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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

When to Write

When to write is always the biggest hurdle for me.

I'm a night person - I can stay up just about all night, problem is, I'm worthless the next morning if I do stay up too late.

It was great when I was younger and could get up and get to work (and then sleepwalk through the first couple hours). I was always good to go after lunch.

These days though it's a lot tougher to roust myself up in the morning. Perhaps it's the fact that my job is largely make my own hours, I really don't *have* to be up and at it early, but if I'm not, I'm up and at it way too late in the evening.

I've read that if finding time is a problem, then shoot for a 30 minute chunk or a regular basis and then as you get into the routine, add time to it.

I really liked wcdixon's idea of getting up 30 minutes earlier and working on writing for a bit, then getting to work.

I've found that - for better or worse, I seem to be able to get focused by putting on a set of headphones and turning up the music (to drown out everything else). Taking 5-10 minutes to adjust, read scripts, blogs, notes, etc. gets me into the writing mood and then I'm good for awhile.

Anybody got any other tips for when to write or getting into the flow?

If only I felt like this hours ago

After reading blogs and contributing and such for a couple hours I'm all psyched to start writing - it's just too damned late to start now.

buggered again.

if I had any real guts, I'd quit my job tomorrow and be a fulltime unpaid screenwriter.

screw food & shelter, dammit.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


So I decided to watch a few movies and try and read some script excepts for fun this past week.

Read part of Enemy of the State and then watched the flick. Interesting how the opening is just a little different. I suspect budget as well as a stronger action on the tape.

Ended up watching a couple other flicks and started Match Point - which was highly recommended. I'm iffy on Woody Allen though. Boy, this thing seems SOOO long right now. I'm really feeling like an MTV generation product now when I'm looking at the time and wondering when the story will actually "start". I suspect I'll be more patient when I actually have some time to watch rather than trying to squeeze in a partial viewing (bad Dave, bad Dave).

It's funny how some things group in your life - it's especially noticable if you pay attention.

For instance. As I may have mentioned, I did some research on the 9/11 conspiracy stuff (definately depressing in conspiritual 'our government is out to get us' sort of way). After that, I decided to read Enemy of the State (on a whim, not due to anything else), then watched it - which of course 9/11 has spurred a lot of the technology being batted around in Enemy of the State.

So then I'm perusing the new sites and see an article on a new LCD being developed that can act as a monitor *and* a webcam. So you could do the two-way phone thing over broadband and better. Of course, the comments are - "who's watching you on the other side of your own monitor?"

Also watched Payback with Mel Gibson - that's a great action flick. Also, Domino. Another pretty good flick. Seem to be unintentionally watching a bunch of Tony Scott's films recently.

Hoping to see X3 & Da Vinci code in the near future. Nothing inspires more than actually getting involved again in what you love. It's so easy to put it all aside for other "more important" things. Helps remind me why I even wanted to write a script in the first place. Not because I could do something better, but because I wanted to be part of movies.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hitting the educational wall

I use Netflix and found that they have some interesting dvds in the "self help/special interest" section. Seems they have Syd Field's screenwriting workshop on dvd.

Wow. Cool. Ok. Let's rent it. Get on the 'extra very long don't hold your breath you could probably get pregnant and have a child before the dvd arrives' waiting list. It did take awhile too.


Finally arrives. Woohoo! Slam it into the player, hit play and there he is -- Syd Field. The guy who started it all (well, sorta - started the paperback avalanche that is the screenwriting section in Barnes & Noble anyway).

And 10 minutes in I'm yawning. It's not that the material isn't interesting or that he doesn't have a great plan. It's just that I've heard it all before (not his pitch specifically).

I've read over 50 books, see a few dvds/vhs tapes, been to seminars, the writer's group thing, etc. and what it comes down to is what I was told by a guy years ago.

At some point you have to stop reading and start writing.

Screenwriting isn't that mysterious. It's not rocket science, it's not magic, it's just writing. And rewriting.

So for those of you out there that are addicted to books, seminars, tapes, dvds and the like. After you've seen/attended 20 (and that's being generous), it's time to start writing and get some feedback on what you can produce.

I've come to enjoy the interview books most of all these days - the William Froug ones are particularly fun, but there are others. As writers typically are, screenwriters are a reclusive bunch and to get a peek into their daily lives and writing habits is always interesting. Often you get the opportunity to see their true personality, as opposed to what you see on screen or read in a script.

Time to git a writin'.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Being in the Mood

For some reason, I just feel like I was so much more creative when I was an angst ridden twenty-something. Pain was great. It just poured out onto the page in sarcasm laden waves of prose.

I went through a phase where life was a peach, everything was great. Why write? No reason. I'm happy by golly!

Then I hit the wall.

Why write.

What's the fucking point?

It's all been done. If it hasn't, it will be. Besides, who cares?

Can't say which is the better producer for me though - good moods or bad moods. Sometimes, you're in that bad/depressed mood and you just can't stand to do anything but vegetate. Sometimes, when you're happy you really want to krank something out (not me, but perhaps you).

I know a lot of people who see a 'bad' movie and get all pumped up with "I can do better than that", but we should all know by now that what you see isn't necessarily what was written. Who knows who screwed up the film. Yes, I know there are some that are bad from start to finish, but we don't go aiming to do better than the worst do we? We aim to be better than something that's supposed to be good.

Some folks get inspired to write a great script when they see a great movie. While I could revert to the previous statement (who knows how much the movie was improved over the original script through rewrites by other folks), I'll just say that there are times when I think, "Yeah, that's freakin' great. That's exactly why I should let them do it."

I can find a reason not to write just about anywhere.

However, I can't stop either.

I've tried to quit. I stopped for a while after my child was born. Although I don't know how much was intentially trying to quit and how much was the sheer insanity of a newborn.

I also tend to create better at night than any other time. I wake up around 9-10pm. What really sucks is that in order to do my day job I need about 8 hours sleep, so I need to be in bed by 11pm-ish.

A really organized person would probably be able to plan that time and write, but me - I end up pissing away the hour or two and then I'm guilt-ridden over not doing anything *again*.

I really envy people like Ron Bass. I read years ago how he would get up at 4am to write for a couple hours before heading off to work. I don't know how people do it. Probably drive and ambition.

Well...now that I've started writing, it's 10:30 and I'm still in the mood, I think I'm going to go write... i.e. stare into space and think about my story...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

30 page curse

Ok - here's the bad thing about our writer's group. And when I say "bad thing", what I really mean is, "here's the thing that kills many writers unknowingly due to a simple, valid decision the writer's group made."

The group couldn't read 90-110 pages every two weeks - it's really too much to expect writer's to crank out on a regular basis. Thirty pages, however, could be done. You could write 30, rewrite it and write a new 30 all in a year. That's not too much to expect. So with that logic, and a small group of writers, it was decided we'd critique 30 pages every two weeks.

The downside of not having a mentor, formal training (or hell, 15 years of experience) is that you don't know where the pitfalls are.

Here was one that hit me good - on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be 30 pages - could be any arbitrary number; the end result is the same though. You don't complete a script, you just keep rewriting.

For me, I'd write 30, get feedback, re-write 30, get feedback, etc. ad nausium.

Now, if I had followed my earlier advise (worked out a solid premise/logline) this would not have been so much of a problem. But, nobody to tell me this, remember? So, off I go with pages of notes and new ideas.

Now I have a new 30 pages which is, again, engaging, but leaves the readers with the end question of "what's it all about?"

This has led to one of my newer truths, which (after a premise) is to write through the whole story as soon as possible. Just as executives, directors and actors will all have notes for your script when they read it, so will you after a few months. In fact, I'll bet that some sequences will seem totally lame - or you have much better ideas now!

With that in mind, it's best to get a draft down while you still have a strong feeling of where you want to go and what kind of mood you want to be in the story. I'm sure I've heard this advise before, but with over 50 books and more magazines, it escapes me now.

So, there you have it. Dave's first rules of screenwriting:

1) Hammer out a logline/premise so you know where you're going, what's going to happen and who your lead character is going to be.
2) Write it all down as soon as possible to get a first draft

Man. It sounds so easy. I'll have to do that tomorrow.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What Would Aaron Do?

I really enjoy Aaron Sorkin's work, as well as assortment of other writers. Right now I'm working on a few scripts, but primarily one. The hardest part for me is sitting down and coming up with some sort of outline/timeline.

It's all pulling shit out of my ass, sifting through it and saving the best parts.

I can see no other way around this than sitting and staring into space. Of course, I do this in the worst place - in front of my computer.

How do you folks write your scripts in the beginning/planning phase? Where?

Revisiting Premise or Peril

I was thinking last night (when I should have been sleeping) about premise and how important it is... I was spurred on by a blog I was reading (that escapes me now), but I need to post this before I forget it.

Here's the first idea: A guy is IN the building when it's robbed by thieves.

Not bad. Interesting concept, but doesn't tell you much. Who is the guy? Will he bail or try and catch the guys? Why are they there? What's the big story (the main chunk of the story)? How will it end?

ok... so we refine a little bit.

A cop is in a building when it's robbed by thieves.

Okay - getting better. Now we know he's a cop. You figure he *should* want to do something about this crime now. Although -- it could be his personality to bail on the situation.

Back to the drawing board.

A smart-ass cop faces off against thieves when he's caught in the building when they rob it.

That's better. Now we have a personality to the copy, we have a better idea about where the chunk of the story will be (him facing off against the thieves) and how it will end (thieves will get caught or cop will die trying to stop them).

Let's dig a little more.

A smart-ass NY cop visiting his estranged wife in LA is caught in a building when thieves rob it. He must face off against them in order to save his wife and the rest of the hostages from certain death.

And we have a winner. This may not be the same logline you'd used for Die Hard, but it's close enough and I think we can all agree it's better than the first.

Here, you have a smart ass NY cop (personality) visiting his estranged wife in LA (fish out of water as well as character issues - estranged wife) fighting against thieves in order to save his wife. You can guess that the majority of this will be about him fighting the thieves and that if he saves his wife, that there should be some sort of happy ending.

I believe that most of the recaps you see of the movie say terrorists, but that was all a plot ploy, so I don't consider it the original logline from which the writer started.

This shows the importance of getting the logline/premise sorted out FIRST. Get it done. This may take awhile, but once you have it, take it up so you can refer to it whenever you write. If you're writing doesn't fit within the logline, scrap it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Life Support for Writers

I'd like to give a shout out to all my writer's group friends.  They've been a fantastic group for many years.  The Virginia Screenwriters Forum. I'm sure I'd be absolutely nowhere if not for Helene Wagner and this group.  Also, the great folks at the Virginia Film Office. Back in the days before it was such a hot item, they would allow me to check out scripts they had received. Man, what a perk. I worked about 5 floors down from their office. I was able to get a hold of Josh's script Dead Drop (which became the worse Chain Reaction), Crazy People (when the psychiatrist was being cast with Charles Grodin - who I think to this day would have been better than Dreyfus).

Helene came to town from Texas looking for a screenwriting group and there was absolutely nothing. Let's face it - we're talking about Richmond, Virginia circa 1990. Only the Film Office new about screenplays and nobody knew about them. It was a tough time for film and screenwriting in Richmond.

So, I'm out of college, got that fan-freakin'-tastic BA in English. I can still hear my counselors words, "it will prove that you have a solid grasp of all the basics and that they can train you to do whatever they need. Companies want somebody with a solid foundation."

So, I'm in word processing for a bank. I type everyday. Memos, letters, training documents, whatever. And, you know, the basics are completely lost on the majority of crap that's turned in to me. These folks making 2-3 times my salary just can't write at all. It was during this time that the film After Hours was released and I began to understand the bizarre duality of pain/pleasure.

So... I'm talking with a secretary at lunch one day and she's telling me about her acting classes and how great they are and I should go to one. I tell her about my screenwriting aspirations, but that I can't find any information on it outside of jumping on a plane to LA (which I can't do because I'm a total pussy at this point). She tells me to head on over to the film office - a few floors up. "The what?" I say.

It's nirvana. A small office/room, just packed with scripts from almost floor to ceiling. Un-fucking believable. So I go ask somebody what I have to do to check one out and she hands me a flier. Says, "maybe you'd be interested in this." It's a flier for the Virginia Screenwriters Forum. Just starting out. First meeting in a couple weeks.

Now, I'm here to tell you - I've had so many damn lucky opportunities I shudder every time I recall them. I mention this because if you're young (which I'm not), you HAVE to take advantage of them when they come along.

So there I am, early 20's, a film office a few floors up, enough scripts to keep me reading for months and a brand new group where I can learn how to write them. I had it all. In the first two years, I entered a contest and got a mixed bag of feedback - some really good, some okay and I tailspin from there.

I've been one of those writers that has suffered from re-writing the same 30 pages over and over. I've done it about 5 times.

Now, before you say, "poor ol' dave", I've learned so much over the years about what to do, what not to do, etc. Our group has consisted of folks who have sold, optioned, won contests, been agents, directed, etc. We've had a fantastic group and the experience I've gained has been invaluable. This is why I say, if you have a writer's group near you, get involved. Just the feedback alone is worth the price of admission. It's like regular coverage on whatever you're working on. Not to mention, if the group is on the smaller side, you can probably hit up any of the members when you have something new - so you can bounce ideas off without wasting your time.

Tomorrow I'll give an example of why you have to finish fast and not think too much about what you're writing so you can avoid the 30 page curse.

A big 'ol holla out to all you VSF folks!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

And the Audience is... ?

I'm going to slide one in behind Scott over at Alligators in a Helicopter.

While his gripe was about screenwriters thinking about who the audience
will be for a script, mine is about Scr(i)pt magazine and one of the

It's the one where somebody sells for the first time and has something
to say.

Last month there was a pretty cool article that Fun Joel pointed out
about the guy who walks by the artist's workshop all the time. That was
great. It was inspiring how the guy was motivated regardless of if the
artist was working or not - and that the artist probably never even knew
the effect he was having on the writer.

This month - we have an article about the writer of Inside Man. I don't
want to poop on the writer (he seems like a decent guy) nor on the movie
- I haven't seen it yet (but I hear it's good). However, I believe
Scr(i)pt is catering to the non-selling audience out there, not those
that have actually made it.

My gripe is the author's story of how he got to where he is today...

a) Daddy struck it rich in a real estate deal so I figured I'd take a
couple years off and tour Europe
b) He'd always had this "story" in his head, so thought he'd take the
time to put it down - never having written a script before, he read some
scripts and wrote it down.
c) Having finished his script, he sent it to a family friend, who just
happens to be an established producer. He, in turn, helped pull the
script together and get it sold in a week.

Well, shit.

I just can't think of a more inspiring fucking story than that. We all
know (or should know) that Hollywood is an insider town - you have to
know somebody to get somewhere, but you'd think that the story you'd
want to read is the one from the little guy that made it. You wanna hear
about Rudy not the dude that got it all handed to him on a silver platter.

You want to know that hard work and perseverance pay off.

If this was People or Us, I wouldn't be so pissed, but this is a
magazine that's supposed to be boosting my morale not reminding me I'm
not in the right club to make it.

Otherwise, the magazine was a pretty good read.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Exactly why write a blog?

Sick today. Blah. Sore throat - started last night and just had to stick around 'til morning. Don't like 'em. Blame my last job.

I worked on a world class IT helpdesk, took almost 40 calls a day and loved/hated every minute of it (I loved leaving and hated arriving). My voice has never been the same since. Now I get a sore throat faster than I can turn my head and cough.

But I still can't help but try and read some blogs - since with a sore throat, I obviously can't write.

Did I mention I took an allergy pill as well? There goes 5 hours out of my day. To me they're not so much allergy relief as they are non-consiously aware of allergy problems medication.

As my friend so eloquently puts it, "They knock me the fuck out."

So now it's 10pm and I'm praying that I stay drugged long enough to fall asleep. Because the worst thing that can happen is I wake up.

So, I'm reading around a bit - stumble on over to Moviequill - poor guy. He's been doing this awhile and hit the wall about a month back with the question "why do I even write a blog?" I'm on that road too, to some degree, but I just had to visit Jane Espensen's site to realize why.

She's got a hella blog (see how hip I am?).  She breaks down the art of writing in a way that is intelligent, fascinating and entertaining. Having a problem with something in your script, I'd head over to her site and comb it for suggestions. Can't help but come away with something worthwhile.

Scott the reader over at Alligators in a Helicopter is another one. Speaking of scripts, if you want to know how a good one reads, go check out his blog. You can read several days entries before you realize how much time you've spent there.

You hope that what you have to write is entertaining first. There are a ton of blogs out there, a ton even for just screenwriters. The best ones aren't necessarily the most posted, but they're the most entertaining. They draw something out of us like a story. Perhaps a dash from their personal lives mixed in with the post.

Besides, I just read that a stripper with a blog was able to turn it into a deal and is now writing for a living.

Speaking of reading - I got it out of the latest issue of Sc(i)pt and I have my own personal bitch about another article in there that I've fought over discussing, but will have to tomorrow.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Interesting People and Why I Don't Know More of Them

So I'm trolling the blogs again and I'm really starting to get pissed off at how many people out there are loving writing/screenwriting and interesting/funny people and yet, I don't know them.

I'm adding this to my list of questions for God when I see him.

Karma - or how to will your way to what you want

I was speaking with a friend of mine about losing some weight and he turned me onto some new age stuff. It started with Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, but also went into some of the 'mind over matter' stuff.

See, if you think about something enough, you can almost will it to be.

You know how when you're having a problem with a writing/story problem and you go to bed only to wake up either in the middle of the night or the next morning with an answer?

Know how you have this great idea and at some point during your writing process, you see that somebody else already has a movie, novel, etc. *just* like it already out?

These are small examples of what i'm talking about.

If you really think about what you want to accomplish, your mind will help you work on the problem while you're asleep.

In a larger sense, I believe that the universe will help put you where you need to be to get what it is that you're after.

An example, albeit minor, I'm thinking about screenwriting and being a screenwriter. My concentration on the whole career aspect is like a biorhythm, up and down. In my most intense periods, I'll find myself either hearing about film events in my town, people will be asking me about story, screenwriting, I'll just be more aware of everything around me that surrounds screenwriting.

I believe it goes hand in hand with the Think and Grow Rich idea. If you want something bad enough, you'll think about it all the time and you'll do whatever you can to get it. By doing those things, you'll find yourself open or more receptive to any information or opportunity that can help you fulfill that desire.

I wish that as youngsters we were taught to think this way - how much more could we make of ourselves by simply thinking about what we want and being receptive to the world around us?

Think and Grow Rich

It's a book by Napoleon Hill. It's Andrew Carnegie's secret to success. I'm sure a ton of people read this book figuring it'll show them how to get rich easily. The book, however, is not at all about how to make money - really - nor is it a get rich quick scheme.

This book should be ready by everybody by age 15. The only problem is that they won't really understand it until they're in their 30's. Some of us already know what it has to say intuitively. Some of us will learn it sooner, rather than later, bu for the bulk of us, we'll learn this lesson too later or not at all.

This is going to sound so common sense you'll wonder why it's in a book at all.

People always get what they want the most.

That's it.

Essentially, That's the bottom line.

The problem is what we want isn't always what we think we want. That's the rub. That's what the book talks about to some degree.

It's all about know what you want, then going after it without remorse, regret or regard for consequences.

The folks that know this intuitively are the ones that are doing things early. Gymnasts, athletes, creative prodigies. Folks with talent and/or drive they have all by themselves. This can't be pushed on you by a parent or sibling. It has to be something you want - you - and want very badly. That's the crux of the whole thing. It has to be something that you want more than anything and you have to be willing to sacrifice anything (or everything) to get it. While sacrificing anything/everything sounds rather sinister, it's not necessarily so - nor does it have to be a permanent thing.

For example: We'll use screenwriting now since that's what I'm supposed to be all about.

If you want to be a TV writer, you have to live out in CA (for the Hollywood TV market anyway). There's no getting around that. It's an established fact. Yet so many people toil away working on TV scripts outside of CA. Why? At the very least, you need three things to break into Hollywood TV:

1) Location - gotta be in LA (best) or at least CA - so you can make a meeting
2) Talent - have to be able to entertain with your writing
3) Contacts - have to know somebody willing to speak up for you

You can practice writing and get enough feedback to determine if you have enough talent.
If you play the Kevin Bacon game with your own life (pick 10 people and invariably somebody knows somebody who knows somebody in Hollywood), then you can make some contacts

However, you have to move to CA - preferably LA. You'll be making sacrifices - perhaps friends, family, maybe a lucrative or enjoyable job. But if you can't make the move - you don't want to be in TV badly enough. As such, Napoleon Hill says the odds are against you making it.

See - that's the whole point of the book and this post. You *always* get what you want. While you may think you want to be rich, or thin, or doing whatever job, you really do get what you want which is whatever you are now. It might be a job you don't like, but it doesn't require much from you. If you're overweight, but say you want to be thin or in better shape - maybe you want to not limit your food intake or exercise as much as required to be in better shape.

So when you say you want to be a screenwriter, you need to think about what you're willing to give up in order to make it.

It's also a tip for everybody under 25 and wanting to do whatever. Take a shot at it now. If it's a career, no mater what, give it 10-15 years. That's how long somebody typically takes to make it to where they want. I'm not talking about making it as a janitor, but as a professional. Med school, law school, college, internships - it all takes time. So give it your best shot and don't bail out. When you're done, you'll still have time to settle for something else and you'll know that you gave it your everything.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


This is becoming a compulsion. I don't feel right laying down in bed at night until I've said something.

Unfortunately, today was a long-ass day - spent 6 hours re-arranging the garage. Trust me, it needed it.

"Needed it more than you needed writing your script?" You say.

Touche, my friend, touche.

Tomorrow - I need to talk about "Think & Grow Rich". Then, karma, but that's the day after the Think and Grow Rich talk.



Thursday, May 11, 2006

Comedy and how misery loves company

Busy day - not much time for writing (this feels like a trend) so I figured I'd read the blogs - I'm liking Alligators in a Helicopter. He's one of those bastards that's managed to come up with a catchy title interesting enough to make you go have a peek, and then he's able to write/entertain well enough to keep you coming back.

So, the last installment (cassette tapes) is a great read and reminds me about comedy. Not all of it, just one aspect of it really. Comedy is very often about what we have in common that makes us laugh.

I was reading a TV episode by a fellow writer and they had a situation that was pretty damn funny. I go through it all the time at home. I thought this was a singular event that I was blessed with experiencing, but nope, seems like there's more folks out there that just can't eat off their own plate. Whatever you have is better. Doesn't matter if there's a duplicate a plate away - perhaps without your saliva on it - not as good. I don't understand it, but there it is - another person is just like my wife - pilferer of food from other plates.

So I'm reading Scott's blog and how stunned he is by the Yoko tracks on John Lennon's Double Fantasy tape/record/cd. Oh my, that was so funny. I picked that bad boy up when it was originally released and felt the same way - stunned - amazed - traumatized at the inclusion of Yoko's tracks. They were the anti-lennon songs. Where he had melody - she had none - where he had smooth lyrical phrases she had gibberish sung by animals being pushed through a meat grinder. They're god-awful. I can't imagine anybody listening to them and actually thinking, "hey, that's pretty good." It's the most blatant example of "my husband got me this gig" that I've ever seen.

And to see somebody else go through that exact pain and come out feeling the same way - well, I laughed my ass off.

So next time you're thinking about being funny (in writing) think about things that folks might have in common - that are funny - and see if they don't pay off.

Oh, as a rule, you should setup this comedy as well. Scott does a great job of setting this up naturally in the blog. He listens to cassettes, he gets a good one from a yard sale, he has great expectations for this one (since it has 5 singles on it), etc. then - the payoff - the Yoko crescendo! Kudos, Scott (should you ever read this).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Four hours. It's great when it's a ticking clock in your script, but it sucks when it's your hours of sporadic sleep the night before.

Lack of sleep is a mixed bag - sort of like rolling the emotional dice - you never know how you'll feel at the end of the day. Might be elation - giddiness - punchy - depression or today's winner, apathy.

It's not like I'm old, but I'm not 20 either, so I've been through a few things. Nothing major. No wars, no divorce, no disfiguring accidents, no deaths of friends - a fairly tame life thus far, but I've seen enough to know that the wheels on the bus go round and round (with or without me). My job will be there if I show up or not. My company won't cry over my leaving (or my death) and these days, they're not going to throw money in my direction under any circumstance (including not having the staff to complete the current work, let alone the loss of me as well). I know that love comes and goes and while it's always painful when it's gone, it's always wonderful when it arrives. I know you're never to old to fall in love and never wise enough to avoid mistakes.

Today I read an article (quite good actually - Electric Mist) and her advice (honest and true) is that your material has to be good enough for readers not to want to put down. It's that factor that, even though everything else may be right, is necessary to go from "read" to "sold". However, today is one of those days when I can't imagine a damned thing that can't be put down. Not a damned thing that can't wait until tomorrow, or at least be interrupted. I can't fathom any material that somebody wouldn't put down. Really. Nothing. I love movies, scripts, etc. but today I'd be a writer's worst nightmare (including my own). I can't think of a possible reason why writing my story is worthwhile.

It's a peculiar mood to be in because I love movies. I'm thrilled with writing scripts. I enjoy reading them. I'm often wrapped up in movies I've seen before or scripts I've read (or even written), but these days I can always hit pause, stop or put it down. I can't imagine a time when I couldn't - though I'm sure there was a time when I was younger. When I couldn't imagine anything being better. When I couldn't imagine everybody not wanted to hear/read the story/movie I was reading/writing.

So today's a tough day. May nobody else have days like this - although just by having this day, I know that people do (and I pray that they're not executives and agents that are reading our material).

Sleep. Tonight it'll be a really good thing.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Pimping Software

Short day when you're dog tired all day (for no reason).

Got some story ideas - still have to post and the wife is all about
"coming to bed at a reasonable hour". Not like it's unwarranted since I
snuck under the covers at a retarded 2am last night. I remember people
talking this morning but was totally unable to respond to anybody or
anything until long after both the wife and child had left the house.

Anyway - onto the pimping - I love these guys: http://www.powerstructure.com

They were the guys who came up with ScriptThing, which was sold and
became Movie Magic Screenwriter. They're writers themselves as well as
just being good guys.

If you're looking for a piece of software that's like a story notebook,
Powerstructure is it. You have a ton of screens to enter story
information, the old "corkboard" in computer format which you can swap
your scenes around. It's great. The only downside is that to make it
beneficial at all, you really do have to put information into it. I've
opened the program and left it open for days and the damn thing refuses
to self-populate any fields at all. While this is not a promised
feature, it would have been excellent if information would just
self-populate for me. Certainly would take out the hard part of writing
(i.e. coming up with all the creative stuff).

Also, I should not fail to mention that you can modify, add or remove
just about any field in the program. So if you're a Blake Snyder
devotee, you can put in all his terminology. If you follow the Writer's
Journey, then you can actually select that as a template and all the
fields are there. You can add fields about characters, story, etc. for
yourself if you'd like. I like to add "Premise" and "General story
notes" so I can center on my logline and also have a place to just
blabber with no goal in mind - my free thinking area if you will.

It also has a place for your characters and a ton of fields for you to
complete (if you choose) to flesh them out.

You can download a trial version to get an idea of what it's like and
all the information you can keep there.

Although, it is like anything else, it can be a fantastic tool, an
absolute waste of money or a wonderful tool allowing you to
procrastinate. You could read the whole manual and spend time figuring
out where to put what, configuring it to your own special needs, but you
really don't need to. I think just jumping in and figuring it out as you
go is probably the best way to go. Get some use out of it right away.
Once you start getting some of those fields filled in you can see the
story developing.

The Perfect Script

Doesn't exist. Stop trying.

I've belonged to a group of screenwriters for over 10 years. I've had my share, and know of a bunch more, of 30 page scripts. See, we review 30 pages at a time. Turn in 30 pages, read/review/critique, move on. It's so easy to write 30 and then rewrite that 30 to death. Problem is, 30 pages doesn't make a feature length script. The one thing that everybody who makes it has is more than 2 feature length scripts (or contacts in the industry, which most of us don't have). You have to finish a script in order to even think about selling it. Finishing it means that you don't stop and rewrite it every time you sit down. It means that you forge on with the writing until it's done and then go back. It means, in short, that no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, who you talk to, what you read, etc. you are NOT going to write the perfect script. You especially will not write the perfect script the first draft. Give up that idea right now.

One thing you should do, is write that first draft as quickly as possible. Why? You ask. Because as a writer, you're creative (or let's hope you are - if you're not you might want to head in a different career direction now). As a creative person, you will see things differently many times. The scene you write today will give you fresh ideas as early as tomorrow (it's why what seems so freakin' brilliant at 3am reads like fish poo in the bright light of day). You will see events, motivations, characters differently the longer you live with them. This means that the story that is so defined for you in month one and two, will look much differently in month 8 or 9. You will be a different person 8-9 months from now. Accept that and use it to your advantage.

If you work hard at a story, we'll hope that you can pin down enough of the story to start writing in 30 days. Another 1-2 months writing and it's done. A first draft. Then you'll want to go back and rewrite with a purpose (to borrow from John August) you'll go back to your script and you'll say, "ok, I'm going to solidify the relationship between x & y on this pass." or, "I'm going to strengthen my them in each scene on this pass." What you'll do is go through the script with the explicit design of doing one thing with the rewrite. Maybe you have a lot to do, maybe not, but when you're done, you will have done what was necessary to make that element as good as it can be. You'll probably have several rewrites, but at least when you're done, you'll have a list of what you've done with your rewrites. Nothing vague or existential like "I improved the dialogue" or "tightened the story."

Now, after writing your first draft quickly, so you don't lose your initial idea, and rewriting several times (each with a purpose), you have a final (hopefully solid) script. Now set it aside for a month or two then come back and read it. I'm betting money that you'll still have fresh, original ideas about how it could be written. Leave that script for a year or two and you may not even recognize it as your own. You'll have even stronger ideas about how events should take place, how characters should act, etc. That's because as an artist, nothing is final. It's all interpretive based on our experiences.

Now imagine you are somebody totally different and how, as an artist, you see things and you have an idea of why scripts can change so much from writing to filming. All you can hope for is that if you're lucky enough to get a script sold and made into a film that's released, that you were given the opportunity to participate in it's change and that the film still has the same drive that you felt when you spat out that first draft in 3 months. That's all that really matters. The rest is all artistic interpretation that will change in time.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Write about what you hate

You hear (or will hear) lots of folks telling you to "write what you
know", "write something you love". By that, they mean write something
that you love enough to keep looking at it and working on it day after
day, draft after draft.

However, I'm all for writing about something you hate just as much. I
believe hate to be a much stronger emotion than love (although Hollywood
will tell you differently). There are lots of movies that come from that
dark place - I'd say that a fantastic film, Boyz in the Hood, probably
came from this dark, dank corner of hatred. A hatred of why young kids
don't see more of a future for themselves. Just because hatred of
something is driving you doesn't mean the story (or the driver) is bad.
Hatred of injustice, hatred of futility, hatred of lack of passion, lack
of intelligence - any number of themes or ideas. And if you hate that
enough, you'll be willing to get in tight and dust it up with the
subject on a regular basis for as long as it takes to get that story
done and out. Until you effectively banish that ghost driving the
emotions. Once it's all down on paper and done the way you needed -
things may wane. And that's okay. That's probably good. A little
detachment is healthy (especially with writing - especially with

So next time when you're fighting to come up with something that you'll
"love" dealing with for the next year or so, and having problems, maybe
turn to something you can't stand and see where it takes you.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Theme - Exactly what the hell is that?

I'm sure there are plenty of folks with an opinion about what theme is and about how to best figure out what it is and how to approach it. Me? I have a pretty simple idea of how it works for scripts. I think of it just like I did my papers in college.

Think of any argument, pick a side, then justify it. The difference with screenplays is you can do whatever the hell you want to support your side. Even lie? Sure! You just have to make sure it's a convincing lie. You gotta sell it.

Take About Last Night - ahh.... the 80's. That movie is all about how a long term relationship - love - or being in love - leads to happiness. If you're not in love, you're unhappy.

Andrew McCarthy's character utters that great phrase, "marriage was an convention created by people lucky to make it to the age of 30 without being eaten by dinosaurs." So cynical, yet we know that he's secretly in love with his best friend's girl. He's miserable without love.

Your themes can be as big or little as you like, but the one thing you want to attempt to do is make as many of your scenes and characters support your side of the argument (either they are supporting it and doing well or they are not and they are failing and/or miserable). If you're going to say that crime doesn't pay, you can't have somebody getting away with murder. Typically, the end of your story is where you are paying off all your previous scenes and it becomes (hopefully) obvious what you're trying to say "love conquers all", "crime doesn't pay", "justice is blind".

For great examples in a small timeframe, check out some of the better TV shows - especially the ones with several main characters such as ER. Not every episode is a winner, but they have some pretty good ones still. They'll have an episode where the theme might be a parent's love is unconditional. Then they'll have different characters involved with different aspects of parenthood - maybe a couple with an unborn child and their problem. Perhaps an elderly parent who's dying and their child comes to visit to mend a long-time rift between the two, etc. These are are perspectives that reinforce the theme.

The more you can do this in your scripts, the more it will resonate with your audience. The more opportunities you give them to say to themselves, "yeah, I know what you mean."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006



Illegal immigrants stepped out of the shadows and poured into the streets, marching in waves of red, white and blue as part of a nationwide show of economic clout designed to prove their value to their adopted homeland and pressure Congress for reforms.

Damn. I'm all for proper treatment of workers and such, but you can't enter a country illegally and then bitch about how you're treated. If it's so bad, go back to your home country - the place where you are a citizen.

But they won't, because as shitty as it might be here, it's worse there. Do American citizens just up and move to other countries illegally? I don't know. What I do know is that by entering the USA illegally, it skews everything. 1 out of 4 students in LA is an illegal immigrant - no wonder the school system is overburdened. Are they paying for that education? Nope.

You might say, "Make 'em citizens and then they'd pay taxes like everybody else." Or would they? While it's possible some might, might not many of them fall below the poverty line with their current positions and therefore just sign up for welfare?

How about they go home. Take a set of applications for US citizenship and file 'em like everybody else did.

To me, these people are all folks who are essentially cutting in line. They're breaking the rules and then complaining. The US has already shown an overabundance of enthusiasm when countries complain about wanting democracy or a change of government. Why not improve your home country instead of just leaving?

If there are over a million "unhappy" illegal immigrants in the USA, imagine how many unhappy citizens there must be in other countries? How about putting on a show of force at home? Would that make a difference?

The Audience Must Be Asleep

So the $60 million dollar question is: When you write a blog, are you
writing to vent and it doesn't matter who shows up or are you expecting
(desperately wanting) people to show up and comment?

Sorta like writing a spec script. Do you really just enjoy the process
of writing? Or are you actually expecting the damn thing to sell so you
can a) become a rich mo-fo or b) have the career of your dreams. The
"pros" say if you're in it for the money, quit, because it's too much
freaking' heartache to do it just for the money.

Well, shit, I got enough heartache from my day job now, how much fucking worse could it be?

So, I'm driving the other day - and this is something I don't do much of
since I work out of my house - and the person in front of me is a) going
15 mph under the speed limit and b) handicapped (at least that's what
the plates say). Now I like handicapped folks as much as the next
carnivore, but exactly why are they on the road? They're unable to walk
more than 20 feet from the store to their parking space, they need
ramps, and stability bars and extra large parking spaces because "they
need them" - yet, they're okay to drive a car?

Are their rates through the fucking roof? Because I know that when I was
just getting my license, my rates were through the ceiling. They say
that driving while drunk is bad, but exactly what are the requirements
for getting a handicapped sticker on your car? Missing limbs? Lack of
hearing (or god forbid) sight? Is that really better than being drunk?

Used to be that God would send a plague around to thin us out, the
handicapped didn't stand a chance. If you were born that way you
probably got drowned, if it happened by some sort of accident, then you
probably didn't survive long enough to become handicapped. Old people
got sick and died, etc. Now, we're keeping people around 20-40 years
longer than expected. In fact, we'll keep people alive now, just because
we can.

We keep wondering why there are so many natural catastrophes - maybe
that's all that's working for God these days - the usual stand-bys of
age and illness don't seem to be working as well as they used to. God
knows that getting eaten by animals doesn't work for shit anymore. Hell,
around here, if an animal scratches you, they're put down for public safety.

Peace. Out.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Premise or Peril

I'm kicking myself today. Well, still kicking myself is more appropriate.

I've been learning about screenwriting for years. I've always known
about loglines and always had problems with them. Now I know why -
because I always came up with them post writing.

I was reading Blake Snyder's book again recently and it struck me why
I'm having all the problems I'm having with my current story. I've
always had a problem seeing the end of a story, now I know why - no
premise/logline in place.

What a waste of time.

If you're young and starting screenwriting, do this first with every
story/script you begin. BEFORE you write word #1. Get a logline/premise
in place. It's what your story is about. "This story is about __________.

Typically, something like, it's about a lawyer who discovers that he's
unable to lie for 24 hours during the biggest case of his career. Too
bad he has to lie to win the case.

It's about a guy who crosses the country to visit his wife to try and
work on their marriage and gets stuck in the building when it's taken
over by terrorists.

It's about a girl who agrees to take over her dad's wedding magazine
while he's sick, too bad she hates weddings.

As Blake points out, many times the premise will be ironic in nature -
meaning, the very thing that the main character sets out to do is thrown
upside down due to what happens.

You may say to yourself, "But I can write the premise anytime." And
that's true; however, if you have a premise in place, then it helps keep
you on the straight and narrow. You know where your story begins - what
happens in the middle and how it ends. Take Diehard: It's about a guy
who crosses the country to visit his wife to try and work on their
marriage and gets stuck in the building when it's taken over by
terrorists. You know that it starts with him arriving to visit his wife
- the middle is the problems that he encounters with the terrorists and
your ending will be with the husband and wife (either good or bad).

If you start writing, then you could go in all sorts of directions. You
know your premise is off if it takes more than 30 seconds to a minute to
explain your story. Every story has a premise - big or small, action or
character. While the character pieces may yield more of a ho-hum
response to the premise (the joy is in seeing/reading the development),
the action "high concept" pieces should pretty much make you want to
see/read the piece right away.

Learn from my mistake - premise first, then write.