Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Friday, April 28, 2006

We'll Be Back Right After This Message

Heard this again today and thought I'd post it since every time I hear
it, I'm reminded how short life is and how much we tend to be unable to
see the forest for the trees. Haven't seen or read better advice
dispensed in a more compact package.

Wear sunscreen by Mary Schmich.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,
whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own
meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not
understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But
trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall
in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how
fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as
effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed
your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people
who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes
you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in
doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to
do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know
still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when
they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe
you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky
chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't
congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices
are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of
what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the
people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should
hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle,
because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you
when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in
Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will
philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize
that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble
and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund.
Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one
might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply
it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the
past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and
recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pencil or Pixel

Me, I probably should use paper and pen/pencil. I can burn hours and
hours up on the computer without even opening a screenwriting program or
any sort of outlining software or anything.

Between the web, program updates, troubleshooting, games, music, art,
photos, e-mail, movies, videos, blogs, web page updates, bah.... way too
easy. Heck, I've burned at least 5-10 hours this week reading blogs. Why
is it so many of us procrastinate when it comes to writing? I can bust
through 8 hours of my day job without an issue, but sit down and write?
That's like pulling teeth. And why? I love it. I love to talk story,
love to write, love reading something I've written well. Why is it so
hard to sit down and do it.

I have to wonder if it's not a bit of fear. Fear of finishing. Fear of
proving that I'm not as good as I think. Fear of completing a story -
ending the journey. Fear of success. Fear of something. I'm sure it's
some sort of fear. Perhaps I just don't want to look that far down into
myself to figure out what it is.

What does it mean if you can't plonk yourself down and write? Is it
laziness? I find that hard to believe for all of us - and yet, it's a
popular ordeal for writers to face procrastination. If it's fear, what
are we all afraid of? Surely we can't all be unambitious. Why does
writing seem to be so different from all other work. You could say it's
solitary work - but I work out of my house, so I don't have a lot of
communication anyway. I had much fewer problems writing when I was
younger. Could it be a feeling of ambivalence?

For now, I find myself mostly curious about those cool little status
meetings some folks have on their blogs that show this completion status
of their scripts. What the hell do I care about that for? All my scripts
are at bloody ZERO! *sigh*

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Writing in the gas chamber

I've read about how writers love their cats. How these lovable cats curl
up beside them - or in a chair beside them and nap (for support) while
their owners type away.

I have a 75lb lab. She's got to be over 10 years old and she does the
same thing. However, she like to spread out *right next to my chair*.
When a cat spreads out, they cover a couple feet, my lab takes up
several square feet (what with those legs stretched out as far as
possible). Hence, I'm always coming close to rolling over her or
tripping over her when I get up or move.

She also has this annoying habit - she emits a noxious gas on a regular
basis which jars me out of any creative flow I may be lucky enough to be
locked into.

This stuff is putrid. An unbelievable stench. As is typical with
animals, it's also silent, so there's no warning, just these fumes
wafting over my shoulder.

Thank god I have a remote for a fan in the room.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What the hell was I thinking? Part 2

Ok, so, after the underwhelming accounting of my brush with fame, I continued on my quest. It was good fortune to work in the same building as the Virginia Film Office, so at lunch, I went over to their office and asked them about the film they were shooting in town. Turns out it's True Colors with James Spader and John Cusack, as well as Phillip Bosco. So, I ask about getting on the set to learn.

Unfortunately, they can't do a thing. I'll need permission from the director or AD. I get the AD's name and I"m off.

They're shooting a block away from where I work, so I go home, change and come back a couple hours later. I'm able to walk within sight of the set when I reach the taped off area and somebody stops me and says that a film is being shot and I need to stay behind the tape.

"I'm looking for ." I sound as confident and friendly as I can. Which, go figure, works. Perhaps I should have been an actor. They escort me under the tape and point me to the corner and add, "check with somebody up there and they'll help you."

Well, at the corner is the food table. Right outside a pretty good Chinese restaurant, so I figure, that's as good as any place to hang out. People start gathering around, a bunch of extras walk down the street, turn around and walk back, and repeat (ad nauseous). I'm watching this all and feeling pretty chuff when Philip Bosco comes up behind me. He's chatting with another actor, so I eavesdrop (that's what good writers do, right?). Eventually, I'm able to turn and get food and he strikes up a casual conversation.

Once again, I know I said something, but I couldn't identify my speech if my life depended on it. I didn't get my ass beat or thrown off the set, so I must have sounded casual enough to fit in.

I spent a couple hours just watching and hanging out with the extras. I watched James Spader walk by and off to his trailer. No brush with fame for me.

Finally, I'd had enough and snuck off the set and around the another building. Crept up to a large piece of machinery and crawled underneath. This was the parking garage scene between Cusack and Spader. My god - here is where it really hit me what making a movie is all about. At least I understood why people would not be particularly interested in watching a film in which they'd participated. It was so boring to watch the same thing, over and over and over and over. I was hoping to meet Kevin Wade (the writer), but knew then and there why he wasn't on the set.

Sure, perhaps some folks enjoy it, I bet first time writers get a kick out of seeing their characters come to life. But this wasn't Kevin's first script, it was being filmed in Richomnd, Virginia (not know for it's night life) and it was actually pretty chilly. Unless you were actually working, why would you want to be out here?

I also realized why later, Peter Jackson would say he'd love to see somebody else do The Hobbit. Making a movie takes a lot of the 'magic' out of the final product. For those acting with special effects, I'm sure it's not as bad, but as a director, he's seen all the acting, all the special effects and in it's most native, bare form. I'm sure it detracts from the ability to suspend one's disbelief and get lost in the movie.

We've had a few films come to Richmond, but after that, I haven't had any interest in running out to see them shot. I'd love to talk to the screenwriters, but they typically don't come.

Oh, yeah, the really embarrassing part.

It's been a few days, folks are still filming. I know where John Cusack is staying - again - the same building where I work (it's a hotel, restaurant and business all connected). So, I leave a note for John, something to the tune of "hey, would you like to be friends?"

Jesus. I wish I could delete that one.

One of those times when everything falls in your lap, but you're too ignorant to know what to do.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

What the hell was I thinking? Part 1

This'll be the first time I relate this story, so it might as well be here, so I can just refer people to it and never have to tell it again.

It's not like it's horrible - just soooooo damn naive. One of those things you did that just makes you cringe. I live in Richmond, Virginia. Not much here - I figure it to be the retirement community for all the 'big' companies from places like NY or LA, etc. We have some fairly large companies so these guys can come in, get a high paying job, get a (comparatively) cheap place twice the size of their big city counterpart, and then just retire and kick back. As the signs say, Virginia has it all - beaches, mountains, lakes and lovers.

Well, as a die hard screenwriting student, you're pretty much akin to being on a deserted island. When I started, I got Syd Field's book on screenwriting for $8.95 (Foundations on Screenwriting - circa 1984). This was a tough time - but also, it was a time when there weren't as many restrictions. You could approach people without fear of being arrested or slugged because they feared their life.

So, it was one evening when I happened to be in a local bar playing darts with some of my friends (I worked across the street). We're having fun and I'm looking around to see who's in the bar and I spot John Cusack. I love his stuff - The Sure Thing, Better off Dead, One Crazy Summer, Hot pursuit, Eight Men Out, Tapeheads, Say Anything, Fat Man and the Little Boy, The Grifters - I've just been eating it up. Now, he's like twenty feet away. The first actor I've seen up close and it's one of the guys I've been following. Of course, at this point, he's not exactly a "star".

I finally work up the guts to go over and introduce myself and gurgle how much I've enjoyed his work. I'm sure I blathered something about having a script - and he'd be perfect for it. Jesus - I'm cringing already. On the positive side, he was really kind. Didn't blow me off and I managed (I hope) to not come off like a total idiot and didn't overstep the "fan" boundary.

I go to work the next day and I'm on freaking cloud 9 - I mean, let's face it, I'm in bumfuck America and I want need Hollywood connections and I bump into John Cusack! This is my break!

Of course, I tell everybody, "guess who I met last night?"
"John Cusack!"

I go on to explain in more detail, but it doesn't matter. He's pretty much a nobody to everybody but my movie-geek buddy.

This is all fairly innocuous... part II gets better, and yet, somehow, much, much worse.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Writing On Spec

While I'm sure everybody knows what writing on spec means, maybe there are some folks out there who don't.

It's when you scribble you little guts out for free in the hopes that when you send it out, it's received with accolades and purchased (hopefully at a high price). The odds of this are so small, it's just like playing the lottery. It's a lot of hard work and plenty of time. If you think screenwriting is a get rich quick scheme, give it up now. Maybe a child of somebody off the A list gets a free look, but even they don't get a free lunch when it comes to purchasing. You have to show some talent. Unfortunately, for the majority of us outside of LA, screenwriting isn't everywhere. Instead of 95% of the people you bump into being frustrated screenwriters, 95% of the people you bump into don't even know what a screenwriter is, let alone who the hell your idols are (William Goldman, Richard Curtis, Richard Price, David Koepp, etc.).

If you're going to make a living screenwriting, you have to treat it like any other job. You won't get hired to do anything without proving that you have experience doing the job or some sort of degree to show that you've researched the work and have some idea about what the hell to do. Being able to write screenplays (or any other sort of professional writing) just because you know how to write in your chosen language is no more of a certification than being able to carve a turkey makes you qualified to be a surgeon. There is so much more to writing a screenplay than what's on the surface.

If you go down the list of professional writing, screenwriting is somewhere between short stories and novels. It's longer than a novella, shorter than a novel and, like a poem, is full of restrictions on form and content. You have to hit certain beats in certain places - not because "that's the formula" but because if you're telling a story in 90-120 minutes, that's what has to happen in a story of that length. Sure, some folks love to be rebels and say the rules don't apply to them. They'll quote Tarantino and other mavericks; however, if you're writing a romantic comedy, there are rules that you have to follow. If you don't, you don't have a romantic comedy. Let's face it, you can add 14 more wheels to a car, but you don't have a car any longer - you have an "18 wheeler" or truck.

These rules where not made up by Hollywood, they were merely discovered through repetition. If you read the books on mythology - most notably Joseph Campbell's works, you'll see that we have many things in common. One of which is a specific format in our stories.

As long as I'm using the lottery analogy, I might as well add that the lottery has dipped in it's payoff over the years as well. Not only are studios less willing to pay the high figures for spec scripts, they're not as apt to spring for as many purchases as they once did. The heyday of spec scripts appears to be mostly "the good ol' days" rather than the status quo for today. I don't doubt that folks are getting some good deals, but they're most probably reserved for folks who already have some street cred on their side.

So remember, as I see from some of the other writer's blogs, make sure your work is up to snuff before you send it out. I've seen several reasonable offers from folks (<$100) to provide feedback. If you can find a writer's group, that's optimal. If not, take one of these folks up on their offers and get some good feedback before telling the world that you're a pro.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Explosion of Screenwriters

Ok, I thought it was a lot when I started poking around this damn
Blogger thing, but now it's just getting insane.

I've got about 15-20 links already and I've only spent one evening
poking around other peoples "links worth reading". I shudder to think of
the number of sites you'd find if you actually went looking in earnest.
You could absolutely spend all your time reading Blogs instead of
writing anything. Maybe it's an insidious plot to keep new screenwriters
out of the system. Keep 'em reading and posting to blogs instead of writing.

Man, I remember when there was about 10, ten, TEN total sites with the
word screenwriting mentioned somewhere in there. Holy cow do I feel old.

For folks that are in the Richmond, VA area, feel free to drop a line
and say hello or inquire about the Virginia Screenwriters Forum. It's a
great group of writers who provide feedback on scripts for each other
and meeting once a month in person.

How guilty do I feel putting up another screenwriting blog after that

screenwriter blogs

Amazing. This blog craze has uncovered all sorts of writers. I remember when writing was a solitary life and that social activity was rare and uncomfortable. Now, everybody has a blog to rant, rave and discuss with the planet, everything on their minds.

As I make the first entry, I can't help but wonder how apt the phrase, "is this on?" is going to be in the coming days, months, year.