Er…they’re all “ready”. I think. I think I misheard that last part. I’m saying: I do not believe any of the Selected Ten have perished.
OK, let me talk about me for a second first, because honestly that’s my favorite thing to do:
When it came down to it, I’m actually glad I didn’t write a spec in the period of time the Selected Ten did. I know my next couple of specs backwards and forwards already, and they’re concepts, worlds and stories I’m intimately familiar with in one way or another. I feel like I would have blown through them quickly and not had much to offer publicly as a result.
But what ended up happening, as you know, is that I worked on a script that was commissioned from a pitch. And while I was (and still am) confident in my grasp on the story, the characters and the things I wanted to say within them (and where the comedy should come from, perhaps most importantly), it’s also been a (somewhat) frustrating challenge at times. The script involves locations and music and a whole SOCIETY, in essence, that need to be characters themselves in the film. And yeah, it’s a PG-13 studio comedy. This isn’t deep, important shit by any means – but there are elements that need to be respected and not be treated lazily. As such, this is the most research I’ve ever done for a script. And as I’m not a musically-inclined person, especially in a business sense, the behind-the-scenes machinations were tough to nail down and get comfortable with. At the end of the day, I personally NEED this movie to be authentic as much as possible. And when that authenticity isn’t originating from within me…I mean, shit, that’s tough.
So I’ve struggled. But it’s been a good struggle, a learning struggle, a struggle that I’d welcome with open arms any time I write from now on. And I bring this up not *just* because I like talking about myself – although, again, that’s most of the drive here – but because I think it made me appreciate even more that the Selected Ten were going through the same much of the time. And that made this project not only a relatable one as per myself to the Ten, but one in which the commiseration actually aided me as I wrote along. Was I guiding them…or were they guiding me?
(HOLY SHIT I’ve always wanted to type that and mean it and yes it feels just as good and as smarmy as I thought it would, and now I’m a Lifetime movie and I CANNOT BE STOPPED.)
And that’s what I want to thank the Selected Ten for the most – for the learning experience. In every facet, every single week, I learned something. And I empathized. And I sympathized. And I remembered. And goddamn, it was great.
When I first dreamt up this experiment, I thought I’d be thrilled if even seven out of ten finished a script and had the sack to upload it to the Black List. As it turned out, ALL TEN FUCKING OWNED IT. I am so proud. I am so unbelievably proud. And I can’t wait to read their scripts.
Luckily, I don’t have to. And neither do you. Because here are their final updates, complete with the loglines of their scripts and where you can find them on The Black List. Seek them out. I have a feeling there are some real gems in here.
To the Selected Ten: Way to go. Seriously. You absolutely destroyed this process – each in your own way – more completely and more professionally that I could have ever hoped. I’m honored to have helped in any small way to have ushered you through this process.
And so here are their last hurrahs, in their own words, unsubjected to my petty mewlings:
“Being part of the Six Week Spec challenge has been the best thing that’s happened to me since I took up screenwriting. It shook me out of the rut of procrastination I’ve been stuck in for a long time, and I’ve shown that I can write, in a short space of time, a real script with a real beginning, middle and end. I’m ready to get on with my next project, and I feel freshly-scrubbed and like a middle-aged slightly overweight eager Beaver.
I’ve also – and this feels just as important – been brought into contact with some really great new people, and the world seems to have opened up a bit wider.
Seeing my script up there on the Black List is a thrill, and whatever happens from here, the last six weeks have made me feel like I do actually have a place in the race.”
TOGETHER AS FOOLS
“When a game of soldiers goes horribly wrong, a cowardly dreamer has to fight to save the life of his friend – and what’s left of his reputation.”
“Wow, what a ride! First up, I want to thank Geoff for choosing me to be part of this. Seeing as this has all been done in conjunction with The Black List, here’s the (not paid for) evaluation of my #SixWeekSpec experience, enjoy.
1000. And last but not least… Geoff and the other Selected Ten. I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say you are some of the coolest cats I’ve ever met. I know I haven’t actually met any of you, but just going through this process with you guys makes me feel like I don’t really have to meet you in person to know you. Because we all just did so much cool stuff together. (That being said, I still want to meet all of you. Anyone going to be in the Mexico, Missouri area anytime soon?!) Seriously, y’all are awesome. And some of you are so naturally, effortlessly funny I just want to puke and then throw in the towel I used to clean it up. And Geoff, thanks for thinking I deserved to be in their (and your) company. Seriously.
Anyways, my script is (at the moment) titled WHERE WE BEGAN. It follows two 20-something-year-old lifelong friends (Lena and Luke) who had a recent falling out as they travel to their hometown for a funeral together. Essentially, the road trip forces them to sort of come to terms with this friendship that’s felt forced upon them their entire lives (their parents were friends since before they were born). That’s a decent synopsis I guess. I’m honestly not brave enough to make it public on The Black List, but if anyone is interested in reading it, let me know on Twitter (@anirishwhiskey) or through email [dmcneil2(at)illinois(dot)edu]. I’m happy to send it to you guys.”
feature ideas that I now know I can bring to life. Maybe clumsily and naively at first, but that’s OK. I have many writing years left in me.
@MysteryCr8tve said that it took over 15 years of solid writing to write something he wasn’t embarrassed by, and I found that strangely
the world is unlikely to thank you.My fellow writers: I’ve written mostly comedies in the past, and you guys make me feel like a hack. I’ve learned so much about punchy writing just from your updates and bios. Your scripts must be spectacular (yeah, give it up me). I feel like the worst house on the best street, but we all know that’s the smartest place to be. I can’t wait to see where you all go next. I’ll be watching you as best I can from darkest Tasmania, and when I make it to LA next year I’ll be trawling through your trash for discarded manuscripts. Guess that actually means breaking into your computers these days. Oooo, I can do that from here.”
I guess that was the awesome thing about this little experiment: we were all kind of overwhelmed, and anxious and freaking out about writing a script in six weeks, but we were in it together. Feeling like the world was ending, and then reading that someone else was having a similar crisis was hugely helpful. Especially for someone like me, who tends to retreat further and further from the outside world when I’m having writing problems.
**Also I’m amazed at how funny some peoples’ updates were (Jerren/ Jesse: Hi) in the middle of this process. By the time I sat down to write my update each week, the most creative thing I could come up with was something along the lines of: “Writting iz hAAard”.
THANK YOU Geoff, for letting be a part of this, and for checking in with me when my updates began to get shorter and more panicky. I really appreciate that you took the time to encourage and reach out to writers, even though you’re a busy guy and no one asked you to do this. That’s so cool.
Can’t wait to read everyone’s scripts!”
HOW TO SURVIVE IN SUBURBIA
“After her first novel crashes and burns, Meryl Oberst moves back home to write novel #2, but the only writing inspiration she can find is from the idiots who work with her at her new job in the book shop her parents own.”
I started out this year pretty much wondering whether I should pack it in. I’d been through a few grueling rewrites on another project. A painful fourth draft, a comedy pass which should have been fun and was a little bit. Though preparing it felt like an enema.
And then I submitted to Sundance Labs. All through that process wondering whether it was really worth it. What’s the point? Should I give up this screenwriting malarkey? Go back to corporate communications? Wouldn’t be so bad would it? But it would be. Corporate communications almost killed me. But that was then. I’m older. I have more control over my emotions. God, I sound Vulcan.
In any event, I entered Sundance Labs. Tripped around the world to see my family who asked me predictably, “what I was doing with my life” I’m glad to know that it’s not just a ‘brown’ thing and it’s not just a ‘writer’ thing. Young people on the edge have been pushed over by elderly relatives all over the world.
Also uploaded my script to the Black List fully expecting a 2 or 3.
I came back. I’d gotten a 7 from the Black List. Not bad right?
And some weeks later, a lot of weeks later, as I was prepping another project, Sundance Labs wrote back.
Saying, ‘We’re pleased to inform you….’ I couldn’t tell you what the rest of the email said because my brain stopped working.
I think it took me a full 3 hours to become functional again. And about 17 calls to my husband who, of course, was in a low-signal area.
This was a big deal.
In a week, I rewrote the blasted script AGAIN. Lord knows I’ve never worked that hard on a script in my life. But I know now I’m capable of it Alhamdulillah.
And then somewhere in that week (yeah, in that very same week), Geoff selected me as one of the ten who will simply walk into Mordor. WTH?
Friends on Twitter broke it to me this time. My face just froze into that face from the Scream.
But I took a week or three to outline something I wasn’t planning on writing till oh, maybe next year or the year after. A crazy Egyptologist and alien two-hander story. Looking back, my feet up, a cup of tea here, I think I’m crazy. But I think it’s a good kind of crazy.
Yeah, I abandoned (for now) the project I had actually done some prep on and went with another project entirely. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And I actually think it was, thank God. Or at least I’m sticking to my guns now I’ve fired them.
So I outlined as best as I could. Which it turned wasn’t that good. But still I asked my characters a few questions, beated out the script, did some very preliminary research (I wouldn’t be surprised if I receive hate mail and bricks through my window from irate Egyptologists – no, it’s not that bad. I’m a drama queen) and wrote a first draft.
Fifty-six pages it was. It was really hard to write too. Because I knew as far as screenplays go, it was pretty bad. This much I knew.
But still even so, it was enormously helpful. I figured out the emotional arc in a lot of the scenes, though it still needed some significant cleaning up.
I guess I discovered that I love love love outlining. Especially after hearing how much work Damian put into his outline and feeling JEALOUS. Who would have thought an outline could make me feel jealous?
I went back through my script. I read it 3-4 times. Seeing that it was only 56 pages, that wasn’t that hard. But essentially I familiarized myself with the structure as it is.
I then went through and figured out what I’d learned about my characters from each scene. Okay, they are acting in a certain way. Why?
I wouldn’t let it go until I got an answer that seemed sincere.
I forced them to open up to me. Well, at least my main two characters. With the others, I have much work to do, especially the more significant supporting characters.
Once I figured I’d learned what I could from this iteration, I dove into the outline again. I fleshed it out. And added a first Act which I had omitted at the beginning, thinking the audience wouldn’t need it – they ALWAYS need a first act in sci-fi.
That added a good thirty pages to my total. And that page count continued to tick up as I wrote thereafter.
I found myself getting terrifically bored with my writing. There’s a few stock words and phrases I use. ‘Nonplussed’, ‘suddenly’, ‘scuttled’.
I like my ellipses too….
But still I wrote.
I’ve never done out and out philosophical discussions in a screenplay before. Sure, there’s philosophical battles being fought in the sub-text, but never in the text-text. This was a gamble. I wonder if it turned out any good. But I guess all art is a gamble.
I wonder also if anyone will care as much about my work as they have in the past few months. I sincerely hope so.
I hope I am worthy of such caring. And it’s my job I think in the coming months to really up my game, get better and learn from the greats.
This is my fourth script project (counting the first which was too embarrassingly bad to show anyone). Since it occurred in such a compressed time frame (8-9 weeks in total), all my normal reactions to the various stages of screenwriting came into sharp relief.
At first, it felt like going on a really big water-slide. Yeah, sure you might die. But you might also have the time of your life.
Then came the really hard part. Facing up to the fact that this thing has some kinks that’ll need sorting out. That’s disappointing but not necessarily bad. Mistakes can always be fixed as long as the script hasn’t been sent to Harvey Weinstein (I don’t think he’d be interested in my non-Oscar-winning-genre film anyway).
Tiredness sets in and the usual questions begin to present themselves. ‘What’s the point? Nobody cares. I’m the only person that cares about this silly story.’
My husband says he can set his watch by when in a project I start to ask those questions. He even parrotted them back to me.
Other more deep-rooted concerns also presented themselves later as tiredness really began to set in. I found myself caught up in the Islam wars between Maher and Affleck and Reza Aslan too. Flurries of articles on my Facebook and Twitter. Intellectual and not-so-intellectual responses. This is around the time I start to wonder whether I should pay attention to the world a little more. To politics. Whether I should give my community a hand.
But as I’ve read the arguments back and forth and back and forth – people have been talking about this since September 11th, since probably before the Internet as well. It’s just the Internet has made these conversations front and center in our lives i.e. Muslim lives.
I’ve decided something (though I might wake up tomorrow and change my mind). This politics crap is too complicated for me. There are much smarter people who can dissect these arguments up the wazoo and write brilliantly worded 2000-word features about them. Not me. Me, I write screenplays.
It frustrates me that however many articles have been and will be written, there’ll always be more demanded. But this is a fight that needs to be fought I guess. But not by me. I can’t do it. My rather gentle polite heart can’t take it.
How am I going to fight Islamophobia? Writing screenplays with Muslim characters being human. Even if nobody EVER reads them or cares. Even if nobody is ever interested in making them into a movie. I owe it to my progeny to try. This is terrifying to me but I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
I’m going to be asking myself, ‘Do I have anything better to do?’ If the answer continues to be no, I will continue to screen-write. That sounds pretty simple.
And I’m going to be a nice person too. Yeah, this is my fight. This is my world. Being a decent person is simple. Smiling at your friends, feeding a hungry child, picking up somebody when they’re down – that’s what decent people do. Politics is not so simple.
Screenwriting is simple too really. Just write an effing good story (pardon my French). I’ll let the really smart people take care of the politics.
And well, all of that aside, I finished my screenplay. I’m dog tired now and it’s done.
I’m going to take a while. Rest. Read other people’s screenplays, especially of the Selected Ten. Review. Recuperate. Eat right. Exercise. Stay out of the sun. However long I need to take (but no longer than two weeks).
By then, I should have an idea whether this project has any momentum. I might choose then to use the last 2 months of the year, plus early next year to rewrite this script. Or something else.
My in-laws are down in December. Big life changes are on the horizon. I’m not going to lose my momentum but I don’t want to burn out either. We’ll see how this goes. As usual, as my husband says, cross that bridge when we come to it.”
– The weekly updates from the other writers and the comments from Geoff were so affirming. It was nice to know there was someone else paying attention, frankly, and that there are other people out there to commiserate with. Unless that’s mad corny and you guys felt differently, in which case… *flash from a memory erasing device*.
– Intense appreciation of a good writing partner and pal. Six weeks ago, one of us would have strongly opposed using an Aladdin reference. But appreciating what the other brings to the writing should be done on a daily basis. Saying it out loud (or in an email or text) regularly is also essential. Livin’ that friendship liiiife.
– Jerren is a terribel speller (left that spelling of ‘terrible’ because PERFECT EXAMPLE) and Jesse’s great at proof-reading.
– Having only one (or two) VERY trusted readers is better than a plethora of only kinda-trusted ones. Look, not every group of pals shares the Ocean’s 11 chemistry. Find that one person that you want to impress, and if you do that, you know it’s up to your standards. For Jerren, it’s his fiancée Beth. For Jesse, it actually is Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest of the Ocean’s gang.
During the writing, when the stress started to ramp up, we realized that we would look back really fondly on this whole thing. Not to be too precious, but it is amazing to us that this script now exists. It was an idea sitting in an email draft somewhere, not much more than some broad-stroke first impressions. Now it’s something we can read. We are very, very thankful to have been a part of this.
TO THE REST OF THE TEN: We know we said this in the non-public (gasp!) forum of email, but you guys are varied, interesting and amazing. Just rad as eff. It was sincerely humbling to write along with you guys.”