Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Treadmill

From 9 years ago...

So, I’m working on this script and I have a deadline. That means I must turn in a script by that deadline.

Now, I know writers who are always late turning in their scripts - and I think that’s not a way to keep getting assignments. They give you a deadline for a reason. Sometimes it may be arbitrary, but usually there is some purpose for the deadline. Because so many of my scripts have been for cable TV, there is usually an air date when the movie will be shown - and they usually know that date before I start writing! In this case, the producer knows he will shoot the film in June or July (and that will get locked down soon - he’s scouting locations now). That means I must have my script finished on time, or they will be on location with the cast and crew... and nothing to shoot! So the deadline has a purpose, and I can’t be late.

There are other writers I know who make their deadline by handing in 110 pages of typing - but not much in the way of a finished script. They just crap out something by the time the deadline hits. This is also a bad idea. You are turning in crap on time. The assignment isn’t to turn in crap, it’s to turn in a screenplay. Another thing about cable TV movies is that air date means they are gearing up to make the film while you are writing it - and your first draft will go out to talent. That means your first draft needs to *impress* talent. So it can’t just be 110 pages of typing on time... and it can’t be late. It has to be a really good, shootable, first draft. On this film, same thing - this first draft script will be used for casting (and probably everything else - scheduling, budgeting, the director will design his shots, etc) so the first draft has to be good and close to the final draft. Hey, it’s still going to go through changes, but we have a really good idea of what the script will be. The reason for turning in a good first draft isn’t arbitrary either.

No pressure there.

Every day I wake up and have to write.

It is my job, and I am on the clock.

I wake up, maybe do some warm up work - a blog entry or something else. Sometimes the warm up is figuring out what the heck I’m writing today, and scribbling some notes. Sometimes it’s setting up the Script Tip for tomorrow. But there is something I am doing while drinking the morning coffee (provided I remember to buy it) and trying to remove that layer of sleep fog. Now, here’s where humor comes in - after actually remembering to buy coffee yesterday, today I filled the Mr. Coffee with water and coffee grinds and started this blog entry... then realized somewhere along the way that I didn’t have a cup of coffee... then realized that I also hadn’t turned on Mr. Coffee. This happens often enough, that there are days I leave the house without any coffee, and still a little foggy. But I do all of the morning things on that list from THE LOOKOUT (shower... with soap), and go out into the real world.

Some days there are errands that must be done - post office, blue book folding and stapling, picking up blue books from copy place, and all of the normal stuff you have to do. I try to use that time to think of what I’m going to write - but sometimes the errand takes over, and I completely forget about the script.

Once I get to whatever coffee shop I am writing in this afternoon, I sometimes have to plan out the day’s work. I try to plan out tomorrow’s work at the end of the night, but that doesn’t always happen. Now, this plan can be anything from a few scribbled notes to a page-by-page outline to a scribbled dialogue exchange. Basically, I want to have some idea of what they heck I’m writing - the purpose of this scene at least. I’m not writing a first draft, I’m writing the draft that goes out to the stars, so I want it to be pretty good. Last week, I actually wrote all of the dialogue for a scene longhand, then did a rewrite of that dialogue *plus* plugged in the action when I typed it. The scene was the police interviewing the family of a missing woman, so they were looking for clues - and the family might even be suspects. While one cop did the interview, the other poked around the house looking for clues and chimed in every now and then when they found something interesting. You’ve seen this scene a million times on LAW AND ORDER, but every time it’s different because the crime and suspect and family are different. This is also an exposition scene - setting up information that will play out later. And, the police do not know at this time that the missing person was killed by a monster - so the scene has to work two ways: as the cops thinking it’s a normal case, and the evidence they uncover which is weird. Because they are cops, they don’t think “Hey! A Monster is behind this!” They have to think it’s a normal crime - and that means clues have to lead to a normal suspect (the red herring) *and* lead to the monster (when they look back later). So the questioning scene was kind of complicated, and writing it out longhand helped.

Now, I have to write 5 pages a day, rain or shine. If I fail, I must make up those pages by the end of the week (if possible). I like to begin each week fresh. That didn’t happen this week, but I hope it will happen next. I just don’t want the cloud of being behind hanging over me. If you reach a point where you are too far behind, it leads to despair.

I’m going to write 2-3 scenes a day on the average. Some days I have a lot of short scenes, but usually it’s 2 scenes of about 2 pages and a 1 pager. I try to break that up with a meal between the two main scenes, that way I can poke around on the next scene while I’m eating - scribble some notes or at least focus on it. This isn’t always easy, because I usually change venues, too - and end up at the coffee location where all of my friends are... and we all go to dinner. That can work sometimes, because it’s a real break in the writing - I’m thinking about something other than the script. But sometimes it kills momentum, and I have to figure out what the heck I was writing and why and get my head back into the game after dinner... Which is also tough because I’m at the coffee shop where my friends hang out. When everybody knows your name, it’s hard to get anything done.

Another thing that throws me off course is putting up tomorrow’s script tip - if I didn’t set it up while waking up, I have to do that now. That sometimes means doing a “polish” on an old tip to bring it up to date - and every once in a while it means a full fledged rewrite using a new film example. That takes time and takes me off course.

The other big distractions are message boards - I’ll take a break in the middle of a page and get involved in some message board discussion and forget what my script is about. I have to focus on the script again - and that can take a little time. This is why I try to get as much done before my meal as I can.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I write in coffee shops instead of at home. Several answers to that, but when I write at home I find that my sock drawers get ultra organized and I spend a lot of time digging through things in my office looking for that one notebook out of the thousand with the dialogue idea I had 10 years ago that might work in this scene. Basically - many more distractions at home, where all of my stuff is, than a coffee shop where all I really have is the laptop. My old laptop had a wifi card that had to be manually inserted, and that was great - it kept me off the internet. The new laptop has a built in wifi card - and that adds to the distractions.

But after my meal and all of this other stuff, it’s back to the script - usually for that second big scene of the day. Now, this is often the scene that gets the most outline work, because this is the scene that I write at the end of the day with the most distractions. When I’m on assignment like this, I often skip my regular coffee shop where everybody knows my name in favor of someplace else - and I do that maybe half the week or more. Problem is, you still need to be a human being while you are writing, and that means you still must have some contact with other humans. And your friends get pissed if you neglect them. So I usually cut down on meals with friends instead of cutout. This time I have a plan to do something really different - though I haven’t started, yet. I’m thinking about doing coffee shops in other areas of Los Angeles for 3 days a week. The problem with this may be that the new area will be a distraction. But I’m going to give it a shot next week. I’m hoping that mixing it up will inspire me... and as a writer, I can work wherever my laptop is, so why always take it to the same places?

Back to the second big scene - I work through that, and if I’m lucky, actually finish it and have enough time to think about what I’m writing tomorrow. Jot some notes while I’m still in the story.

Now, one of the things about the writing treadmill is that I’m so focused on the story that other things fall through the cracks. You know, I forget to turn on Mr. Coffee in the morning. So between the keys and screen of my closed laptop is a To Do List in a plastic sleeve. Actually, a pair of lists. One is the long range list, the other is kind of a weekly list - all of the little things I’ll forget when I’m so focused on turning out pages. Yikes... just like the Dymo labels in THE LOOKOUT. Right now there are 25 items on that list - some are producers I need to call or e-mail. Big problem often is that I don’t even look at the list when I open my laptop for fear I’ll get distracted. So the list of things that I’m afraid may fall through the cracks... often still falls through the cracks, But at least *some* of it gets done this way.

I stop drinking caffeine mid-day, because I already have enough trouble sleeping. But the difficult part of the writing treadmill is that you have to keep at the top of the game until the pages get done... and then, suddenly, it’s time to call it a day. Sometimes there is still enough time left to see a movie and unwind, but some days those 5 pages take the whole damned day, and there really isn’t unwind time - I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and go to work. Here’s where the insomnia strikes and screws up my schedule. Because even if I pop in a DVD, I’m still wound up and in the story. My brain hasn’t shut off. One of the things that helps is exercise - and that bicycle that I said I was going to buy a few months back is still at the bike shop unpurchased. I have been taking some long walks, lately - usually at my meal break. I am the only guy walking in Los Angeles (except crazy homeless people.) Problem is - walking takes more time than biking, so I have to get off my butt and buy a bike. I keep *not* walking because I don’t have the time, and that leads to insomnia, and that leads to screwing up a day and wasting even more time than if I’d walked. So, I have to get back to doing regular exercise - it helps when I’m doing a script on the clock.

My plan to make up the 2 days this week... hasn’t happened. It seems like I’m able to get up to my 5 a day, and keep that going... but the extra pages at the end of the day? Those haven’t happened, yet. Yesterday I spent more time walking than writing, and I needed that... but I’m now 2.5 days behind. That means every day next week I have to write 7.5 pages instead of 5 pages a day... and I’m not sure that I can do that. Maybe I can. But if I can’t, I’ve built in enough time so that I can *easily* make up those days before my deadline.

At the end of the day, when I’ve made my 5 page quota (and any make up pages) and I’m thinking back over that clever little bit of dialogue or character or action that really made that scene work, I feel like I really accomplished something... and then I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and go to work and keep doing that until the script is finished. It’s the treadmill - it’s the job - but I love doing it. A few months from now I will be watching them shoot this script in Hawaii - watching actors say my lines (or whatever they want to say instead of my lines) and all of this endless work will just be a memory.

But, until then, I have pages to write!

- Bill

PS: This whole deal fell apart! I finished the script on time, but the producer's money dropped out and he scrambled for a while to find another distrib that would finance him, which didn't happen. For a couple of years I thought this would get set up and start shooting... but now it is shelved forever.

6 comments:

cassandra said...

I am the only guy walking in Los Angeles (except crazy homeless people.) Problem is - walking takes more time than biking, so I have to get off my butt and buy a bike. I keep *not* walking because I don’t have the time, and that leads to insomnia, and that leads to screwing up a day and wasting even more time than if I’d walked. So, I have to get back to doing regular exercise - "


Since you're already looking crazy walking around LA...why not get yourself a mini tape recorder and write (talk) while walking?

It's called "multitasking"...

Da Weave said...

On Semi-Pro and "serious" sports comedy's, my two favorites are "Slapshot" and "Mystery, Alaska". One is forgotten and the other overlooked. I won't even bother with "Semi-Pro", the trailer gives it all away and besides, Ferrell needs to take a break. I'm getting tired of seeing the commercials for his films, let alone the movies themselves.

Good luck with keeping to the schedule. Maybe get a stationary bike so you can peddle why you work?

All the best,

OK HW

ObiDonWan said...

You're already on a treadmill, cranking out 5 pages of new stuff a day.
I'm doing 10 a day right now, but it's because I'm turning a novel I wrote into a script. I worked out most of the problems in the novel and while this isn't exactly a piece of cake, it's much easier. And coming up with visual solutions to text problems is fun and interesting and some of those will go back into the novel to sharpen it.
And I'm not getting enough exercise either. At least you have sunshine!

Laura Reyna said...

I get incredibly distracted too. I got a husband, we're building a house, got errands to run, other interests etc... At night I have to cook dinner, I'm tired...no deadlines or paycheck to push me...

And the internet is evil.

But it's kind of a relief to know a writer who's written 19 or so movies still finds it hard to sit down & write sometimes. I guess it's a universal problem w/ writers.


I thought SEMI-PRO was a remake of SEMI-TOUGH. It's about Basketball?? Oops.

No, I'm not a Will F. fan.

Great post!

Wallfly said...

The only roundball flick I ever enjoyed was "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh." I had hoped WiFel (aka Will Ferrell) could conjure up that kind of charm and innocent fun, but alas. The movie was a feel good "The Bad News Bears."

IMHO, I think WiFel's introspective nature has never played well visually on screen. Perhaps he should resign himself to a movie against his conscience or shadow.

Oasis said...

Maybe Will isn't surrounding himself with that needed support system.

It's too bad, because he could have been one of the greats. IMHO

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