it in the form of distorted surreal flashbacks.
I haven’t read over my pages yet, so I don’t know if that’s working yet.
Another pain in the backside – I’m a good 40 pages short. Yep. 40 pages. I’m up to about 55 pages and have pretty much written every scene I thought of in the outlining stage. Needless to say, development is needed.
I’m trying to figure out why this happened and one good reason might be…I didn’t use the board. Yeah, the good old-fashioned corkboard. If I fill a corkboard with index cards, I know that I have at least a 90-page script. Too much more and I know I’m going a bit too long.
Maybe I’m writing short because I want to get the heck outta there. It’s been a lot more painful than usual, writing pages. Sure, writing is hard most of the time but once I’m done, I’m usually quite proud of myself. But this time not so much. I don’t know the world well enough. I haven’t done my time researching or outlining or getting to know the characters. At least I don’t think so.
With my previous scripts, I knew what the “house” of my screenplay looked like even though I didn’t really need to go into every room. I feel much more like a stranger here. I know that a lot of people in #sixweekspec find this compressed time-frame challenging and compressed their process to uncomfortably short lengths. I suppose that’s the point of this whole exercise – what really works as far as process goes. And what SO doesn’t.
Note to self: Use a board.
Oh yes and this writing 10-pages-a-day shtick really doesn’t work for me. At most, I can manage 6 or 7.
Another note to self: pages are meant to be savored, not devoured.
But on the upside, some extraordinary stuff has been emerging re: theme and meaning. I think this screenplay is about activism, ego and free will. How awesome is that? This from someone who didn’t even take Philosophy 101 at university.
Yeah, writing kind of blows right now. But I’m sure it’s going to look up eventually. It might not be at the end of this six weeks. But it will eventually.
It might have nothing to do with writing actually. My husband lovingly decided to share his cold with me. Family gave me grief. Just general suckiness was had in other areas of life. It’s amazing how everything happens at once, doesn’t it? That’s life and all that.
Sigh. Back to pages.”
Sabina hits on a real truth here: sometimes writing sucks. Remember back there when I was like, “I’m baffled by people who hate the act of writing?” (Remember the last time I asked you if you remembered that other time?) Well, that’s true – I am. But that’s also a macro thing. In the micro, writing can be a real fucking tit sometimes. Everyone had bad days, bad weeks, bad months. Some have bad careers (I’m not sure I’m not one of them, honestly)! And if you find yourself in that position, what do you do? Whatever your answer is, it HAS to end with, “…and then I buckled down and started writing again.” Sabina, I know, gets this. I also love the fact that she’s aware of what her weakness is right now – she doesn’t have the whole story yet. When you come up short in your page count (the total of which is imaginary but we all have a basic idea of what to hover around) the problem is almost always that you don’t know, completely, what you’re trying to accomplish or what you’re trying to say. When you do, you’ll have a frustrating amount of extra pages, not fewer. I also love love love love love that she’s taking a BIG chance with her first act. That’s exciting and interesting and GOD that is so much better than a writer always adhering to what they think they SHOULD do.
I’ve got to say…I’m absorbing a lot from these guys, and I’m almost inexplicably impressed with the considered approaches they’re taking to their scripts. It’s immensely gratifying. They all care, and they’re all thoughtful and cognizant and AWARE. Who knows where each of these 10 scripts end up – will they all even be completed in the first place? – but it’s pretty safe to say they’re all coming from the right points of origin.
More later this week. I’ve heard from a few of you with your own tales and I might still post some at some point – I’ve just been trying to finish up my own shit over here. But continue to write and ask questions and update me on your progress. It’s been a great learning experience/commiseration so far.