Get the Picture?

Posted October 12, 2010 by WriterDad
Categories: Personal

Now this article just makes me sad.  You wanna kill the love of reading in your child?  Take away the books that make them happy and force them to read the books that you think they should like.  I don’t get it.  As both an avid reader and a parent, and I just don’t get it.  If you let the kid progress at his or her own speed, if you let them choose what they want to read, they’ll eventually get to chapter books on their own.  Curling up with a book is one of the joys of life, not some thankless chore like making your bed or taking out the garbage. The point is to instill a love of reading in a child, not prep them for the SAT.

No wonder ten-year-olds would rather sit around playing their PS3s than crack a book — their parents probably took away GOODNIGHT MOON and replaced it with CRIME AND PUNISHMENT when they started walking.



The Nightmare of Living the Dream

Posted October 11, 2010 by WriterDad
Categories: General, Projects

Hello?  Hello?  Is this thing on?

I’m slowly coming to realize that I’m not much of a blogger.  It’s funny, I started this when my now-two-year-old daughter was born and I didn’t have the energy or focus to work on my scripts; I needed some kind of creative outlet, so I decided I’d write about my new life as a father and how those responsibilities clashed with my screenwriting ambitions.

Then something happened.  The Wedding Comedy, the script I’d optioned right before the Peanut was born, gained some traction.  And then, after overcoming a number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the producers found a director, they found independent financing, they started casting.  As 2009 turned into 2010, I began rewriting.  And rewriting. And rewriting.  And while I was rewriting, I was trying to be a good dad, a good husband and a good employee at my day job.

Not surprisingly, the blog fell by the wayside, which is sort of ironic since I had entered a period of my life that was actually worth blogging about.  But something had to give.  All my life I’d dreamed of having a movie made, and here I was, with a movie finally in pre-production.  What never factored into my fantasy was the fact that I would still have the demands of the day job and my responsibility to my family while juggling the endless phone calls and emails from the producers and director about the pages I had just delivered, the pages I was about to deliver and/or some new idea that was supposed to be integrated into the story that would then — whoops! — completely change Act III, so I would need to get that fixed ASAP.  My wife half-jokingly began referring to the director as my “other wife.”  The Missus (the real one) was incredibly supportive, but after countless evenings and weekends spoiled by an unexpected phone conference or request for a rewrite, the tension began to rise at home.  It kept rising for the first five months of 2010.  I can see how Hollywood can destroy the personal lives of those involved if you’re not careful.

Don’t get me wrong — I was well aware of how lucky I was to have this problem.  I was living the dream.  It’s just that the dream came at a price that I never, ever expected.  Part of the problem was simply a function of the situation; it was a low-budget production ($2.5 million), and my paycheck, though much-appreciated, wasn’t enough to allow me to write full-time.  I’m not a WGA member and the production company wasn’t signatory, so the Guild guidelines for rewriting didn’t apply.  I actually didn’t mind the demands for constant (free) rewrites; I wanted the movie to be as good as it possibly could be, and part of me appreciated the challenge of incorporating the never-ending notes as we marched toward the April start date.  But the pressure was rough on me, and rough on my family; most of my work was done at the crack of dawn, or on my lunch break, or late at night after the kid — and occasionally the Missus — went to sleep.  I had grown accustomed to writing at odd hours after the Peanut was born, but for the first time I HAD to do it, because pages were due the next day.  Department heads were waiting for the revisions.  I had to deliver.  And I did.

I wasn’t present on the set for the first day of shooting, but one of the producers recorded some footage of the first shot of the day and emailed it to me.  Watching it almost made me burst into tears as I was sitting at my desk at work.  It had been five and a half years since I had first thought of the idea for my stupid script, and here I was, watching the first take of the first day of principal photography.  I received constant updates from the producers over the course of the shoot and actually visited the set a couple of times; watching the director shoot coverage was an education in and of itself, and it was nice that people seemed happy to meet the writer.  Or at least they faked it well.  The demands for rewrites abruptly ended; all of the hard work and seemingly crazy demands from the director had, much to my shock, actually paid off. I was the proverbial fifth wheel when I was on set, and that was fine by me.

Production wrapped at the end of May.  The director spent the summer editing; I was invited to watch the work in progress and did minimal rewriting of the voice-over I had written earlier in the year.  I attended a test screening of a rough cut; hearing an audience full of strangers laugh at my jokes was an incredible experience.  Hearing them NOT laugh at them, less so.  But I’d done it — holy shit, I wrote a movie.  Is it a good movie?  I hope so, but I honestly can’t tell.  There are parts of it that I dislike — things that I was forced to write, occasional bits of improv by the actors that I had no control over and that I don’t think work very well, clunky dialogue of my own devising that I would give anything to rework.  But that comes with the territory, and on the flip side, those negatives are outnumbered by the things that I absolutely love — moments in which the actors perform something in a way that I never envisioned, or they change a line to something far better than I wrote, or scenes that come to life in the cutting or the way the camera moves or how a music cue just pulls everything together and makes it better than I’d ever imagined.

The movie still isn’t done; I think the picture is locked and they’re working on audio now.  I haven’t seen a cut since August, but I hear it’s almost ready, and then they’re going to try to secure a distributor.  I have no idea what’s going to happen, and in a weird way, I don’t care — right now, I’m just trying to land a new agent, circulate my latest spec and finish the next one.  The movie is out of my hands.  Hopefully it’s good and people will go see it and I’ll get more writing work in the wake of its success, but at least I know that I did what I could to the best of my ability and under the circumstances presented to me.  The fact that I even got to this point — selling an original screenplay and seeing it produced — is an achievement in and of itself.  The fact that I did it without getting fired or divorced or committed to the nearest psychiatric ward (albeit barely) is icing on the cake.

Now I just have to do it all over again with a new script.  And hopefully not drive my wife crazy this time.

Update Pending — Honest

Posted May 1, 2010 by WriterDad
Categories: Projects

Well… here we are again. I know, it’s been a while — things have been crazy busy since I last posted, especially since January. There have been a ton of developments lately and I’ve just been waiting for the time to sit down and finally bang out a semi-coherent depiction of what’s gone down.

In the meantime I can tell you this — the Wedding Comedy is being shot right now. Production began two weeks ago and I finally visited the set this past week. The check cleared. This sucker actually went the distance.

I’ll tell you all about it soon.

(Thanks to Van and John P for spurring me on to at least write this sad excuse for a post.)

And So It Begins… Yet Again

Posted October 21, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Projects

It’s 99% official — the Big Studio douchebags have won. We’re losing our star. The good news is that now maybe we can find one who can actually, ya know, act. But now I have to strip out everything in my script that we included to tailor it to our former lead. That shouldn’t be a problem. I also have to rewrite a scene that takes place in a church — apparently the locations the Director and producers visited would have nothing to do with us after learning the story of the movie. Alas, my revenge against the Catholic Church will have to wait until another project.

I also found out that the Director will soon be meeting with an older name actress, and she’s planning on pitching the Wedding Comedy. This means I’ll have to beef up the older actress role in my script — fine by me, considering that the character is currently barely on the page anyway.

So yeah, just when I thought my work was done… it’s not.

One Crazy Summer (The Not-Savage Steve Holland Version)

Posted October 18, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: General, Projects

Tags: , ,

Jeez, where to begin.  The past few months have been ridiculously busy.  The saga of the Wedding Comedy now contains more twists and turns than a Six Flags roller coaster; we’ve got funding to the tune of $3 million, the Director is still on board, the script has been rewritten and tightened to her satisfaction and that of the producers and the financier, the production was budgeted and given a tentative start date of the first week in November… and then we hit a snag involving rights issues and one Big Studio which, to put it bluntly, is being a giant collective douchebag over the matter.  And because of this problem, we may lose our star for reasons too convoluted and tedious to explain.

Fortunately the financier is still willing to make the movie with or without this guy, but given that I’ve spent the past couple of years tailoring my original spec for him, it would be a bit of a drag to have him suddenly bail like this.

My work has been done since Labor Day, which was my deadline to turn in the latest draft for budgeting and scheduling.  (The two weeks previous to that holiday was one of the most intense writing experiences I’ve ever had, and worthy of its own blog post — but I was just too damned tired to write it at the time.  Hopefully I’ll get to it in my next post; given my posting pace in the past six months, that should be sometime before the New Year.  Maybe.)  Since then I’ve just been sitting on my ass, getting periodic updates from the producers and the Director and crossing my fingers that the whole thing finally comes together and they make the movie.

In the meantime, I’ve been struggling with the rewrite of my latest spec — the Domestic Comedy, one of the scripts that I jammed out before the Peanut was born in July of 2008.  For whatever reason, it’s been virtually impossible to focus; every other dumbass idea I’ve ever had seems more interesting than this script at the moment, but I’ve got to buckle down and get it done.  It’s been way, way too long since I finished a polished spec, and my writing partner and I have a tentative agreement to get our first collaboration going in January, so I want to clear the decks before tackling that one.

While I do battle with my own creative inertia, parenting has become even more of a challenge as the Peanut becomes a toddler… a very, very moody toddler.  If I had a quarter for every meltdown and tantrum I’ve witnessed, I’d probably have enough money for the down payment on a nice-sized house.  The Missus and I are exhausted every night, though after 15 months of being parents, “exhausted” has sort of become our default mode.  Factor in my day job and such distractions as the Xbox, movies, books, and, well, sleep, and sometimes I’m amazed that I can still  complete a sentence, let alone a screenplay.

But that’s bullshit, of course.  I finished my Wedding Comedy draft and it was well received (one of the producers told me I knocked it out of the park, which certainly gave me the warm fuzzies until I decided he was probably just blowing smoke up my ass for reasons unknown), and I did it in record time. I CAN finish the spec at hand.  I just need to believe that I can.

… And if that fails, I could just ask the Missus to nag me to finish it.   The only reason I even wrote this tonight is that she urged me to pay some attention to my “poor blog,” as she put it.  Yes, I can be guilted into anything.  Hopefully she won’t ever  get it into her head that I’d make an excellent bank robber.  Of course, maybe then we could actually afford to buy a home.

Oh, Yeah — We Write These Things To Be Produced

Posted July 20, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Craft, Projects

For the past six weeks I’ve struggled with the rewrite of the Wedding Comedy, trying to integrate the various notes of the producers, the star and the Director.  It’s the first time I’ve ever rewritten with an actual production (theoretically) looming, and I’ve suddenly been confronted by the fact that the words I put on the page actually have real life implications.

Some of the issues we’ve discussed have been nuts-and-bolts type things: this scene would be too expensive, combine this scene and that scene so we don’t need an extra location, change this from night to day, and so on.  But this line of practical thinking has continued in unusual directions…One of the issues  we’ve discussed that I find particularly interesting centered around the lead female character, the hero’s wife-to-be: in particular, the fact that she’s really a non-character. Oh, she’s got dialogue and she serves a purpose in the story, but as the Director put it, “Why would any actress want to play her?” And the answer is, I have no clue.

The question was particularly jarring for me in that I’ve lived with these characters in my head for so long, I almost have trouble with the notion that, oh, yeah, a real person is going to be paid to pretend to be each of them when the cameras start rolling.  Why the hell would any actor want to play one of these roles, aside from the paycheck?  Is the character interesting?  Is she funny?  Does he have a back story, a ghost that’s haunting him?  Does she seem like a real person?  What do they do for a living, and how does that matter in the context of the story?  It’s not enough that the character’s name is on the page; you’ve got to make sure that there’s enough there so that an actor can make that character a person.

Maybe I’m just easily impressed, but the Director’s simple question has ended up blowing my mind on a fundamental level.  So often we write in a vacuum; sometimes it takes someone else to open the door and let some fresh air in.  Lesson learned — the next time I sit down to plot out a new story and crank out a first draft, I’m going to make sure that all of my characters are there on the page from the beginning, so I don’t find myself retrofitting back story and personality traits five or ten or twenty drafts down the road.

That’s assuming I ever finish this project, of course.

I Should Be a Politician

Posted July 15, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: General, Personal, Projects

Does anybody believe me anymore when I say I’m going to post regularly again?  Hell, at this point *I* don’t even believe me.  Hopefully one of these days.

Reader (and new papa) Shawn  has unwittingly shamed me into posting again.  What can I say, I was raised Catholic; I respond to guilt like Pavlov’s dogs responded to ringing bells.

Check the bottom of the comments here for Shawn’s message and my long-winded but well-meaning response; consider this my latest post.  Oh, and here’s a bonus Cliff’s Notes update: the Peanut has turned one, she’s walking, talking (sort of), eating solids (mostly) and usually failing miserably to sleep through the night.  The Wedding Comedy has gone through a number of trials and tribulations but is still on course for a September production — I’m neck deep in the rewrite right now and praying that I’m not ruining the damn thing.  And the Missus miraculously still hasn’t divorced me yet despite my various neuroses, hang-ups and occasional bouts of flat-out craziness; today is our third anniversary, which we’re celebrating by dealing with the Peanut’s latest eye infection.

Thanks for checking in.

Blog, Reloaded

Posted May 22, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: General, Projects

Q: When do you know you’ve been away from your blog for too long?

A: When you try to log in and can’t even remember your password.

Yeah, I’m back.

So what’s happened over the past ten weeks at WriterDad Manor?  Lots of baby-related hilarity and frustration, some minor illnesses (including the current cold that all three of us are now fighting), a twelve hour stretch of time that featured not one but two instances of the Peanut falling off something and miraculously escaping injury, slightly more sleep than we’ve become accustomed to, lots of good times, the occasional bouts of bickering between me and the Missus that seem to wax and wane in intensity like they’re on a lunar cycle, too many trips to Target than I could possibly count, and work.  Life, basically.

Oh, and I did somehow manage to squeeze in writing.  After receiving notes from my writing partner and my wife, I did a rewrite on my Bigfoot Comedy that is now in the hands of a couple of other trusted readers and (probably foolishly) the Nicholl Fellowship committee; I had fun churning out the first TV spec of my life — for THE OFFICE — in order to enter the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship Program, and I’ll probably end up submitting that script to the Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Program; and I’ve begun circling around the rewrite of my long-ignored Domestic Comedy, which I’ll probably have to put on hold because there’s finally some movement with the Wedding Comedy that was optioned almost a year ago.

We have a director.


I’m meeting with the Director on Tuesday, somebody who did several cult classics in the ’80s, hit it big with an iconic comedy in the early ’90s and subsequently cashed in with several big studio pictures, and has worked steadily if at a lower profile since then.  She loves my screenplay and wants to make it.  Again, supposedly.  We’ll see what happens.  Assuming the producers successfully work out a deal with her and everybody’s on the same page regarding the notes she’s got for me, I’ll probably be rewriting that goddamned script again by this time next week.

It’s hard to believe that as of this November or December, it will have been five years since I came up with the Wedding Comedy idea in the first place.  In that intervening half-decade, I have survived the horrors of wedding planning and gotten married, gotten laid off and hired elsewhere, knocked up my wife and witnessed the birth of our daughter, signed with a manager, fired the manager, made a tiny — and I do mean tiny — bit of money writing, made the rounds at studios and prodcos, and wrote this script.  And rewrote this script.  And rewrote it over and over and over again, to the point that I can’t even remember what the story is in the very first draft.  I’ve written plenty of other scripts in this time, but this sucker, the Wedding Comedy, has always hung in there like the party guest who refuses to take the hint and go home, even though it’s four in the morning and the keg is empty and you really just want to see how disgusting the bathroom looks — “fuck it, I’ll deal with it in the morning, maybe” — and  go the hell to bed yourself but goddamn it, there’s this guy on the couch and he’s asleep and he refuses get up .  That’s this project.

All that said, the Wedding Comedy may be a pain in the ass, but it’s certainly been good to me — many doors have opened, thanks to that script.  Who knows, if this movie actually gets made, maybe I’ll even feel a little sad that it’s finally finished and I’ll never have the opportunity to tweak it again.

Ehhhh, probably not.

ANYWAY, that’s what’s going on at the moment.   Thanks for (still) reading.

I am a Bad, Bad Blogger

Posted March 11, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: General

… Well, I’m a busy one, anyway.  Lots going on around WriterDad Manor; the usual domestic shenanigans seem to take up more and more of my time as the Peanut continues to develop, making it harder to write much of anything.  Sometimes it feels almost impossible to find the time to write my name, let alone a blog entry or a screenplay.  When I do find a spare minute or two to hit the keyboard, I’ve been spending it on the project at hand: we’ve got some contest deadlines looming on the horizon that I’m determined to make, and the blog has suffered as a result.

I hope to whip up a more substantial post in the next couple of days.  No promises.

121 Pages of… Something

Posted February 3, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Craft, Projects

Finished the first draft of the Bigfoot Comedy this morning.  Took me about five weeks to grind out — two weeks longer than I expected, though I can attribute that to three factors:

1) The Peanut got sick, then I got sick, then the Peanut’s teething kicked into overdrive.  That trifecta of unpleasantness cost me a week (and more than a little sleep for both me and the Missus) right there.

2) The script ran long.  What was supposed to be 95-100 pages ballooned to 121 pages.

3) I had no idea what the hell I was doing in the second half.

Looking over my outline, I have only myself to blame — the beats of the first half are pretty straightforward and competently structured: this happens, which leads to this, which leads to this on page 25, etc.  But the second half of the story is considerably fuzzier, with the beats a little more open to interpretation: e.g., “Bob dupes Ray” instead of “Bob tricks Ray into driving a suitcase full of homegrown marijuana over the Canadian border where he’s arrested by the Mounties, while Bob makes a move on Ray’s hot girlfriend.”  Or whatever. (Not that my story has anything to do with weed smuggling, Canada or Mounties, though maybe it should.)  And the third act, which I envisioned as charmingly eccentric, came off as just weird and completely disconnected from the rest of the story when I actually wrote it.

So what happened?  As far as the vague plotting is concerned, I fooled myself into believing the biggest line of bullshit I can feed myself during the conception stage of a new project:


After ten years of semi-pro level writing, I can safely say that this well-meaning declaration, the creative equivalent of “I promise I’ll pull out,” almost never fails to trip me up.  I’m chugging along on a first draft, pleased as punch with myself and marveling at how easy the words are coming — “This sucker is writing itself!” — and then WHAM!  I hit the wall that I struggled to overcome while outlining, only now I’ve broken the momentum I’ve generated as I charged through my daily quota of pages.  Sure, I know what happens — “Bob dupes Ray,” I mean, come on, piece of cake — but now I have to stop and figure out HOW it happens.  And this can take hours… days… weeks.  On rare occasions it kills a script dead and I have to put the whole damn thing aside out of sheer frustration.

What happens more frequently is that after beating myself up for a few days I finally pull something out of my ass and decide, “Eh, good enough for now”, then curse myself in subsequent drafts when I can’t come up with something better — the place holder I desperately threw in there seems to have become permanent.  And even if I figure it out to my semi-satisfaction the first time through, then I have to build up my momentum again, something that occasionally doesn’t happen, especially if I hit another wall.  Oh, the draft gets finished, but the energy and enthusiasm of the first half is gone — I’m like a runner who starts a marathon at the front  of the pack and ends up crossing the finish line on his hands and knees, dead last.

Some writers thrive in the make-it-up-as-you-go-along scenario.  I am not one of them.  I am a planner by nature.  And even though I know that that plan will be completely smashed in the rewrite when I realize where I went wrong, a new plan will surely take its place.  I would’ve made an excellent architect, if architects were allowed such mistakes as putting the kitchen in the attic, then looking at the finished house and saying, “You know, we should put it on the first floor after all.”

What have we learned, Charlie Brown?  You gotta lock it all down beforehand — know not only what happens, but how it happens.

Will I ever learn?  Frankly, probably not.  Sometimes you’ve been plotting so long, you have to pull the trigger or the whole thing will dissipate entirely — it’s a fine line to walk.  But it’s also a bad habit to mask things with smoke and mirrors when you know you’re gonna break your nose sprinting into that brick wall.  The most I can hope for is that things aren’t busted too badly and I’ll be able to rewrite with relative ease.

As for my gimp ending — I have no excuse for that one.  I just came up with a dopey idea for the climax that didn’t really work out.  But I’m gonna nail it in the next draft.  How, I don’t know.

Maybe I’ll just figure it out when I get there.

There I go again.