journey

What I’ve Learned This Year

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On the second of September, it will be one year since I’ve had employment. This was planned to be the year that I wrote six to ten screenplays before setting off to work and save up for a move to Los Angeles.

There was a change in plans shortly after my job came to an end. My parents, who I’ve been living with, informed my brother and sister that they had decided to move to North Carolina, and we were all invited to come with.

This news came as quite a shock, and naturally, I was pissed. This changed everything. How would I live? Where would I work? Why the fuck bother? I hated the notion, and hoped to move straight to the west coast. Following some examination of living costs out there, I recanted. My brother asking aloud, “Did you come to your senses, then?” He’s kind of a shit at times, but he’s family, so what can you do?

Following a couple months of wallowing in self pity, and being quite direction-less, I finally managed to get my act together and get some ideas down.

First was the month-long research period for “Soldiers of Fortune.” I spent days on the internet trying to learn all I could about the weight and size and classes of 16th century ships. Around Thanksgiving, my library facilitated me with a book on Columbus’ ships that proved most helpful.

One of the critical parts of planning this story was figuring out the time frame of it all. As it was an Action/Adventure film, there was naturally globetrotting. What I had trouble with was finding out the travel times between destinations, the time difference and how long each of the events in each location would last. It was necessary to create an actual time line for the project, and it came in quite handy.

Before I wrote, I outlined, with a simple rubric I plan to touch on at a later date. Any problems with a scene about to be written were further outlined on my trusty 4×6 notecards. When completed, there were at least 100 cards related to this particular project. Each of them handwritten.

The writing was rather fast, two weeks, I believe. I had it at 100 pages. And I saw that it was good.

A month later, I wrote my second script. “While This Offer Lasts.” A rewrite of a script I had done the year before. This project is what I refer to as the “Manic Draft.” Named that for when I told my doctor at a checkup and he said, “Good God, are you manic?” He was taken aback by the particulars of the project: 113 pages written in eight days.

The project itself took all of ten days total. The first day was the beat sheet. The second was outlining. On the third, I started. I used notecards in the same capacity as the previous project. And like it, I used over 100 cards.

Shortly after finishing the second script, I sent in the first to Scriptshadow’s Amateur Offerings. Around that time, I started really delving into the articles on the site. It was there that I found the article discussing cheating the margins. Putting the script into Final Draft, I realized I had been doing things wrong.

Once I took care of the formatting, I read more of the articles. It soon became apparent to me that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. On one hand, it was terrible. There went the last two months of work I’ve done, all the while thinking it was good. On the other, it was exciting. There, on the web was an example of something similar to what I’d written, what was wrong with it, WHY it was wrong, and a suggestion or two about how to correct it.

In the past year, I have bookmarked hundreds of articles on one site alone. (A great thing about the bookmarking feature in my browser is that I can re-name each bookmark, and say why I bookmarked it, instead of going to the page and having to re-read it.

Another helpful aspect was the reading of two books: “Scriptshadow Secrets,” which, as I’ve stated, is the best screenwriting book I’d read to date. That remains true. The second one I haven’t finished yet. It’s called “Crafty Screenwriting” by Alex Epstein. This book, I would venture to say, would be tied for the title of the best screenwriting book you can buy. I’m dead serious. This book was written by a former studio suit who knows what the hell he’s talking about. For instance, in the first chapter, he says that you have to hook the reader by the third sentence in a query letter. I’ve NEVER heard that. Not in all of the books that Writer’s Digest peddles, or anywhere else.

I’ve also joined a screenwriting forum. It was probably the best decision I’d made all year. On there, I think I’ve really found a place I belong. And if this site is any indication of what networking with other screenwriters is like, I can’t wait! I’ve met a ton of really great people on there who I just love chatting and exchanging ideas with.

An example of this is how for a long time, I was having trouble with loglines. Through this site, as well as a book or two (see above), I’ve managed to help a couple writers better fine-tune their stories. It was all from the realization that if the information in your logline does not directly have an effect on the story, lose it. IE, if your story takes place in the early 19th century, but it’s about a construction worker being blackmailed, the time really doesn’t play into the pitch, since it’s all about the construction worker.

But by far the two biggest things that I’ve pounded into my head are building a concise character description, and understanding the economy of the page. A side note for the latter being more diverse with descriptive verbage. These two subjects became the biggest focuses over the later part of the year.

I will admit, however, I feel a little guilty, not having written a single page since January. This was really when I discovered I was doing it wrong. The good news is that I’m still technically writing everyday. I always have my phone, a notebook, or notecards handy to jot down an idea when I get it.

Another reason for my sloth-like behavior was the fact that my family is moving to North Carolina, and we sold our house back in April. It was fast. I mean, REALLY fast. We put it on the market on a Wednesday, and we closed the sale the following Wednesday. Yes, ONE WEEK.

So it was really hard to do much writing with all of my noted being packed in moving boxes. Then, we moved to an apartment in Madison until we were set to move South in the fall. Currently, we have a month left here, so my notes are going BACK into storage for the next move. Where, I’m told, we’re going to be at another apartment for an initial three months before possibly looking for a new place to rent. It’s kind of harrowing.

Once I get settled in, I plan on seeking full time employment. After I get into the swing of things, that’s when I’ll get into writing again.

In the meantime, I plan on creating a sort of handbook for screenwriting that breaks down the aspects of screenwriting. (Excerpts from articles all having to do with writing a concise character description would all appear under the same category, for example.) This may take some time to put together, but I feel it will be well worth it in the long run.

I’m also really hoping that the public library system down there holds a candle to mine here in Wisconsin. The resources have just been phenomenal.

All in all, this has been a pretty well-utilized year. I’m still far from where I’d wanted to be a year ago, but with all that I’ve learned, I’m okay with that. I’d rather try writing one great script after a year of learning how to improve, rather than having six projects that I would have to agonize over rewriting. I’m just as sure now more than ever, that this is the only career path that I want, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

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Bit-O-Progress, Part 1

Today, as the title suggests, some progress has been made. On what project? A couple, actually. “Soldiers of Fortune” has gotten a couple of thoughts put towards it. Thanks in part to these two articles over at Scribe Meets World.

Lately, the “Hard Hitters” pilot has gotten the most attention from my brain cells. This comes mainly from the fact that Netflix Instant is AMAZING. Seriously. If you’re a writer, it’s LITERALLY your best friend.

I LITERALLY couldn't love Netflix any more than I already do!

I LITERALLY couldn’t love Netflix any more than I already do!

The other day I finished watching a three-part series of Falls Count Anywhere matches from WWE. Then it hit me: why haven’t I been paying closer attention to this? These series have a ton of information in them. What makes the crowd react and to what degree? How might the color commentators discuss a heel? Would they each take a separate stance? Do they both like or hate them? So many things to learn from, so few hours in the day.

Just this afternoon, I was watching the hour special about NWO and how they took over WCW. It was interesting. When several of the reveals of which faces turned heel, the crowd’s reaction was shockingly similar to the reaction to the NXT rookies wrecking havoc on Monday Night Raw several years ago. Again, more inspiration. Thanks to Netflix, I can enjoy getting a history lesson that I might not have otherwise come across or sought out.

While I’m still on the subject of Netflix, you should check out “Milius” IMMEDIATELY! It’s a terrific documentary about one of the most prolific screenwriters ever known to Hollywood. If you haven’t heard of John Milius… first off, shame on you. Second, if you don’t know the name, you most assuredly know his words: “Do you feel lucky, punk?” “Go ahead, make my day.” “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” “Charlie don’t surf.” And countless others. It’s a great story about a great man. See it immediately.

It's gonna make your day.

It’s gonna make your day.

Lastly, how do I define progress? I wish I could say completed script pages, but I can’t. I haven’t written a single page in about four months. Do I feel lazy? On one hand, yes. What is a screenwriter without a script? A writer. I heard this idea not too long ago that writing the actual script takes up maybe 20% of the overall writing process. And to that extent, I kinda have to agree. On the first draft of “Soldiers of Fortune,” I spent maybe five or six weeks doing research on certain elements. Mostly having to do with the dimensions of a 17th century ship. This article, again over at Scribe Meets World, only goes to back up what became of most of the research involved in the project. I would argue, however, that it is a necessity, in the event of the script getting made, so I could relay any and all logic found in my research to the production crew.

Today, I wrote up seven note cards. These are my favorite possessions. A pack of 100 cards for only 88 cents at Walmart. What a bargain! I use these all the time. Now seven isn’t the most cards I’ve done in a day. On “Soldiers of Fortune” and “While This Offer Lasts” I was writing up anywhere from one to two dozen a day.

A writer's best friend.

A writer’s best friend.

I just want to point out just how useful these are to my writing process. If I have a quick idea for any project, I just write it down on a note card and then continue on with whatever else I was doing. Plus, I don’t feel like I’m wasting as much as I did when I used to use just yellow legal pads for notes.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

Preparing for Action

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Sorry it’s been a bit since my last useful post. My family and I just finished moving to a new place and all of my notes for future projects have all been in storage. Now I have them, so I plan on getting the ball rolling on making progress. There’s a lot to do, so a plan is always necessary.

On the right of the page is the list of my current projects. The one that’s the highest priority right now is “Soldiers of Fortune” so that’s what in all likelihood I’ll be updating you on the most as far as personal projects go.

The other one is “Hindsight.” With that one, the updates will more likely than not be about taking the finished script and breaking it down for potential production.

One side note: My old computer with all of my software (Photoshop, Sony Vegas, etc.) is in the midst of dying. More specifically, the hard drive is failing. Having been without employment for nine months make replacing the parts a more trying task.

The unemployment has been intentional, however. I was going to utilize a year or so to write a few spec scripts before once again gaining employment so I could save up to move to Los Angeles. My parents’ decision to move to North Carolina did upset that plan, but when you’re living rent-free (for now, anyway) you aren’t left with a whole ton of options.

I am planning a computer build in the near future, and that project I will most likely document on here as well. (An editing/authoring machine — it’s been in the works for a few years now) I will most likely have to get a job here in Madison before the move to North Carolina to start saving up. I’m hoping in the free time I have, I will be able to fine-tune my screenwriting process and figure out how to utilize what little time I’ll have to maximize results.

Right now, this week and next are going to be devoted to getting 100% settled in to the new apartment, and getting my head back into the screenwriting game. In the near future, you should expect a few more films dissected for screenwriting tips to be gained from them.

I’m thinking these will focus on the lower budget (in my mind) spectrum of filmmaking. IE, what I can put into the low budget feature script that I can shoot locally and still have the project kick ass. Right now, I’m thinking of looking at the first three features directed by Tarantino, for starters.

There are some other really good titles in mind, but I’ll discuss them later. So I’ll beg your indulgence, since this week will be a little slow.

Until next time, Movie Buffs.