Sunday, June 06, 2010

Pocket Sized Plane:
Santa Fe Adventure 1

A decade ago when my book came out I got two phone calls back-to-back about teaching screenwriting, one from the Raindance Film Festival in London and one from the Screenwriting Conference In Santa Fe. I told both that I did not teach screenwriting, I just wrote screenplays and articles about screenwriting... but public speaking was not my thing at all. Both told me to give it a try, and made me an offer I could not refuse: fly me, put me up, pay for my food and drinks... and pay me a stipend to teach a class. The idea of traveling on someone else’s dime sounded great, and giving back, and preventing some really awful screenplays from entering the world, sounded great. So I did Raindance and then flew to Santa Fe a couple of months later... and continued to teach at both events for a few years. One year Santa Fe decided to rotate teachers as a way to bring in more students, and one year when they wanted me back I was doing something else, so this is the first time I’ve been back in a few years.

The first year I was there (which I think was the first year of the event) they assigned me a driver/assistant who picked me up at the airport in Albuquerque and then would drive me from the hotel to the college campus where they held the event every day, take me anywhere else I needed to go, and got to sit in on my classes for free in exchange. This was great, because I had a tour guide and assistant and usually ended up reading their script. That first year, I asked my driver to make a list of all of the strip clubs and biker bars in the area and be prepared to take me to them whenever I called. This was a joke, but my driver showed up the next day with the list, and the next year the guy who showed up at the airport to pick me up had a current list of strip clubs and biker bars for me. This became a running gag - every year the new driver had a list.

I have always said that Santa Fe is the best conference I have ever been at, because they are really well organized and solve any problems that pop up instantly. I have been to events that seemed to be thrown together at the last minute and where complete chaos behind the scenes, but behind the scenes at Santa Fe everything is a well oiled machine - due to Larry Stouffer who runs it. Larry is a produced screenwriter... and that’s probably why it’s a great conference as far as the classes are concerned as well. Other events I’ve been at are a bunch of gurus selling their books and seminars and whatever else they may have, but Larry gets professional screenwriters to teach classes. They have “Academy Labs” - and these are taught by Oscar Winners or Oscar Nominees or Emmy Winners or nominees. These are 3 hour a day classes for 4 days - and Larry doesn’t just offer one Oscar winner teaching a class, there’s a selection! Either the first or second year I was there we had the writers of WITNESS, THE STING, GROUNDHOG DAY, NASHVILLE, ELEPHANT MAN, etc... and the writers teaching the “regular classes” included the writers of LEGALLY BLONDE, AIR BUD, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE and, um, me.


So, when Larry called and asked if I was free the week after Memorial Day and wanted to teach some classes, I said yes. The first year I was there I had a stack of 5x8 cue cards that I could read off if I got nervous and froze up. Since then, I’ve put together that big book of notes for myself (if you’ve done the 2 day class, you’ve seen it) for when I freeze up or just haven’t had enough sleep or coffee... But Larry said this year would be a different format completely - we would be workshopping the first ten pages of everyone’s scripts. Hmmm, I have never done anything like that before. You may think I’m quick witted, but really I’m the kind of guy who has to think about stuff for a while and eventually finds an answer. This workshopping thing might be a problem.

I asked Larry to get me their 10 pages and a logline ASAP so that I could have some pre-thinking time. I still had to do 3 consults a day for 3 different screenwriters (not in my class) and do panels and a 90 minute lecture class.

Most of the 10 pages and loglines rolled in just over a week before the class, and it was the normal mix - a couple of good ones, a couple of awful ones, and the rest somewhere in the middle. I worried about the ones that were not good - did I want to rip these people apart in class... in front of everyone else? I came up with a class plan - to use the 10 pages as a jumping off point for lessons on dialogue and characters and all of the other things, and not “out” the writers with problem screenplay. Instead I would say, “A couple of you have screenplays with flashbacks, so here are some methods to improve your flashbacks and make sure you are using flashbacks correctly.” I planned my class to work this way....


The Travel Guy for the Conference keeps calling me at 9am. If you ever want to *not* talk to me, call me at 9am. I am asleep. He has one of those internet phone services, so I keep getting voice mail. When I finally get him on the phone, he tells me I’ll be flying out of LAX, and returning on Saturday afternoon. How the Conference works is - classes during the week until Saturday and Sunday is pitch to producers day. There is usually an evening Producer’s Panel on Saturday as kind of a segue, and then the big BBQ party on Saturday night where students can mingle with pro writer teachers and producers. Um, this is also where Bill networks with producers and tries to make sure I’m still a working screenwriter so that Larry invites me back next year.

So I ask the Travel Guy if I can fly out on a late flight on Saturday night, so that I can go to the BBQ - even if I have to leave early. I’d get *some* time to network. The Travel Guy tells me, no - there is only one flight, at 2:30pm. WTF? I figure they have a deal with an airline for discount tickets at some slow time of day - and this is it. I would love to stay over until Sunday, but the Conference is done with me and probably needs that room for one of the producers. I think about calling Larry to find out details so that I can either book an extra night at the hotel or find out what other hotels are near the venue. Because they are now holding the event at the hotel (The Lodge in Santa Fe - great place) - the rooms are going to be filled with students *and* teachers *and* any Conference staff members who decided it would be easier to roll out of bed and go to work than to drive to the event. Will there be room for me? I decide to screw it and go home Saturday on that 2:30 flight... thinking I might bump into some producers in the hotel lobby as I check out and they check in. Yes, and I could buy a lotto ticket and win $78 million, too.

I’m reading all of my student’s 10 pages plus all of my consult’s 10 pages, and going over my class materials and going to a Memorial Day BBQ at Bamboo Killer Emily and her BF’s house and my assignment goes to script and I have to get my CD and Blue Book orders fulfilled and the community college I took film appreciation courses at is having a film fest and asks me if I can arrange for some prizes and all kinds of other stuff... plus I want to burn some CDs to sell at Santa Fe.

The night before my flight, I can not sleep. My brain will not close down - did I remember to pack this? Did I bring my notes on that? I am awake when the alarm goes off. I shower and shave and pull my bag out to the curb so that I’m ready for the shuttle van to get me to LAX (flashback: the Travel Guy told me they couldn’t fly me out of Burbank - which is down the street from me). (You should never use a flashback to insert info you just forgot to mention. Flashbacks should escalate the present time conflict.) Anyway - there’s some big crash on the 405 and we are in bumper-to-bumper and the shuttle van driver calls in and finds out all but one lane is closed ahead, and some people may miss their flights. I am Mr. Plan Ahead and won’t miss my flight... but will not be there early and may have to jog a little to get to the gate.

We get to LAX and I check my bag and have enough time to buy a coffee and walk leisurely to my gate... only I can not find it. American Airlines. Gate 44. Except the gates skip numbers. There is no 44! It goes from 43 to 45. My leisurely walk becomes a panicked run as I try to find someone who can tell me where the missing terminal is. Well, I have to take this escalator down to a lower level, then down a hall, then to a “busport” where a shuttle will take me across active runways to a remote terminal (44) on the other side of the airport. Swell.

I get to terminal 44 and they are already boarding my plane. I am always worried that I will not fit on the plane because I am 6'4" and much of that is legs. Usually I have a moment to ask if I can get an emergency row or bulkhead row at the counter before board, but there isn’t time... I hand them my ticket for seat 9A and race onto the plane...

Which could fit in my pocket.

An Embrear 140 Regional Jet
- 42 passengers total, three seats to each row. That isn’t 3 seats then an aisle then 3 more seats - that is 3 seats total. The A row has only one seat in it, then seats B and C are on the other side of the center aisle. And it is claustrophobic as all hell. I am not usually claustrophobic, but this plane is so tiny that I can not stand in the aisle - I have to crouch and do kind of a Groucho Marx duck walk to my seat. I fold myself into the seat and have to stay folded and crouched for 2 hours. Sweeeeeet!

We take off, and I notice that one of the bulkhead seats up front is *empty*. Hey - maybe I can unfold myself for the rest of the flight. When we get to cruising altitude and they take off the seatbelt sign I start to signal for the flight attendant, when this short squat transvestite unbuckles his/her seatbelt and changes seats to the bulkhead seat I wanted. Didn’t ask, just took it. Now, I do not know if this is a squat man in a dress or a very very mannish looking woman. Doesn’t matter to me either way - they are in the seat. I have to sit folded up like that for 2 hours...

Wednesday - checked bags and lessons not learned previously.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Theme & Character - and film #18.
Dinner: something frozen.
Bicycle: No.
Pages: No.
Movies: No.


Rusty James said...

Nope. Don't think you're quick-witted.


aggiebrett said...

On the EmberAir, the left aisle (the single seat side) has a front-most seat that is wide open and offers LOADS of long legroom. Trust me-- been there, done that. Always fight to demand that seat.

Growing Up Rural said...

I enjoyed your insight and knowledge while at the conference in Santa Fe. I took one class from you and had a one on one consult. What I especially found endearing was your infectious sense of humor and your down-to-earth nature. Thank you for sharing those parts of yourself with all of us.

eXTReMe Tracker