Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Story Spot...

...has graciously posted me as their featured blog today, so I feel as though I need to get a new blog up for all the story spotters out there.

Usually, I give advice but today I'm just going to tell you my plan for the next couple of months, and you can take it or leave it. Hopefully you'll comment on it.

I'm currently in an epic battle to get EVERY GOOD IDEA I've had percolating in my brain down on paper. And It's been a pretty decent experience so far. I've done 60 pages on 3 scripts, including one I hope to finish today, and the other two I hope to finish by the end of the week. That's right, almost 120 pages of script in one week. I may not accomplish it, but I'm gonna give it my best effort.

Afterwards, I'm planning on writing two more feature scripts, including my latest commissioned. I've been sitting on it for a long time, and it's due pretty soon, yikes. I've told my brain to have no more good ideas until these are all on paper. Finally, I'm going to finish it up with a tv script and a "comic book" pilot script.

Okay, I lied, a little advice.

It's easy for a writer to become bogged down with too many good ideas. You become paralyzed by the inability to pick which idea to start. All the characters start talking to themselves and making you even more confused. When that happens, sometimes the best thing to do is just start writing anything, or everything, to get it on paper and get the voices out of your head (the ones that aren't supposed to be in there at least).

It's also really easy for a writer to have a lot of great ideas, but not be actually writing anything. I'm sure you know writers, producer, directors, composers, etc. who have not been working on ANYTHING for the last few days, weeks, months, or more. It's easy to make excuses, it's hard to DO SOMETHING.

Okay, back to me for the kicker.

If everything works out, I will have written at least first drafts of 5 tv specs, 4 original tv pilots, 5 feature scripts, and a "comic book" pilot this year.

That's a lot of writing, how productive have you been this year?

Now, I'm going to write "I WILL NOT ABANDON MY READERS" 100 times in Final Draft before trudging along with my goal of 30 pages today.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm not ignoring you...

...well I kinda am, but I have a good reason. If I get through this project soon, I'll tell you stories about it. It might go down in screenwriting lore.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Sad Commentary

I'm not a wonk, and I try to keep my political leanings to myself. But THIS, is disgusting:


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

10 scripts...

To add on to my previous post, the old adage is that it will take 10 years or 10 scripts to get a sale. Which means, theoretically, you have 8 scripts which will be terrible. Now, hopefully one of those terrible scripts will be in your genre, but if not, it still gives you 2 scripts to get the sale.

My timetable is roughly as follows:

1-3 scripts - shite. Don't show them to people unless you are really secure with yourself.

4-6 scripts - average. Now, you've taken the good things you do and integrated structure into it.

7-8 scripts - good. You're coming into your own as a writer. You have a genre and a voice, and you know what you want to do.

9-10 scripts - sellable. Hopefully, you've mastered the little things, like action cues and formatting that kept your script from being sold before.

Congratulations, now you're a writer. get ready for a life of rejection and under-appreciation.

So, you see. there's plenty of time to write a whole lot of junk, to see if you like writing for that genre, and abandon it when you decide you don't like it, if you decide you don't like it. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint.


I'm going to make this quick, probably.

I read a post on the Rouge Wave today and one of the tips she gives is for writers to specialize in a genre. This is something that is so important to a writer, because you want to be "typecast" as the go-to guy in a specific genre. This goes for writers, directors, producers, etc.

For instance, if Eli Roth's next movie was a period piece romcom, you would be very confused. The same if Martin Scorsese came out with American Pie. It's because you know them to be in a certain genre. An audience can say, Scorsese did that movie, and I like his movies, so I'll like this one as well. In fact, audiences become rather angry if they go to a movie that isn't what they expected, because they feel doped.

But, I want to make a word of warning. Make sure you are relatively certain that:

a- You can write scripts that are sellable. (If your movies are esoteric David Lynch movies, the audience is smaller than Ben Stiller movies).


b- Make sure you will be happy writing for this genre for a long time, your career actually.

I will leave with one final idea. Just because you write one script in one genre, doesn't mean that you HAVE to write another script in that genre. When you are a baby writer, it's fun to explore ALL the possibilities. So, if you don't know what "fits" yet, write a horror, write a comedy, write a drama, or a period piece, or a kid's movie. I actually learned after writing a kid's pilot that I really love to write kid's sleuthy detective movies/tv.

It's sort of like college, some people go in knowing exactly what they want to do, others are gen ed for a while. Once they find something that suits them, then they declare. However, you should always feel free to abandon these projects after a garbage or first draft. Who knows, it's possible in 5-10 years you'll pull that draft out because someone is looking for a Polish immigrant script set in post WWII Denmark.

Personally, write(get it) now, I'm working on a broad spectrum of scripts from a crime drama, to a romcom, to a snarky independent, just because I want to see what fits FOR ME. I'm writing a TV pilot, a comic book, and five movies. I'm doing this because my main genre, independent, quirky movies doesn't pay very well and I am looking to see if there is a sub-genre or other genre that fits me better.

Once you find that genre, stick with it. Keep doing specs in that genre. I have a friend who writes really sick, twisted stuff. But she has 5 scripts right now and they're making the rounds and are being well received. When an agent looks your way, they will want to see 2-3 samples of work in a specific genre to make you sellable as a writer. It's much harder to sell a jack-of-all-trades writer than one that specializes in something.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stand alone vs. serial episodes

Clients always inspire the best blog posts.

So, I have a new client, paperwork pending, that is creating a web serial after years of film and plays. the idea is solid, but I'm teaching her how to write for TV from the ground up...she's never even watched 30 Rock for goodness sakes.

Anyway, yesterday I went to view her read-though and we got to talking about the difference between TV series. Basically, there are two types of television series-- Stand alone and Serial. The difference is based on how each EPISODE operates, not whether the series is continual or a one-off.

(Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Simpsons, Family Guy, etc)

In these series, every episode is contained into itself. You could watch any episode of the Simpsons and not need to know anything about the shows previous. The characters never change, even to the point of being the same age perpetually. However, it's not just animation. In a show like Seinfeld, the character always end up at the same place they started at the beginning of the episode. Yes, they may get new jobs, or have a new boyfriend, but the characters do not develop and evolve from episode to episode emotionally.

These shows work because a conflict is introduced that cause the characters to react, grow, and change throughout each episode, but that change is not carried over into the arch of the series. Watch an episode from season 2 and season 9 of Seinfeld. It's the same people with the same issues, who have not grown in the slightest in the past seasons.

(Brothers and Sisters, West Wing, any SOAP EVER)

This works in the opposite manner of a stand alone episode. Each episode builds on the previous one. The characters change, develop, and interact with the world in a different way over the course of the season, and the arch of the show. For example, The women in Desperate Housewives look at the world much differently now that she did in episode one. When the character develops , the show changes into something new. The story comes from that change as much as the conflicts in each episode.

Now, I should mention that standalones are not necessarily comedies and serials are not necessarily dramas. For example, Scrubs is a Serial comedy and Law and Order is a Stand-alone drama.

The important thing to take away from this is that in serials the character's development is carried over from episode to episode, and in stand alone the characters start and end as the same person, even if they have emotional epiphanies in the episode.

(My classic example is the Seinfeld episode where Jerry learns to have feelings. He starts off like the classic Jerry jerk. Then, he is taught how to feel by his then girlfriend, proposes to Elaine, makes George tell him all the darkest parts of himself, and finally in the end George "scares" him straight. He winds up exactly where he was before.)

So you see, while there may be personal or professional growth for characters, there is never any emotional growth.

When dealing with your show, you MUST know whether it is a standalone or a serial.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Garbage Draft

So, I've been knocking around a lot of ideas lately, and have a bunch in a cue to write. This is along with a lot of projects I am developing including 3 web series, 1 short film, and two features.

But, while these films stew and get ready, I'm intent on writing down GARBAGE DRAFTS of everything I have in my head. These include:

5 features
1 tv pilot
1 comic book pilot (are they called pilots in comics?)

In addition, I'm determined NOT to have any new ideas until after I do these projects, unless, of course, a paying gig comes up. Then these drafts go by the wayside.

So, what is a garbage draft? It's a first draft you know is going to be a piece of junk. It's the draft you write to have something finished. So you can look back at it and say, yes I like a few of these ideas, but I hate most of them. It's the draft you write when your stuck. It allows for the dialog to be weak, or the structure to fall apart a bit, or any of those elements that a writer gets stuck on to fly out of your head. And, for me, it's a great way to fight off writer's block.

And I'm in good Company; Hemingway's "Garbage Draft" Method. Hemingway used to say, "The only thing the first draft has to be is done." - Pulled from here.

Here's why...

For me, when I write from an outline, or a treatment, I get bogged down with everything needing to be precise and perfect on the first try. When it's not, it makes me stop, think, reevaluate, and start again. It slows down the process and often stops it completely. The worst thing, for me, that could happen to a writer is for him to go back and rewrite a draft after he's already written it and before he is done.

Writer's block usually occurs, for me, when I reach an impasse point in the script. I will invariably think the script sucks, and want to abandon it. I go off to do other things, putting off the script I know will be lousy.

However, when I write a garbage draft, it gives me carte blanc to suck. In fact, that I KNOW it's not going to be cohesive allows me the freedom to keep writing through blocks. I don't have to wonder how things will connect because at the end of the day, I know it's going to be ripped apart.

So, why do I write this way? Because writing is a lonely, creative process. It's very easy to stop writing for days because you are blocked. Because it's so lonely, there is no one to motivate you to write again, but yourself. For me, the only way I can motivate myself to write is either:

-Have a deadline I HAVE to meet.
-Have a story I LOVE.
-Be able to change the story midstream without having to revise previously.

The third path is the one that has worked best for me in recent times. Whenever I make a notable change to the story, a character, or even a scene, I make a note, and keep plowing through. So, when I get done I know where the story has changed and can go back and adjust accordingly.

Now, does this mean you shouldn't outline? No. If it works for you, do it. However, sometimes it behooves ME to have the ability to wander off the outline, especially when I get writer's block.

I read a blog post recently saying that if you can't stick to an outline you should write a better outline and that it's the fault of the writer for not having a better treatment. However, for me, that doesn't always work, especially when working on spec.

I've yet to write a script from an outline that wasn't dreadful on a first pass. And, I haven't written a script without an outline that hasn't been dreadful on the first pass. Don't worry, the scripts all eventually developed into brilliant projects, but that occurred after several drafts.

So, if you are stuck, this may be a method that can help you get through it. Or, if you have a writer's group that is hounding you for more material, or a group of close friends who you can give your script to for notes, this could help give you the freedom to explore. Once you break through a writer's block, the sky's the limit.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ricky Gervais has the right idea.

Oh, if it were only like this. Saw this here.

The Best Advice Is: Be in charge. Then you can do anything. If you're not in charge, always play characters who have your haircut. That saves an hour in the morning. No wigs, no beards. Forget it. I had to wear a beard for one day. Ridiculous. Forty minutes. No. My haircut: ten minutes. And don't choose ridiculous costumes. Choose normal clothes. Ordinary trousers, ordinary shoes that you can put on yourself. Costume: five minutes. Hair and makeup: ten minutes. That's it. No costumes. No wigs. Own haircut.

Two: Do your own accent. You don't want to have vocal coaching. Don't do anything that needs skill. If there's a scene and it says " . . . rides a horse," say, "You do not need me to ride that horse." Because you'll have to learn how to ride a horse. That could take, like, two weeks. Too busy. Too much trouble.

Three: Always say that your character should be sitting down. Don't ever be standing at the beginning of a scene. So if it starts off, "There's a knock at the door, you get up and answer the door," you'll be up and down for eight hours. Convince them that you should sit there and say, "Come in." When we were filming Ghost Town, I tried to convince the director, David Koepp, that we should do a remake of Ironside together. It's the old TV drama with Raymond Burr as a detective in a wheelchair. Also, I've always wanted to play someone in a coma. Just comes out of it at the end. I was really jealous of Colin Farrell when I found out that Phone Booth was shot in just 16 days. Some of it, he was sitting on the floor of the telephone box. One location, sitting down.

Four: If there are long and complicated monologues, cut them. Say, "I don't think I'd say that." No one will think you're being lazy; it comes across as integrity.

So if any directors are reading this, I will work every day. I will give it my all. I will give it everything. I will give you 100 percent between the hours of, say, eight and six. And that's from pickup to wrap. If it's, like, two miles away, you can't go, "You'll be picked up at six, it'll be over at eight." You're having a laugh. My pickup is no earlier than seven-thirty. I'm not a maniac. I have to be wrapped by six. Five-day weeks. I only shoot in London and New York. No night shoots. No wigs. No nudity--that's more for the general public's sake as opposed to mine. And let's not go on and on with it. Let's try to keep it under five, six weeks. So, Spielberg--your move.

--As told to David Walters

Evaluating your future

So, I neglected my blog this week...and I'm sorry.

First, a shameless plug. If you are out there reading this blog, please, please, please, tell your a friend. If you have a blog, link me. I'm a big whore for promotion.

A couple announcements...

I started a gig at an UNNAMED PRODUCTION COMPANY (UPC) on Thursday in their TV department. I was only there two days last week, but I'm sure It'll be good fodder for future posts.

Also, tomorrow is my birthday.

Okay, now onto the post. It's not going to be heavy on production, I'll warn you that now.

Whenever I get around to my birthday, it always makes me take a moment and evaluate my life goals. If I'm going to rule the world by the time I'm 30, I gotta get off my butt and start moving.


I always start by making a list of where I expected to be at this point in my life. I have a very detailed long term and short term plan for success, which I recommend for anyone who wants to be constantly disappointed in themselves.

At 26 I wanted to have two features in distribution and have funding in place for a a 1 million dollar independent feature. The year started out promising, but in the end it hasn't panned out. In fact, I have 0 films in distribution, and we are still working on funding for our next project. Scratch that off my list of conquests.


After depressing myself with what I didn't accomplish, I make a list of things I did accomplish.

I got married.
I moved to LA.
I wrote several pilots which got some attention.
I was contracted to write a feature and a treatment.
I have one feature in post-production, and my company is acquiring a second film.
I started a pitch and development company with two partners.
I directed two television shows.

By all accounts, that's not a bad year. It may not be the year I wanted, but for being on disability for five months it's not too bad.


Finally, it's time to make goals for the coming year.

So, why am I telling you this? Is it because I like to hear myself talk, or see myself write?

No, as usual it's to give you an exercise you can use in your life. All successful people have goals. They have a long term goal...Rule the World. But they also have short term goals...pay rent, get a shite job at a good company, etc. I read an article about Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL. Apparently, Roger started as an unpaid intern in the public relations department and he worked himself up to commissioner of one of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world. His long term goal...Commissioner of the NFL. I'm sure many people laughed at him when he was getting the higher ups coffee, but it was all part of his goal.

In the world of entertainment, there are many more disappointments than successes. It's very easy to not be able to see the forest for the trees, and to look for greener pastures. Keeping yourself focuses on your goals allows ME to keep going while striving for my long term goals.

I know this wasn't a great post, but give me a break...it's my birthday.