Monday, August 28, 2006

Procrastination & Prioritization

This month is almost over... and I’m not even close to finishing all of the things on my to do list. Because I’ve got so many irons in the fire, and it’s easy for me to lose sight of the big picture... and I’m just as lazy as everyone else... I put together a to do list every month. It can be anything from just the script I’m writing and whatever other deadline stuff I need to do, to a day-by-day list that breaks down what tasks I have to do on each day. This month, I had a bunch of different things to do, so I had a day-today list.

Between the website, this blog, screenplays, classes, articles, events, and my career stuff (once again I’m looking for an agent and manager) (oh, and I need to sell a script in case the Lifetime deal falls through) - I have a million things fighting for my attention. Often I feel like that guy who used to be on the Ed Sullivan show who had to keep three dozen plates spinning on top of three dozen pool cues. All I do is run back and forth keeping the plates spinning!

So this month I had three major tasks:

1) A page one rewrite on this ancient sci-fi action script that has been renamed STEEL CHAMELEONS. I plan on producing this one myself (more on that in a later entry) and I need to get the script done and the project moving along before I fly to London at the end of September... because when I come back I have something like 3 days before I jump into wall-to-wall classes at Screenwriting Expo... and right after that is American Film Market (where I plan on finding a distrib and/or funding for the film).

2) Write and fine-tune all of my new CD classes... so that I can record them before I hop the plane to London, because I want to have the new CD Classes for Expo this year.

3) Like a complete fool, I threw out some titles for potential 3 hour classes for the Raindance Festival in London... and they picked a couple. So I have to create those classes before I hop a plane at the end of September.

Now, factor into this that I post a Script Tip five days a week... and sleep.

So, it was going to be a busy month to begin with.... is it any wonder why I’m way the hell behind?

I decided to set up my schedule so that I would alternate between script and classes - that way my mind could be “fresh” for each task. It’s always a choice between momentum and variety. I never know which will work best, but thought my subconscious might do some script work while my conscious was working on the classes. That kind of makes sense, right?

Well, things didn’t work out as planned.

The script rewrite proved to be more work than expected. You see, this was going to be the second time I’ve done this rewrite. A little over a year ago, I was putting this same project together, and spent some time figuring out how to rewrite the script... and got about 3/4 of the way through the rewrite when... my hard drive got wiped. Because I was still working on the rewrite, I hadn’t printed it out... and, like a fool, I had no back up on disc. So I lost the entire rewrite. I was so depressed, I avoided even thinking about the script... until the end of last month. I was originally going to rewrite a crime script - and change it into a *western* crime script... but realized the odds of selling that were about a zillion to one. Even though I had that rewrite completely prepped and ready to go, maybe it would make more sense to rewrite something else? I looked over all of my projects waiting for rewrites and stumbled on STEEL CHAMELEONS. With AFM around the corner, maybe I should try to put that together again? Hey, I’d already re-written it once, so the second time should be easy, right?


This is a page one rewrite. The original was written in 1993 or 1994. The new version would completely change the protagonist and the female lead, and change the plot to take advantage of the advances in CGI effects. When I first wrote the script, it was designed to be made cheap... and there were almost no FX. The audience has changed since then as well, as have my sensibilities. And the original version of the script was written around a specific location that I had access to... in 1993. I don’t even know if that location still exists! I have access to different locations, now, and want to take advantage of them when I make this film. So almost everything is going to be different in this version.

What happened last year was a distrib I met at AFM said he might be interested in helping me set up an action film, what did I have? I pulled out the 1993 script, read it, realized it could probably be made on the unbelievably low budget this guy would provide, and brainstormed up a rewrite that would add a ton of production value without raising the cost. Some of that was just using better ideas, and making the two leads into more interesting characters. I put together a three page synopsis based on these new ideas and delivered it to the distrib, who said “yes!” (as long as you can get Lorenzo Lamas to star... and still bring it in on the dirt cheap budget). When that proved impossible (Lorenzo was booked with a soap opera)... and the rewrite vanished along with everything else on my hard drive... the deal fell apart. But I still had those notes! I still had that 3 page synopsis!

Except over a year later, the notes made no sense to me.

The synopsis would have to be my guide.

So now I have a page one rewrite that was going to be a breeze - but my vague memories of how I did this scene over a year ago are all I have to go on.

So I spend two days, when I should be cranking out pages, just trying to figure out what those pages should be. But on the third day, something amazing happens...

I get a phone call from Movie Maker Magazine asking me to write an article on Realistic Dialogue... and can they have it by Friday? Thursday would be better. It’s *Wednesday*, and I’m already 2 days behind... and by the time I finish the article I’m a week behind and I’ve lost my train of thought on the script...

So I jump into one of the new CD Classes...

Just like the new classes I have to create for London, the new audio classes begin with some subject that I think is interesting and important. I start filing away material on that subject, sometimes writing an article for Script on the subject (but creating an extended version for the class - the horror class is 5 times longer than the article I wrote for Script) as well as writing bits and pieces of the class in my spare time. I usually wait until right before I go into the recording studio to write all of these notes up into a class, so that it will be fresh in my mind when I’m recording. Unfortunately, for well over a year, now, I haven’t been able to get any time in the recording studio. Now it’s time to just do it - even if it means using some other recording studio. That means I have to get these classes written for a possible last minute recording session.

I start to work on one of the classes... then decide I should write a blog entry instead.

After that, I decide to check out the message boards.

And then I spend a couple of days getting my Blue Book and CD orders under control - one of the big thorns in my side is that the place that has printed my Blue Books for years has gone out of business and I have yet to find a good replacement printer. It seems like everyplace screws up the order, which means I have to have them do it all over again... and one place managed to KEEP screwing it up, making the orders really late getting out... and burning up a bunch of my time due to someone else’s screw up. So I’ve been trying out different printers and printing smaller quantities at a time (in case they screw up). This has turned the Blue Books into a major pain in the ass. Oh, and the CDs have become a pain in the ass, too - because I *still* have not found a place that will do the labels. The printer that went out of business used to do that, too. After spending half a day fighting with inept printers, I don’t feel like writing... and I deserve a break, right?

After that, I... oh, boy am I getting behind. And once you get so far behind that you’ll never catch up, it’s pretty easy to just say screw it.

Next thing you know, two weeks have passed and you’ve written an article for Movie Maker and a blog entry and that missing Porn Panel blog entry and a swell new tip or two and fulfilled my Blue Book and CD orders... but haven’t crossed anything off the to do list at all.

Add to that, a manager asked to read a script over a week ago... and I just put it in the mail a couple of days ago. It wasn’t even on the to do list, so I never found time to do it. I’ve had to call another manager back for 2 weeks - again, not on the to do list. I have to get back to that guy! I should put this stuff on the top of my priority list... but all of these other things also need to be on top of the list. Just not enough time!

And I waste a bunch of it hanging around on message boards. Procrastinating. Actually avoiding work. In fact, when I get overwhelmed, I go out of my way to avoid work...

Usually by working on something that has no deadline. Like this blog entry.

That’s my unique way of procrastinating - I work on pointless projects. If there’s some writing I can do that will accomplish nothing - I’d rather do that than the writing that might actually help my career. This makes no sense at all. Some days I answer 20 questions with mini-essays on 5 different message boards... and feel like I’ve done a ton of work... but really have accomplished nothing.

So I can comfort myself by saying I wrote 4 pages today... but later beat myself up because I wrote 4 pages that just don’t matter. They don’t cross anything off the list. So I appear to be working... but I’m really not. It’s just a different kind of procrastination.

Maybe I need to do better at prioritizing - factor in all of these other things that always pop up? Even factor in things like this blog entry. That would be more realistic... but I can’t really see “Avoid Work By Writing A Blog Entry” on the to do list.

The good news is that over the weekend I figured out some of the critical stuff on the STEEL CHAMELEONS rewrite... and managed to get the first 10 pages rewritten.

Oh, and I changed all of the dates on my To Do List so that it starts with this week and ends 3 weeks from now with a rewritten script and all of my classes ready to record (or teach in London). Hopefully this time around I’ll actually cross some stuff off.

Unfortunately, I’ve begin today with a 4 page blog entry.

- Bill

Monday, August 14, 2006

Finally Finished!

Saturday, I finished the Lifetme script and sent e-mail copies to both the producer and director. I had planned on finishing it Friday, but just ran out of energy. I was right at the big confrontation, and realized that I would be doing a crappy job if I continued writing, so I called it a day. Saturday I woke up ready to go - and exploded the villain into a million pieces, then did a double creepy epilogue scene where we introduce a potential *new* horror creature (for a potential sequel) and hint that maybe the dude from this story may still be out there (to scare the audience after the movie is over).

Once I finished the script, I did a second save of it under a different title and added some of the scenes I had cut because they were too violent for Lifetime. The plan is to do a rewrite that turns the script back into what *I* intended (reversing the Lifetime notes) in case Lifetime decides the toned down version is still too violent. It’s difficult to figure out what they want - and I’m not sure they know what they want. I think the whole idea of a horror script is something that sounds good to them, but on paper it may not fit what they want to make.

I always advise people to reward themselves after they write FADE OUT, because this is a business where rewards from others are few and far between. I fully expect to get a bunch of notes from the producer and director about the things they absolutely HATE in the script. Not much of a reward, huh? So I had planned on celebrating Friday night... except I finished on Saturday. I already had plans on Saturday night - my friend Rolfe has a new movie called NIGHTMARE MAN that was playing on a double bill with his very first movie, THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE, at the Fine Arts Cinema in Beverly Hills.

Okay, I’ve seen some of Rolfe’s movies in the past - PRETTY COOL and TOMORROW BY MIDNIGHT - and wasn’t really thrilled. Both were made on limited budgets, and were kind of cheesy. But Rolfe told me this was the best film he has ever made, and both L.A. Weekly and L.A. Times gave it a mixed review (good, considering it’s a low budget genre film shot on DV), and the guy’s a friend (and you support your friends, right?) - so after e-mailing my script I zoomed over the hill to Beverly Hills to see his movies. Because I didn’t want to be late, I didn’t stop for dinner. Thought if I got there early enough, I’d eat in Beverly Hills. Might be expensive, but I just finished a script! I was celebrating! Unfortunately, I arrived only half an hour before the movie, and didn’t have time for a restaurant. And there’s no fast food in Beverly Hills... so that meant I had a theater hot dog and popcorn for dinner. Not exactly celebration food, but I was going to see 2 movies - and I love movies.

Um, I didn’t love these movies. Rolfe and his investors had rented a screen at the Sunset 5 the week before, and this weekend they rented the Fine Arts Cinema for Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the double bill. Though I don’t know what they actually paid to rent the place, the cinema has a rental price list... and some addition would put the cost at $15,000 for the three days. About $5,000 a night - and on Saturday night there were about a dozen people in the house. I recognized most of them as other friends of Rolfe.

The biggest problem with both movies was the script. Though both films had major plotting issues, one thing that completely ruined them was the complete lack of characterization, theme, and drama. NIGHTMARE MAN has 4 people in a cabin who might as well been named VICTIM #1, VICTIM #2, VICTIM #3, and VICTIM #4 - they seemed to exist only to be killed. None of them had any *character* and none had any *character growth* - they only existed to be killed. Their dialogue was interchangeable - they had no relationships with each other (even though they were two couples, Vasquez and Gorman in ALIENS have 100 times more relationship that these couples had). Rolfe is a horror movie fan, and there's often talk about "horror movies by fans for fans" - but I'm not sure just being a fan is enough to make a good horror movie. A fan can regurgitate horror scenes, but they may not have anything to say. They end up with a hollow film - a paint-by-number horror flick that's hollow and bland. Not film about real people struggling with emotional problems. You know, movies are about *people* - even horror movies.

Please look at your screenplays and make sure you are writing about people, not future victims.

You know, when I pump out a horror script like GatorBaby, I’m exploring some theme (age) and writing about *characters* trapped in dramatic situations where they have to make life changing decisions. I want you to believe in these people, because that makes the horror of the situation more frightening. I’m also using the horror genre to explore characters, rather than using some characters as pawns in the horror story. It’s about the people, not the genre.

Anyway, Saturday - no celebration. Sunday - one of those days where everything goes wrong... no celebration. Today (Monday) - I’m already bak to work on a new project.

So, take my advice (I’m not using it) - when you finish a script, celebrate.

- Bill

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Honesty Is Such A Lonely Word

The strange part about blogging is that it’s a diary that anyone can read. Anyone. There are all kinds of things I want to write about, that will probably bring my career to a premature end. I don’t want to burn any bridges in front of me - I still want to do lunch in this town. But I also want to share some of the stranger experiences.

This creates a problem.

How can I tell you what *really* happened?

One of the guys from the Done Deal boards started blogging, and I linked his blog before reading it... only to discover that he’d deleted it. Seems he was a little too honest and worried about people reading his blog and discovering all of his secrets.

All of us have secrets. And all of us have different degrees of honesty and sharing depending on who we’re talking to. There are things in my life that I’ve never told *anyone*. There’s a big, life changing event in my life that I only talk about with the other people who were involved in that event - no one else knows about it. Other things are pretty well known by my friends, but I don’t discuss with strangers - usually because it would bore them, but sometimes there are things that probably would hurt whatever image I might have. And I sometimes "print the legend" - there are stories that I've told so many times that they only exist in a "mentally edited" version (all of the dull stuff cut out and some things added for flavor).

I used to not care if people knew how old I was, but as the gray begins to show in my hair, I’m starting to think that being an old screenwriter may not help me land jobs... so my age is now going to be a secret (not a very well hidden one - but it’s been erased from the resume and I'm 100 yerars old on MySpace). But most things I’m more than happy to share. I confess to all kinds of things many people would rather keep secret. The second time I lost my virginity was in the frozen food section of Safeway.... of course, it wasn’t a Safeway, then, it was a drive in movie theater... and the "second time" thing is what makes it an amusing story. This is a screenwriting blog, so you probably won’t read that story here... but I’m not shy about telling it. And I’ve never been shy about telling stories that make me look stupid - there are way too many of those. I may get into my personal life now and then, but mostly I’ll be talking movies on this blog.

And talking about all of the crazy things that happen to me while trying to continue earning a living as a screenwriter.

But the problem comes when I’m telling a story about something that happened on a film set or in a meeting. If I name names, I could be killing my career. This blog is probably going to come back to haunt me, anyway. I don’t think I’ll be invited back to Denmark, and there’s a pretty good chance I won’t work with the folks who made that Steven Seagal movie... even though what happened is their fault, not mine. Heck. I was the last to know they were remaking my script! There’s a very good chance I’m going to burn a couple of bridges when I discuss some of my films - and how they came to be so crappy - but there are other people I’d rather not offend. I may want to work with them again.

I’m about to embark on a new quest for an agent or manager... and I’m trying to put together some deals and maybe make my own movie. I want to share those experiences with you... but it’s going to be hard to be honest and name names and work in this town again.

So I’m going to change the names to protect the guilty. And I may change a detail or two, because sometimes even when you change the names, it’s still pretty obvious who you are talking about. I hope these small lies allow me to be more honest about the big stuff. There are still going to be some stories that I just can’t tell. Some of those are *great* stories! I have one on-set story that I often tell in public, but would never put in print - the people involved would be angry and offended. These are people I like, who happen to be involved in a funny event on set that they probably don’t want anyone to know about.

I’ve finally figured out the answer to the "great story that will end my career" problem, which I’ll talk about in *tomorrow’s* entry... but for today, I’m going to do my best to be honest about the big stuff while changing the names and some of the details so that I can continue this so-called career. In a couple of days I will post an entry completely trashing some people I know... and hopefully they won’t figure out I’m talking about them...

Because a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.

- Bill

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Progress Report

There is no progress to report.

I’m finishing up the Lifetime script, that should have been finished long ago. Big problem has been the notes on the treatment - many of them didn’t sound like they would be difficult to deal with, but have ended up creating huge problems. Oddly, a minor note from the director asking that I combine the ex-husband character and cop character has been the biggest problem. I thought the whole horror-severed tongues / beheaded-pets thing was going to be the biggest issue... but that ended up being just a matter of toning down the bloodshed (and later deciding to return the full amount of gore for the DVD & foreign versions). Though Lifetime may read my gore version and blanch, all of the offensive stuff can easily be removed in the editing room. I think the producer and director would rather shoot that stuff for the post-Lifetime markets.

But the cop / ex-husband thing is kicking my ass. See, now one character is:

A) The cop investigating the killings.
B) Brother of a murder victim.
C) Ex-husband of our leading lady.
D) Father of the leading lady’s kid.
F) On the killer’s hit list.

He has become the center of the universe! Now, every crime scene is also a "What happened to our marriage" scene and a "You need to spend more time with your son" scene. These scenes just topple over under the weight of all that! Because the relationship between the cop and the leading lady has changed dramatically, all of those scenes became completely different than what was in the treatment... and all of the leading lady and son scenes changed... and all of the leading lady and ex-husband scenes changed... and.... well, the 33% of the story that was the horror stuff changed a little, and the 67% that was relationships became a page one rewrite! Every single scene where people weren’t getting killed had to be re-thought, re-planned, and sometimes there was that domino effect where a small change on page 15 created massive changes down the line. Who knew a minor note would have such a major effect?

Actually, I knew. That’s part of my job - to imagine the impact of each note. But it ended up being even more of a problem than I expected. I really wish that people would consider their notes - think of how it will impact the entire script - before they open their mouths. That’s one of the most frustrating parts of this job - a director or producer or development exec who may have only done a quick read of the script will come up with some idea off the top of their heads without ever considering the ramifications. They just throw this stuff out without really thinking about it... and it’s up to me to figure out how to make it work. Sometimes, it can’t work.

Sometimes, in the story meeting, I say: "This note won’t work because..." and explain how the dominoes will start falling. But usually, they can’t really imagine the dominoes falling, and want me to use that note anyway. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just do another rewrite to undo it. Problem is (at least from my POV) that the time and effort and brain cells that go into making the change that can’t work would be better used on some other change that can work... or even writing another script. Sometimes the pointless rewrites take as much time and energy as writing a whole new script! In fact, the worst notes are the most difficult... and most likely to not work at all even after you’ve tried every single way to make them work. The producer or director or Devo scraps that draft of the script and you go back to square one. I wish I’d spent that time writing a new script!

I have this huge stack of scripts waiting to be written (actually, a stack of blank paper). Every one of these pointless drafts is one more script I won't have time to write in my life.

Do you know how much time (and work and brain cells) I’ve wasted on rewrites that never had a chance? A couple of minutes to think through the notes first would save us *all* a lot of time... but I don’t see that ever happening. Producers and directors and Devos are never responsible for their notes. I have to justify every single frigging word in my script, but the "what if they’re cowboys?" notes can be "just a thought I think you should explore". Sometimes, I think this town would run smoother if the producers and directors and devos had to pay for each rewrite that doesn't work out of their own pockets. Then they’d think twice before coming up with some note off the top of their heads. There would be fewer wasted drafts and scripts might actually improve with each new draft.

But, then, I’m a dreamer.

Of course, part of my "no progress" has been a handful of brand new script tips, some blog entries, some prep work on a new screenwriting book, an article for Script Magazine, and several other writing related things that don't add a single page to the script I'm working on.

Anyway - Lifetime script will be finished tomorrow or the next day, then I’m writing up some new classes on audio CD and also doing a page one rewrite on my DIE ROBOT script which will now be called STEEL CHAMELEONS - it’s over a dozen years old... but has a very similar plot to I ROBOT... but with an INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS thing - the androids have "liquid skin technology" and can change to "become" anyone they touch. They are part of plot to take over the government... by replicating the President!

After that... probably one of the "stockpile" scripts I’m writing for a big studio spec sale.

Oh... and there’ll be a new blog entry tomorrow.

- Bill
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