Archive for January 2009

Interview with a Screenwriting Jedi Master

January 29, 2009

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, writer/producer Tim Albaugh has been possibly the most significant figure in the history of my would-be professional writing career.  He is Obi-Wan to my Luke, if you will — a comparison that will no doubt make the Missus’ eyes roll so emphatically, she’ll look possessed. 

I first met Tim when I happened to be assigned to his Professional Program workshop at UCLA over ten years ago and have clung to the underside of his wing ever since.  Lately he’s been spending some time up in Emeryville, teaching those cinematic slackers at Pixar how to write screenplays.   Imagine what those guys will do when they know how to make a good movie, eh?

ANYWAY, I thought you might be interested in what Tim has to say; if you don’t have the opportunity to take one of his classes at the various schools he teaches at, there are worse things you could do with five hundred bucks than hire him to consult on your script.  No, I’m not getting a kickback for endorsing him like that.

So, without further ado, here’s the interview.

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Motley Croup

January 20, 2009

This weekend was an interesting experience. We put the Peanut to bed around nine or so on Saturday night and then spent the next couple of hours basking in the glorious silence…. at least until we heard this harsh barking sound emanating from the baby monitor. Since we couldn’t remember acquiring a sea lion, we figured it was the kid, but we thought nothing of it… until she did it again. And again. And again. At which point we consulted the library of baby books we’ve acquired over the past six months and realized, Hey, maybe she’s got the croup. Oh, and according to everything we’re reading right now, it can be fatal.

I was on the phone with our  health care provider faster than you can say “overreacting first-time parents” and got a nurse on the line.  She asked a series of questions (“Is your baby turning blue?” “No.”  “Is she having trouble breathing?”  “I don’t think so, but I sure as shit am.”  And so on) and suggested that we bring the Peanut to the E.R. of a nearby hospital.  Meanwhile, the Missus was holding the Peanut in the guest bathroom, which was filled with steam from the shower — an anti-croup technique that the books recommended.  It was one in the morning by the time we piled into the car and zipped down to Woodland Hills with our car windows open to let in the cold air (another recommendation of the books).

We checked in to the E.R. and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I started falling asleep in my chair, at which point the Missus would smack my leg to wake me up.  Later she told me how she wondered how I could possibly sleep at a time like that, to which I replied that (as she knows all too well) I can sleep anywhere, anytime, and besides — we were at the friggin’ hospital.  If something bad was going to happen, at least we were in the right place.

Eventually we were escorted to an examination room, where we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I didn’t start falling asleep this time, if only because there were no chairs in the room for me to sit in.  Finally, around 3:30 or so — by which point the Peanut was sleepy and slightly crabby but no longer barking — the doctor finally showed up, told us we did the right thing with the shower steam and car windows, and recommended that they administer steroids to open up her bronchial passages.  The nurse entered with a needle and shot up our baby, we paid the hundred bucks for the emergency room visit and headed home.  It was five in the morning by the time our heads finally hit the pillows.

Sunday was naturally a bit of a washout — what with the fact that we spent much of it snoozing and/or walking around in a Romeroesque, sleep-deprived stupor — but at least the Peanut no longer sounded like she had flippers and could balance a beach ball on her nose.  Of course, now she has a terrible cold, which is a bummer but probably won’t involve medical intervention.  Knock wood.

So yeah — we finally had our first emergency trip to the hospital.  God knows it could’ve been much worse and thankfully it wasn’t, but as the Missus put it, “We finally earned our stripes as parents.”  When I told this story to my boss — a father of two — and mentioned what my wife said, he replied, “Well, you earned your first stripe, anyway.  You’ve still got plenty ahead of you.”

Scarily enough, I’m sure he’s right.

One New Year’s Resolution Down the Tubes

January 16, 2009

Well, so much for blogging more often.  I’ll blame it on the disaster trifecta of the death of my favorite radio station ever, the death of a great record store and the death of Khan.  Never mind the fact that all three of these events happened in the past 48 hours or so and I’ve been blowing off the blog for over a week.

On the plus side, I’ve been churning out script pages like a madman, relatively speaking.  “Relative” in this case being two or three pages a day — a piss-poor quota in my pre-fatherhood life but good enough now that the Peanut is becoming both more independent and consequently even more of a handful.  She’s amazingly fun to play with, but sometimes I miss the days when she’d just lie there in my lap like a stuffed animal while I wrote or played Xbox or whatever.  That period has long, long since passed.  I’m still shooting for five pages a day, but if I don’t make it, I don’t make it.  Life’s too short to beat myself up over it, and even one page written is one more page than I had yesterday.  Unless it’s a really shitty page, in which case I give myself a brief but sound verbal thrashing and THEN let it go.

So what have I been working on?  Well, nothing from the previous six months.  I’ve temporarily put aside the three major projects that I began in 2008, having grown completely, thoroughly sick of every single one of them.  Instead, I decided to finally write something that I came up with years ago, an idea that I fleshed out into a four-page treatment which my then-manager rejected as being too gimmicky. 

At the time I wasn’t too broken up about it — you could fill a recycling truck with all of the dead end treatments and outlines that I’ve abandoned without remorse over the years — but this one has lingered in the back of my mind ever since.  Hell, maybe the manager was right — it could very well be gimmicky, but so what?  BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is about as gimmicky as they come, at least on the surface, and look how that turned out.  This may not be the most overtly commercial idea I’ve ever had, but it’s not like my middle-of-the-road mainstream comedies have exactly opened the Hollywood floodgates for me.  Part of me has always wondered, why NOT write the stupid thing?  What do I have to lose?

Upon realizing at the dawn of 2009 that I have no agent, no manager, no new scripts even close to sending out and, frankly, no real prospects aside from the stupid Wedding Comedy option, I decided that I had answered my own longstanding question: I’ve got exactly bupkis to lose at this point.  So I resolved to finally write this gimmicky idea that wouldn’t go away.

Call it the Bigfoot Comedy.

Is it any good?  Probably not.  But it sure is fun to write, and that’s more than you can say for most of the work I churned out last year.  There’s something liberating about just saying “fuck it” and writing for your own amusement rather than trying to pin down to the constantly shifting tastes of the film industry.  If this were a fictional story, this would be the script that blows open the doors to Tinseltown and saves me from a life of quiet desperation in the real world.

In truth, it’ll probably just blow open the doors of the cabinet where my old scripts go to die.  But until that inevitable day comes, I can enjoy the possibility that despite the odds stacked against it, this script could be The One.

As a writer, I’m no stranger to fantasy anyway.

Welcome to 2009

January 3, 2009

The holidays were pretty good at WriterDad Manor.  It was the Peanut’s first Christmas which gave the usual festivities even more of a glow than usual; the Missus went on a baking frenzy that resulted in my waist size expanding by what feels like about ten inches; and my sister-in-law gave us a Wii as a family gift which, when you take into consideration the Xbox 360 already sitting in the TV cabinet, virtually guarantees that I will get no writing done if I don’t discipline myself.  It also guarantees that my wife will kick my ass at Wii bowling on a nightly basis.

As I face the prospect of not only a new year ahead of us but yet another year behind us (in case you’re wondering what’s going on with this whole time thing), I’ve found myself making the inevitable new year’s resolutions, the new wrinkle this time around being that I intend on actually following through on them for longer than a day or two.  They are, in no particular order:

Finish at least two screenplays this year.  And by “finish”, I want each of them so polished, a woman could apply make-up in its reflection.  I wrote a lot in 2008, but — aside from the Wedding Comedy rewrite and the latest pass through a spec I started in 2007 — they were almost all first drafts.  That’s all well and good, but it’s time to get something to the point that it’s ready to actually show somebody other than the Missus and my trusted circle of readers.  Ideally I’d actually like three polished scripts, but with a day job and a family, that’s pushing it.

Land a new agent. I’ll settle for a new manager, despite my reservations.

Go for more walks.  I love walking; a good hour-and-a-half walk in a park in nearby Encino almost always does wonders for my mood and fires me up creatively.  I can’t tell you how many story problems I’ve solved over the years during those strolls.  Since the birth of the Peanut in July, however, I’ve gone on exactly one such jaunt.  This needs to change.

See more movies.  The last feature-length film I saw in 2008 — either in a theater OR at home — was The Dark Knight.  In July.  Granted, the baby takes precedence over, say, The Wrestler (which is as it should be), but for a guy who wants to make his living writing Hollywood features, this is unacceptable.  I hope to find more of a balance this year.

Better manage my writing time.  Discipline, discipline, discipline.

Be a better husband and father.  I’d like to think I’m pretty solid in both departments, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

Cut my credit card debt at least in half.  No, it’s not nearly as bad as many folks’.  Yes, it still bothers me.  A lot.

Lose ten pounds.  You think I was exaggerating about my expanding waistline?  I suppose I was… but not by much.  If nothing else, this should get my ass walking again.  Hopefully.

Oh, and one more —

Blog more often.

So that’s it.  We’ll see how many of these I can make a reality this year.