Archive for the ‘General’ category

The Nightmare of Living the Dream

October 11, 2010

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.

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

October 18, 2009

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.

I Should Be a Politician

July 15, 2009

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

May 22, 2009

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.

Supposedly.

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

March 11, 2009

… 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.

Grindstone Cowboy

December 3, 2008

I seem to be in danger of becoming one of those bloggers who, you know, doesn’t actually update his blog on a regular basis. What the hell is wrong with me? I’ll bet you can guess. Let’s all say it together: “I have no time to write.”

Sadly, this does indeed seem to be the case, at least lately. The Peanut is approaching her five month mark, and just when the Missus and I think we’ve got this parenting shit down to a science, our offspring makes another developmental leap and screws us up all over again. Recent occurrences include such milestones as rolling from her tummy onto her back (a hilarious and weirdly touching sight), the beginning of the teething phase (decidedly less hilarious) and reaching out for random objects — for example, the catalog that Mommy’s holding while the baby sits in her lap — and stuffing them into her mouth. When the Peanut is sitting on my leg and we’re talking gibberish to one another, an experience that occasionally seems to resemble one of my more awkward prodco meetings, I experience a profound happiness that I previously never believed to be possible without illicit substances or religious brainwashing.

Unfortunately, a more active and interactive Peanut keeps me away from my computer for even longer stretches than before. I’m lucky if I have twenty minutes to work on the rewrite of the Apatow Rip-Off, which I’d hoped to finish in time for the tracking board contest and completely and utterly failed to do so. The get-up-at-4:50-with-the-wife-and-write plan is still in effect — unless the Peanut wakes up around that time, in which case it becomes the get-up-at-4:50-and-take-care-of-the-kid plan. A Thanksgiving trip to visit the in-laws in San Diego — traditionally one of my most creatively fertile periods of the year — yielded exactly zero pages this time around. Being stuck in the third quarter of Act II hasn’t helped, either: for the past two weeks, the little time I’ve spent at the keyboard mostly involved A) staring blankly at the screen, B) occasionally trying out and then promptly discarding ideas that I’ll charitably describe as half-baked, and/or C) writing vicious hate mail to myself, then deleting it before the Missus could read some of it and hide the knife block in the kitchen.

I now understand why pro writers often seem to take long stretches of time off for their families. Part of me feels like going on hiatus to let the well refill and enjoy the first year of my daughter’s life without the burden of shoehorning in writing time. I’m not going to do that, of course. The fact is, I’m not getting any younger — I’m rapidly approaching the age range in which most guys settle into whatever profession they’re going to toil in until they hit retirement, and here I am, on a career track to nowhere. Screenwriting is pretty much the only existential “Get Out of Jail Free” card I have to play at this point, which compounds my frustration when circumstances prevent me from putting in the time and effort I need to make my professional aspirations a reality.

I have to keep my nose to the grindstone, even if it ends up shearing off my face.

(Coda: The Missus made me promise to be more cheerful in my next post.)

Yes, I’m Still Alive and Blogging…

November 18, 2008

… Do you really think I would abandon you, after all we’ve been through together?

Things have been busy at WriterDad Manor. I’d like to say that I’ve been away on a production rewrite in some exotic locale, knocking out pages from my five star hotel room and basking the adulation of a cast and crew who can’t believe the good fortune that I was available to grace their film with my creative genius. But really I’ve just been changing a lot of diapers and trying to find the time to vacuum our home before the dirt and bacteria start evolving and build a technologically advanced civilization in our carpet.

On the domestic front, the big news this weekend was that we moved the Peanut from the bassinet in our bedroom into the crib in her own room. Truth be told, she’s a bit overdue; the kid is now four months old, and when she held her arms straight out from her sides, her hands would stick through the slats — I almost wanted to give her a tin cup that she could rattle against the bars of her tiny cage. Still, the Missus took it pretty hard; I half-expected to wake up in the middle of the night to find her side of the bed empty and her sleeping on the floor of the baby’s room. Fortunately she toughed it out, and the Peanut didn’t seem to care in the slightest that she was now sleeping in a different area of the house, away from Mommy and Daddy. We did, however, discover that we missed the ocean sounds of the Peanut’s Sleep Sheep so much that we hijacked the travel version of the critter that we kept downstairs and installed it beside our bed.

My plan to wake up with the Missus at the ungodly hour of 4:50 every morning is still in place, which is good because the only writing I’m getting done lately is between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., before the kid wakes up and the day lurches into overdrive. I’m in a mad dash to get the rewrite of my latest script — the Apatow Rip-Off — finished in time for the December 1st deadline of this contest. I’m currently wading through a rough patch in the story (the dreaded second half of Act II) and I honestly don’t know if the script will be ready to send out even if I do get to “Fade Out/The End” in time, but the ticking clock of the competition is providing me with a much-needed kick in the ass. I don’t have nearly enough time in the day to accomplish what I want to accomplish, creatively speaking, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that even if I only write a quarter of a page, it’s a quarter of a page that wasn’t there yesterday. It may be a crappy quarter of a page, of course, but I’ll take what (little) I can get.

We’ve also been marginally more social than usual. Two weekends ago my parents flew out from the east coast for a weekend-long visit, the first time we’d seen them since the Peanut was born in July. (Mom tried not to take it personally that the baby cried every time she tried to hold her.) And this past Saturday, my buddy Dave came over for a brief two-man writer’s group meeting, discussing his latest script; followed by a typically amazing dinner cooked by the Missus, who is to kitchen applicances what Hendrix was to the Strat and Marshall stack; and some Xbox playing, during which Dave introduced me to the joys of multiplayer mode in JEDI ACADEMY and the awesomeness that is the original GEARS OF WAR, the latter of which prompted the Missus to remark, after watching some serious onscreen ultraviolence, “I never thought I’d miss BIOSHOCK.”

So that’s what’s going on — oh, that and the bout of stomach flu that wiped out the entire WriterDad clan just in time for the Peanut’s first Halloween, but that horror story (and trust me, it was a horror story) is so far behind us I won’t bother rehashing it. Now we’re prepping for Thanksgiving and the feast that the Missus and her sister are going to unleash upon the family. I’m slipping into a food coma just thinking about it.

Hopefully I’ll stay awake long enough to finish my script.