Monthly Archives: January 2014

Hacking away

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
―Ernest Hemingway

Working down from my list, I opened my dramedy (I really hate that term but I’m going to keep using it) for the first time in almost a year.  This was a pretty big surprise to me, I honestly didn’t think it had been that long, but there it was, the date next to my file read 2/21/2013.  Yikes.

Far from being like a visit from a long lost friend with whom conversation continues to flow swift as the Snoqualmie River, it was more like going back to a high reunion and realizing you hate everyone there.  I have never been to one of my reunions, so please no one take that personally.  I need to do some serious pruning on this tumbleweed of a script.

First off, I had originally had no plans of making this a low-budget film.  Most writers (not filmmakers, writers) don’t get overly bogged down in the budget of the spec they are writing.  This is big mistake.  I’ve met a ton of would-be screenwriters who tell me their movie can’t be made for less than 100 million.  I can’t think of many studios who are going to throw that kind of money at a newbie writer’s spec.  Sorry.  Of course there are exceptions, but I’m not pinning my hopes and livelihood on being the exception.  I recently made two great contacts who helped me make the decision to turn this script into a low budget piece.  One is an independent filmmaker who read one of my other, high-budget scripts and liked it enough to ask to see something lower when I had it.  Huzzah!  The other is a brilliant writer/filmmaker and my fabulous writing partner (you know who you are and I won’t divulge you until I have your permission) who actually taught me what low-budget looks like in script form.  So here are my tips and tricks which I will soon be utilizing on my script:

1) Location (not location location location)

The more locations your script has, the more expensive it is going to be to make.  This doesn’t mean it has to all take place in one diner or one cabin or one airplane (though think of all the movies that do that and turn out just fine), but if you can limit your locations, you can lower the budget.  Also think about culling exterior night scenes and public locations.

2) Action

Normally it’s show don’t tell, but in the case of the low-budget, do a little more telling.  I don’t mean you need to have eight pages of uninterrupted exposition, but avoid extending action sequences.  Which brings us to:

3) Genre

Put away your SFX and stunts and save then for another film.  This goes for period as well.

4) Cast

Pare down your cast of characters to the bare minimum.  Every character needs a actor to portray them, and actors need to be paid.  Most of the time.  Some do it for the love of cinema.  I’m kidding, they’ll want to be paid.

5) Write Something Awesome

Without all the wizz-bang of a high-budget, the script needs to be something really really amazing.  Marketable is the key word here.  High-concept is great, but what’s most important is fantastic characters, an interesting story and a plot that works.  Put ’em together and whaddya got? Something you might actually be able to sell.

__________

I know that I’m about to cut at least two main characters and five locations from my script today.  Then tomorrow I can hopefully begin to streamline my plot.  I usually don’t do things this way but this is a project I still like but know doesn’t work as it stands, so I’m excited to kill a few darlings.  Then I’ll let it sit for a while and work on my high-concept.  It’s good to mix it up sometimes.  That’s how I write.

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Woolf at the door

“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”
― Virginia Woolf

Today was tough.  I had an interview with a perfectly nice company for a copywriter job.  I was fairly excited about the prospect, mostly of making some money after being off the regular job market for three years, but on the way home I was depressed.  Majorly, pathetically, depressed.  I worried that I was going to stick myself into another job I didn’t really want and all chance of writing creatively for a living would go flying out the high-rise window.  I also worried about not seeing my kids all day long as I had had the luxury of doing ever since the first one was born.  It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I felt that pressure in my chest I get whenever I realize that I haven’t written in over a week and that dreams aren’t built on twenty minutes twice a month.

Then I made dinner and forgot about it.

But as I sat down to watch “Face Off” on the Syfy channel after the kids were asleep, as I normally do at the end of the day, my laptop decided to challenge me to a highly judgmental staring contest.  I decided to work on a project I had been meaning to find the time for all week, then instead I did this.

Starting out in screenwriting is like this.  One minute you have three offer for options, and the next minute they’ve all disappeared.  One minute you’re telling all your friends your script is in development, then two years later they ask what happened, and you have to shrug, mumble “development hell,” and pretend you’re okay with it.  One minute you’re flying high, the next you have to start from scratch.

Now I know most of you are getting worried right about now, because on the face of it, I might seem marginally successful.  But to put it in perspective, one of my friends who has sold two scripts to major studios was only recently able to quit his day job and that was only because he was able to get two more work-for-hire jobs.  And he would be the first to admit he might need to go back to answering telephones if his phone doesn’t continue to ring.

That didn’t make you feel better, did it?  Never fear, perseverance is the name of this game.  You (and I) might have to take that random office job while waiting for your first six-figure sale, but at least we’ll be in good company.

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Oh there you are.

Welcome to the new website/blog!  I decided to move to a blog format so that I can continue to offer services while getting to rant to someone other than my cat and writers’ group, both of whom are getting tired of listening.  Though this particular website is relatively new, if I can figure out how to migrate the old articles over I will.  In the meantime, hopefully we’ll both learn something from this experience.  Happy reading!

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