Friday, January 23, 2009

The Doldrums

Back in the days when everyone traveled by ship, and ships traveled by wind, doldrums were a serious problem. Doldrums were places on the charts where there was no wind to fill the sails. If your ship ended up in the doldrums, there was no way out. You had to wait for the winds to come... if they ever did. Maybe break out the oars and row... if the ship had oars. You were trapped.

For over a week I’ve been stuck in the doldrums. Every year I chart out the projects for that year and make up a plan. This year I had a day-by-day plan for January, to try to maximize my time and start the year off with a bang. I always do that. My theory is, if I get a lot dine at the beginning of the year, I can keep some momentum going for the rest of the year. There’s some confidence and energy from getting things done, and it makes me feel good to cross things off the list. As we reach the end of this month, very little is crossed off... and the list is growing.

Part of the problem over the past week is that I haven’t felt very good. Not bad enough to be sick - though my stomach’s been kind of queasy and my head feels kind of fevered... except I’m not running a fever and I’m not throwing up or anything. It’s kind of like having a hangover... though I haven’t had anything to drink since New Year’s Eve. Great, I get an extended hangover without the fun of hanging out with friends and drinking! That’s just my luck. I also seem to get all of the side effects from the drugs they advertize on TV... but I don’t take any of those drugs. There’s one drug, I don’t remember what it is, where I have every single one of the side effects! Even the weird little ones. By the way, when a drug’s side effect is death - should they be allowed to advertize it on TV? I think there needs to be some laws about those drug ads. And I want them to have to explain *exactly* what the “sexual side effects” are - if it’s growing breasts or maybe a second sex organ, I want to know before I take the allergy pills. While we’re at it, I think they should only be able to show the version of the car at the price they advertize - car commercials always show the version with a zillion dollars worth of options, then tell you the lowest price of any version of the car with a really tiny fine print disclaimer on the bottom of the TV screen. For all we know, driving the *car* may cause “sexual side effects”. Anyway, I may actually have had some kind of low grade virus, but it didn’t do anything other than make me feel blah.

And the things on my to do list are still there.

This is the second Friday *without* the Hitchcock article that’s half written in my computer.

One thing that I *have* done is start the year with new script tips - I always run at least 2 weeks of new tips, or tips that haven’t run in at least 5 years that I’ve done a complete page one rewrite on. When I first began the Script Secrets site on my Compuserve free homepage, it was just to have a place to promote my screenwriting book. But I didn’t want the website to be all about the book, so I decided I would post some daily script tips. I had 3-4 screenwriting articles that I cut up into 20 Script Tips, each was 2 paragraphs. That gave me a month to write more tips. But after about 4 months of tips, some screenwriting job got in the way. I reran the old tips, adding an Idea Of The Day, then began adding a few script tips at a time... always starting the new year with new tips. But starting in 2001 I began retiring those 2 paragraph tips because the new tips were much longer.

Around 2003-2004 the Script Tips were basically *articles*, and now the average Script Tip is 8-10 pages long! So short ones and old ones have been retired or rewritten. There are now 365 script tips - which is like 12 BOOKS worth of information (by word count), and I’ve been plugging away at those 100 old tips - rewriting them to be full length articles or retiring the ones that ended up used elsewhere. I am also looking at different tips on the same subject and fine tuning them to that they focus on different aspects of that subject (and don’t duplicate information). The plan is to get to the magic number 500 - which gives me 2 years without a rerun... and 21 BOOKS worth of free articles on Screenwriting. So, the one thing that got crossed off the list was 2 weeks of new tips... and the third week was a mix of old and new. I want to have at least one rewritten tip every week until I turn all of these old ones into full length articles - and plan to add some new ones over the year.

But all of the other stuff I was going to do this month? Not done.

The spec I was trying to get finished... not done.

The work on the action book rewrite - hey, a good start... then nothing.

And I have a bunch of Script Tips waiting to be rewritten - I’ve done all of the work except the writing - not done.

Pisser.

TOP SECRET REMAKE PROJECT

I *did* have a meeting on the Top Secret Remake Project... and I was sure I was going to be fired. I had turned in the first draft before the holidays, and this was the first meeting on that draft. Instead if meeting at the office, the Producer asked me to pick a Starbucks. Not, “Hey, can we meet at the Starbucks near Paramount because we have a meeting there later” but some random Starbucks that I choose. You know, a public place. Hey, I’ve been dumped before, I know the drill. And the meeting will not include all of those assistants and office staff people - just the producer. Obviously, I’m fired.

So, we met... and there were notes. But I wasn’t fired. The strange part were the notes were concept and basic story oriented... and this is a remake. The two scenes I was sure would be cut - he loved them. But things that are so basic I never expected they *could* be notes were discussed. What *is* the story? Is it the big external conflict from the original film - the thing that ends up in the synopsis on the back of the DVD? Or is it a tiny personal problem of the protagonist - not even the character arc or a second major emotional conflict he is struggling with?

The thing is, if you show the same movie to 5 people they may see 5 different movies. Their favorite parts may be different than everybody else’s and they tend to focus on those aspects as what the story is about. Let’s look at TITANIC... It’s a famous story about a ship that hits an iceberg and sinks... and a love story between Jack and Rose... and a story about class - we have the people in the cabins and all of those poor people crammed together below decks... and there are other aspects of the story, as well.

But imagine seeing TITANIC and deciding it was all about a guy who likes to sketch. That is his dream, his goal - to be an artist. That *is* Jack's goal.

The producer really connected with the “guy who likes to sketch” part and thinks *that* is what TITANIC is all about - and that should be the focus of the script... and this whole ship hitting an iceberg thing is unimportant and getting in the way of the real story.

And when the Producer said that, I was... confused.

He wanted to cut out the ship hitting the iceberg part because it had nothing to do with the guys sketching. In fact, the ship hitting the iceberg part *distracts* from the guy sketching story.

And I was more confused.

So we discuss this, and I make my points, and he says... Those are damned good points, maybe you’re right! Maybe a movie called TITANIC *needs* the ship hitting the iceberg part. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.

Wow - he listened. I mean *really listened*, not just nodded his head and pretended. That *never* happens. Usually they pretend to listen, then tell you they’re Mommy and that means whatever they say goes. It doesn’t have to make sense, there doesn’t have to be a reason. But this guy actually *considered* that he might be wrong. Never happens in Hollywood.

Best Meeting Ever.

VHS WILL NEVER DIE!

And on Sunday I biked to the opening of my friend Eric’s new video store. Eric is an actor who was a fan of my website before he moved to Los Angeles. He gets excited by everything - one of those people who is ecstatic about living in Los Angeles. He’s a big fan of B movies, and is probably the only actor I know who goes out of his way to be in low budget movies. He’d rather be in a cheapo biker movie than be in SPIDER-MAN 4. I kind of understand this - B movies are fun and silly and probably fun to make... SPIDER-MAN 4 might just be a job. Oh, I I have to mention that Eric looks like he’s 18 years old, and I’m pretty sure he’s north of 30. He still gets cast as college students and maybe even high school students.

Eric has been a collector of movies forever, and when he’s between acting gigs (and actors are always between gigs) he buys and sells collectable DVDs and rare VHS tapes on e-bay. He buys the inventories of video stores and searches the contents for gold... and has a warehouse of boxes filled with VHS tapes and some DVDs... and decided to open a store in Van Nuys.

Spudic's Movie Empire
5910 Van Nuys Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA 91401

On Sunday he did a Grand Opening signing with 3 top B movie makers, so I figured I’d show up and buy something to show support. His store is perfectly located in an area filled with Bail Bondsmen and Pawn Shops... and I think a vacuum cleaner repair shop is next door. The Van Nuys Criminal Courts is a block or two away. His store is cool - all kinds of old posters and shelves filled mostly with VHS tapes. He has a huge stack of boxes against the back wall filled with more VHS tapes. So I told him he should play up the VHS thing - you know, there are stores for people who collect vinyl records, why not focus on people who collect VHS tapes? There really is something about VHS that’s kind of fun, and the old tapes have all of these great trailers on them - trailers with an 80s vibe. So, if you’re a fan of VHS, stop by Eric’s store (or the online store). I bought a DVD - one of those movies I don’t own, but should.

Hey, and we have a new President. Two swearing in ceremonies and no swearing. What’s up with that? I think we should have someone from the other party, chosen by lottery, to swear at the President for one full minute after he’s sworn in - just to let those people blow off some steam and get the new Prez used to all of the crap he’s going to have to put up with over the next 4 years. Every time I see Obama and his family I get a Kennedy vibe - he’s got a fashionable wife and two young kids. He’s sure got a tough job ahead of him, I wish him luck... for all of our sakes.

We also have some Oscar Nominees - and I posted them just to let you know I hadn’t been kidnaped by aliens.

Feeling better today, so I hope the wind has pushed me out of these doldrums and getting back on course. Wrote this, and I’m trying to catch up on my Holiday Update - hope to have that for you on Monday....

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: High Concept - Medium Budget a rerun with some work done.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fuddrucker's burger.
Pages: Well, this blog entry plus some new tip material!
Movies: You know, I haven't seen a movie since New Year's Eve! Maybe my doldrums are caused by movie withdrawl?

6 comments:

martinb said...

I wish you a stiff breeze to blow you right out of the doldrums.

Thank you for the Script Tips. I have learned a great deal from them over the years. Please keep them coming.

On the tips, I wouldn't make them much longer. It's enough to make the point concisely, and bring the example movies up to date.

And please continue blogging on the movies you've seen. I really value your judgement of what went wrong and how they could be fixed.

E.C. Henry said...

Dr. E.C. prescribes fiction. You need to get back to reading fiction. Do that and your "creative" doldrums will go away. But it may not cure these sexual sideaffects you're afraid you may be suffering from... (joke)...

Your meeting with the producer sounded REALLY BAD, Bill. Sorry to break it to you. But maybe the guy is just trying to let you down easy. Focus on the main goal: get paid.
When people start liking the "little things" and ignoring the central story, that's a bad sign. Worry accomplishes nothing, just file that away. And hopefully I'm wrong. It's just the way you described it, my spidey sense started tingling.

In my humble opinion, you spend too much energy worrying. Post when you can. When you feel like it. The people who read your posts like you, and WANT to hear what you have to say. I know I for one hang no burdens on you. I'm just glad to hear an occasional story from someone functioning in the system, and seeing what it's like, and what you're going through.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

wcmartell said...

I've done a million meetings, and this was a good one.

People see the same film differently, and he latched on to this one aspect of the story. That is not uncommon. But usually, they don't listen to you at all and just want you to keep your mouth shut and do what you're told.

The old Script Tips are just going to get new examples... and more focus on what the heck I'm trying to explain. One of the reasons for the film reviews here is to provide examples for Script Tips later.

- Bill

Eleanor said...

Tattooist - interesting "horror" film, if you haven't seen it already, you might want to add it to the list.

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