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.

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.

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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:

“YOU’LL FIGURE IT OUT WHEN YOU GET THERE.”

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.

Interview with a Screenwriting Jedi Master

Posted January 29, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Craft, Inspiration

Tags: , ,

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.

Motley Croup

Posted January 20, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Personal

Tags: ,

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

Posted January 16, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Personal, Projects

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

Posted January 3, 2009 by WriterDad
Categories: Personal, Projects

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.