Feb 23, 2010

Scribbling and Doodling

Is This What's Been Missing?
scribble mission This evening, I followed my own instruction and I scribbled down everything I knew about Sick Day. I did so in the sloppiest, most freeform manner I could muster. I put Fletch Lives on Netflix streaming, which chased away my intellect completely, and I doodled down the movie.

Until that moment, I'd honestly forgotten about all the scribbling and doodling I've done on my past screenplays. But tonight, in pieces, I remembered sitting in the LA courthouse hallway, waiting through at jury duty, drawing circles around ideas for Zaniness Ensues.

I remembered sitting in backseat of my car, in the rain, on break from my all-night hospital job, scribbling as quickly as I could in cursive, until I sorted out Blaring Static.

I remembered laying on my stomach on the carpet, drawing lines all over dozens of notebook pages, until I cracked the third act of Storybook Park, which became Gravedigger's Son.

I remembered the rush I felt each of those times, when the answers started appearing as though from a muse hidden in the wall, and I remembered, these things have never come easy, but when they finally come, they come flooding out in freeform.

But What About Sick Day?
In less than twenty minutes, I realized I'd already thought thru several things I'd forgotten to write down. Ideas from morning showers, from walking the dog, from waiting in line for lunch. Ideas that I hadn't realized were ideas when I had them. And quite miraculously, I was able to recall them tonight, punch-lines and all. With only momentary pauses, they sputtered and then poured out.

Then, I hit a wall. But at least, now, I could SEE the wall I was up against.

What I needed was some sort of third act direction. Without it, I'd be aimlessly grouping and sequencing gags with no purpose. I couldn't make any hard choices without that third act, because I couldn't tell what the story needed.

It was time to start working backward from the ending. And to do that, I needed to start fresh, from the beginning.

So, I took a bath.

Feb 22, 2010

Prevarications and Procrastinations

Inexplicable Resistance
I can't make myself think about this screenplay. (I'm giving it the codename Sick Day for the blog).

I feel like I'm trying to give my dog a pill. I feel like I'm trying to clip the cat's claws. I want to hold my brain down and make it think about this thing, but it snarls and snaps and kicks away, and then it hides under the couch and growls softly for hours. Not even a treat will lure it out. Not even opening and closing the front door. It wants absolutely nothing to do with this script.

Look at it! Look at this brain! It chooses to discuss its inability to to discuss the screenplay rather than actually discuss the screenplay! These are advanced, professional avoidance tactics, here.

It's possible I'm still adjusting to nicotine deprivation. It's possible my brain is atrophied by a tedious routine, by a dirty apartment and a cluttered room, by these lengthening commute-times and overburdened work-days, by all this drudgery without hope of advancement. It's also possible these huge, black clouds of creative discouragement, blown in by FK, by 8-years of getting-nowhere, and by a mounting sense of audience disinterest, are bumming me out a little. And sure, it's possible I don't feel like I've got another special screenplay in me.

What's certain is, my discipline is in the toilet.

Have you ever been driving, and maybe you're changing lanes, and suddenly, you're sure you're about to plow into something, maybe something hiding in the corner of your eye? You feel a rush of adrenaline. It tingles. It tenses. And then, you fully focus on the danger, and you realize -- there's nothing there. The danger is gone. In fact, the danger was never there at all.

Thinking of this project, I feel that rush sometimes. Literally, a spark. I feel that mental spasm. I'm going to write this. I'm going to skip the outline. It's all right here, just outside my vision, right there, in the corner of my eye. I'm going to do this. I'm going to find the Flow, I'm going to get in the Zone. All distractions will slip away, and it will happen, like it used to, in the beginning. Because it's all right there, I just have to find the time to transcribe it down...

But then I look closely. I try to see what it is I'm plowing into. And it's gone. There was never anything there at all. A mental misfire. Thought there was something there. But there wasn't.
Tomorrow's Mission
I need to crack this.

I need to regain my discipline.

I need to figure out - what are the unsettled QUESTIONS - what don't I know that's keeping me from writing this?

I need to write out everything I know about the story, by hand, on a single sheet of paper.

I need to find the time. I need to find the holes.

Feb 20, 2010

Considering the Options

1095 Days Later...
Three years ago, a producer gave us $5000. I'll call him Sheldon. (It's not his real name).

In exchange, he entered into a "joint-venture" production of a short film based on my script, and won a three-year option on my feature-length screenplay. We'll pretend the name of that script was Zaniness Ensues. 

Twinkie Trap 3 It wasn't a great deal, but a starving man doesn't turn his nose up at a stinky Twinkie.

When I signed, I made sure the dates all said January 2007, so the contract would extend 1095 days from cashing the check. Over the last months of 2009, Sheldon discussed that impending expiration date on at least two occasions.

January came and went. No word from Sheldon. I was free.

I started making plans. I had control of my screenplay and my short film again. I would finish the edit and send it to competitions. I would cash-in my few connections and get a packet out to agents, a packet including Zaniness Ensues. I  would leverage another producing team’s interest in Zaniness Ensues and get them to make submissions on my behalf.

I wrote a long blog post about it. I was legitimately excited.

Perhaps you read it?

At First, Just a Delay...
A week ago, Sheldon wrote claiming that the contracts should extend 1095 days from the date of signing, which was October of 2007, a full 8 months later.

Upon closer inspection, the contracts were self-contradictory at best. They mention January 11th twice, upon my insistence, but also state that the term would extend from the completion of the short film. They do not define "completion."

At the time, I understood "completion" as meaning completion of shooting, and that would mean January 2007. By any other reasonable definition of "completion," the short was never completed, and Sheldon's option never began. That is because, in his capacity as "joint-venturer," Sheldon asked us to shelf the short for the good of the feature script. We never delivered a finished edit. We never submitted it anywhere. It is still lacking a final cut.

Meaning, either the option never started, or it already ended.

But he stood by his date of October 2007, the date of signing.

At first, I was furious. But I took a step back, took my dog for a walk, and decided to be bigger than the situation and accept the 8 month delay. My friend and business partner has been representing Misplaced Planet's interests in our dealings with Sheldon, and he wanted to write Sheldon, since Sheldon's change of date seemed alarmingly disingenuous.

I approved. Couldn't imagine a downside to asking a reasonable question.

Then, Things Get Worse...
Mechagodzilla Sheldon responded to gentle, courteous questioning in this manner: he held a sword aloft, lightning struck it, and he transformed into a 400ft Mecha Asshole, blasting ass blasts into screaming crowds. He became every writer's nightmare.

He invoked this clause:

6.5 ...Company will be the sole owner in perpetuity of any and all development material, including without limitation any treatments, screenplays, etc., written or created in connection with such development or pre-production.
Meaning, he intends to keep all the revisions I've done for the last three years. Despite the fact that half the revisions were started prior to our relationship, despite the fact that he provided almost nothing in the form of concrete notes, despite the fact that he can't benefit from doing this, despite all that, he intends to invoke the asshole clause.

Come October, I could conceivably send the original, pre-option first-draft of the script to agents and other producers, but the vast collection of revisions I've made are legally his to keep.

And worse, he might claim that any *replacement* revisions I make are still resultant from his involvement. As in, "I was the one who said the bull was a problem; replacing it with a dog instead of a frog is irrelevant – it's still a change you made because of me."  He might make bogus claims on anything further done to the scrip. He can do that for a period of time extending until the sun expands and swallows-up the inner terrestrial planets including Earth, or until all human-kind merges into a hive-minded super-organism lacking selfish individual needs. Whichever comes first.

Point being, if he wants, he can haunt the script forever -- and no one wants to buy a haunted script.

I wrote him the following:

It is my wish that, if we elect to go our separate ways in October, it is a clean and amicable break. I have made no final decisions and have no solid intentions aside from using the piece to pursue representation. But we have both made good faith contributions and sacrifices for this project, and I would prefer that they remain in good faith. 
He hasn't responded.

Which Leaves Us Where?
artax It leaves the script and the short film in an ugly, swampy limbo. The threat of legal entanglements hang over the whole affair, paralyzing any possible forward movement. I cannot trust Sheldon to be a mature professional, not before October, and certainly not after it. It is clear: he has a disproportionate sense of entitlement, a cockeyed conception that he deserves to be compensated for the risks he freely took. And a great deal of paranoia.

To keep anyone else from profiting where he lost, he will tie up the script forever. "Anyone else" includes me. I will never profit from this script I wrote, until he profits too. I will extend the option and play ball with him, or I will never play ball with that script again.

And so - my most successful, most promising screenplay has been stolen from me.

I am embarrassed at my naivety. I am discouraged and I find it difficult to work on Sick Day. And I am dizzy, because I know that I must continue to be naive, must continue to risk abuse, must continue to be abused, or else, the discouragement wins.

I have to take this baseball bat to the teeth and keep giving the world a bloody smile.


Meanwhile – In the Same Person's Head...
Buffy-Tarot-Card-Art-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-1116089_900_1432 On *exactly* the same day that Sheldon made his intention to haunt my script perfectly clear, that other set of producers sent me the option paperwork for my newest script, which we’ll call Gravedigger's Son. Yes, I was burned and asked to trust again in the exact same day.

I signed them. I faxed them. I sent them off.

Which means, Gravedigger's Son belongs to these new producers for the next 365 days. In exchange for $1, which was actually just an understood, imaginary $1.

Right now, I have control of zero (0.00) promising, completed screenplays. My future is in the hands of these new producers, and Sheldon. I cannot tempt an agent or manager to take me on, because, what script would they take out and sell? Yes, it's going to be tough meeting that 2010 deadline to find myself representation.

Really, really tough.

Feb 12, 2010

Marketing Pitch

Chase has posted one of the below advertisements on Pico Blvd, where I am pleased to view it daily, first-thing in the morning, on my approach to the Fox gate:

It says - CHASE: Almost as many ATMs as unsold screenplays! (exclamation point mine)


Well, that tickled me so much that a whole bunch of other, similar slogans came to me. I wonder if some of them are already part of the campaign.

Anyway, here are a few of the slogan ideas I came up with, following the same general theme!
CHASE: Almost as many ATMs as still-born babies! 

CHASE: Almost as many ATMs as elderly widowers, quietly contemplating suicide! 

CHASE: Almost as many ATMs as abandoned family pets, wandering the streets alone tonight, wondering what happened, what happened, what did I do wrong? 

CHASE: Almost as many ATMS as things you never took the time to tell him. 

CHASE: Almost as many ATMs as middle-aged women who, sighing softly, have finally accepted the hard truth - he's the best she will ever do - and so, she settles for this man, this man who always greets her - with a wedgie. 

CHASE: Your money was not enough. Give us your dreams. GIVE US YOUR DREAMS.

PS: I actually do think the advertisement is mildly funny - in exactly the same way that mine are substantially funnier.

Feb 8, 2010

Groundhog Day, Break Down

blizzardAct One (Phil is an Ass Hat)
00 min - Phil gives report
01 min - We meet Rita and Larry
02 min - Opening credits
05 min - Phil is a dick, Rita cheerful (Rita-Phil interaction)
08 min - First time: Groundhog Day
13 min - With the groundhog (Phil's report)
16 min - Trapped by blizzard (officer turns them back)
  This is Act One. It appears in two 10-minute chunks.

In the first 10-minute chunk, they establish who the characters are, why they're going to Puxatony, and what they think about the fact that they're going to Puxatony. This actually takes less time than implied: there are credits in there, and it's actually over by the 8-minute mark. Efficiency.

In the second 10-minute chunk, they take us through the first Day. Several side-characters are introduced and geography is established. We see Phil's report at Gobbler's Nob. And finally, they are turned around, trapped in Puxatony by a blizzard.

Notice, the scenes are averaging two or three minutes, tops.
that about sums it upAct Two - Chunk 1 (Denial)
19 min - Second time: Groundhog Day (first repeat)
26 min - Third time: Groundhog Day (broken pencil confirms)
28 min - Phil sees doctors (is it in Phil's head?)
30 min - New locations (bowling alley), admitting it's real
  At the 20-minute mark, they begin the first repetition of the Day. Five or six minutes later, they've started into the third Day, with the premise confirmed. They are moving into dealing with it - the complications have begun.

Phil tells Rita about his perdicament, visits doctors, and complains to strangers at the bowling alley. He talks about it in such a way that we know it's really happening. At the 30-minute mark, everything is in place, and the movie is and running. In fact, it's off and driving - and, with an action sequence. Interesting.

Because I've compressed the "days" into single entries, it is no longer transparent, but the fact remains, the scenes are averaging two or three minutes a piece. Things only slow down when Phil and Rita are together.

Note: some might consider this the third 10-minute chunk in the first act.

It works either way.
enjoying lifeAct Two - Chunk 2 (Hedonistic)
32 min - Getting reckless / crime
35 min - 4th time through, happy, no consequences
39 min - 5th time through, taking advantage, making plans (other women)
41 min - Finally: skipping ahead indeterminate amount of time (robbery)
42 min - Another skip - gags now - movie night
Here we have our first comedic "movement." These scenes all hang-together, creating a general direction for the action. This is Phil's "no consequences" phase, which progresses until it has become a "planning" phase.
All the scenes are still averaging two minutes, or less.

Something else significant happens here, and it's the thing I'm most interested in nailing: we break strict continuity and jump ahead an indeterminate amount of time. From that point onward, we skip freely ahead to future days.

To summarize their method: Phil realizes he can gather intelligence and use it in the future, and tries it out on Nancy. Then, we skip ahead to a point in the future where he uses that same method to an extreme: he predicts every movement around the armored truck, and snatches some money without even being noticed, thanks to his perfect knowledge of the situation. They set up the root of the concept, and then they skipped to the extreme end.
perfect momentAct Two - Chunk 3 (Goal Oriented)
43 min - Getting to know Rita (Rita-Phil interaction)
46 min - Fast repeats to woo Rita begin
50 min - Snow man scene, a perfect moment in snow
54 min - Phil spoils perfect day (pushing too hard)
This is the second movment. The "planning" phase becomes focused onto a goal. That goal is Rita.

Phil shows real interest in Rita, and then begins trying to woo her. As he tries to win her over, they introduce a new method for skiping ahead, doing fast cuts to the next "cycle," quick jump-cut repeats, where Phil corrects his errors and improves. At the end of this movement, he nears his goal, glimpses something he really wants, and then loses it. He is caught planning and scheming.

Note: this is a 90-minute movie. Great movies usually have a major turning point right in the middle. At 45-minutes, Phil begins focusing on Rita.
depressedAct Two - Chunk 4 (Hopelessness)
56 min - Back to snow man scene (desperate now)
57 min - Slap montage, dark turn, back to Groundhog reporting
58 min - Dark clock slo-mo, depressed Phil in bed, Jeopardy gag
59 min - Angry, clock smashing
60 min - Groundhog theft and suicide begins
65 min - Suicide is pointless, suicide montage
Here's the third movement. This is "things go from bad to worse." Phil cannot re-create the perfect moment in the snow. He is slapped again and again by Rita, at various repetitions of the cycle, at different points. The magic cannot be manufactured. He cannot cheat or master a short-cut.

Phil cannot go back to the games or the routine (the movie has indeed turned a corner, and become about Rita). Hopeless, Phil tries to free himself by killing the groundhog (and himself). This is also the movie's second action scene (the first was at 30 minutes, the second is at 60 minutes). Interesting.

Phil proves conclusively, he cannot escape the cycle, even by death.
confessing loveAct Two - Chunk 5 (Acceptance / Honesty)
66 min - I am a god
70 min - Rita believes him, proposes doing something more
74 min - Phil confesses love to sleeping Rita
75 min - Phil wakes up alone, has renewed attitude.
Here's the fourth movement.

This is when Phil has given up on escape, and has given up on games, and so, he tries acceptance and honesty. He tells Rita the truth about himself situation, and as a result, he experiences a real connection with her. From this connection, he receives renewed inspiration. He decides to improve himself.
not this dayAct Two - Chunk 6 (Self-Actualized)
76 min - Gives money to bum, brings coffee to Rita and Larry (improving self)
77 min - Self improvement montage begins
80 min - Tries to help homeless man
82 min - Phil's masterpiece Groundhog report (philosophical)
83 min - Phil helping others
And, here's the fifth movement - Phil becomes a better man. As the second-act comes to a close, Phil begins improving himself. His self-improvement progresses through petty talents, to include real knowledge about life and death, wisdom, and ultimately, to truly selfless acts of kindness.
lets live here Act Three
85 min - Groundhog ball
87 min - Dancing with Rita, everyone thanks him, he is selfless
90 min - Bachelor auction begins
92 min - Rita buys Phil
94 min - Phil & Rita kiss / are happy (Phil surprised by snow)
95 min - Fake-out "You Babe" - Rita turns off alarm
Everything culminates in the Groundhog Ball. There, Phil publically demonstrates his new character, and Rita publically expresses her approval. She brings him home, and the spell is broken.
So, the Question is -
What are the movements of a couple, sick at home? Getting Along? Then, mounting irritation? Then, open verbal conflict? Then, avoidance? Then, open physical war? Then, retreat? Those are what came to mind right now... Do they work? Can we start clustering scenes around those movements?

Groundhog Day, for Analysis

00 minutes - Phil gives report
01 minutes - We meet Rita and Larry
02 minutes - Opening credits
05 minutes - Phil is a dick, Rita cheerful (Rita-Phil interaction)
08 minutes - First time: Groundhog Day
13 minutes - With the groundhog (Phil's report)
16 minutes - Trapped by blizzard (officer turns them back)
19 minutes - Second time: Groundhog Day (first repeat)
26 minutes - Third time: Groundhog Day (broken pencil confirms)
28 minutes - Phil sees doctors (is it in Phil's head?)
30 minutes - New locations (bowling alley), admitting it's real
32 minutes - Getting reckless / crime
35 minutes - 4th time through, happy, no consequences
39 minutes - 5th time through, taking advantage, making plans (other women)
41 minutes - Finally: skipping ahead indeterminate amount of time (robbery)
42 minutes - Another skip - gags now - movie night
43 minutes - Getting to know Rita (Rita-Phil interaction)
46 minutes - Fast repeats to woo Rita begin
50 minutes - Snow man scene, a perfect moment in snow
54 minutes - Phil spoils perfect day (pushing too hard)
56 minutes - Back to snow man scene (desperate now)
57 minutes - Slap montage, dark turn, back to Groundhog reporting
58 minutes - Dark clock slo-mo, depressed Phil in bed, Jeopardy gag
59 minutes - Angry, clock smashing
60 minutes - Groundhog theft and suicide begins
65 minutes - Suicide is pointless, suicide montage
66 minutes - I am a god
70 minutes - Rita believes him, proposes doing something more
74 minutes - Phil confesses love to sleeping Rita
75 minutes - Phil wakes up alone, has renewed attitude
76 minutes - Gives money to bum, brings coffee to Rita and Larry (improving self)
77 minutes - Self improvement montage begins
80 minutes - Tries to help homeless man
82 minutes - Phil's masterpiece Groundhog report (philosophical)
83 minutes - Phil helping others
85 minutes - Groundhog ball
87 minutes - Dancing with Rita, everyone thanks him, he is selfless
90 minutes - Bachelor auction begins
92 minutes - Rita buys Phil
94 minutes - Phil & Rita kiss / are happy (Phil surprised by snow)
95 minutes - Fake-out "You Babe" - Rita turns off alarm

"Anything different is good."

"Do you know what today is? It's tomorrow. It happened!"

Feb 5, 2010

Taking Stock 2010

Feature Screenplays
2002: wrote Intelligence and Ladies & Gentlemen
2003: wrote Blaring Static and Bad Blood (aka Occult Blood)
2004: wrote A Darkling Plane (aka Burying Amelia Waverly)
2005: wrote Storybook Park (moved to LA, January 15th)
2006: fail
2007: wrote Zaniness Ensues
2008: wrote Voodoo
2009: wrote Gravedigger's Son and Unpredictable
Short Subject + Episodic Scripts
2002: fail
2003: Anniversary Dinner, Billy Bump
2004: Momentary Engineering, Antebellum, 20 Feet Less Dead, Tumble Dry
2005: Hit & Run, Brains!!, Signal Decay, Alien Ignorance
2006: Just Us League, Space Fax, Zaniness Ensues, Perversity & Wine, Zoe
2007: Security Deposit, Creative Comments, Business as Usual
2008: Batteries, Packages, Obama and the Red Phone, Hell Froze Over (8 episodes)
2009: Last Tank, Negative Space, Monstrous Mistress
2002: Kingdom by the Sea, Darwin’s Kids Graduation Special, The Div III 
2003: Ladies & Gentlemen (failed)
2004: Anniversary Dinner, Momentary Engineering
2005: Antebellum, Brains!!
2006: Signal Decay, Just Us League, Space Fax
2007: Zaniness Ensues, Business as Usual, Security Deposit, Firejaw
2008: Batteries, Obama and the Red Phone, Hell Froze Over (10 episodes)
2009: Negative Space, Packages

Feb 3, 2010

Without Smoking

Here's a shocker: quitting smoking is hard. Not so much because you must stop smoking. More because it sets off a chain reaction of other changes. Many of these unexpected changes - you may not care for.

I've broken the habit. But I'm not well-adjusted to the new ones.

Smoking suppresses appetite. Which means, my appetite is now completely unsuppressed. My body doesn't remember how to make full feelings. Thus, I am hungry all the time. All the time. All. The. Time. While I'm eating, I wish I were eating. How many cheese-steaks could you eat? Eight? Nine? I bet I could eat a dozen. I'd like to try. I'd like to eat a whole head of lettuce with my hands. Right now.

This insatiable hunger means that I can't eat the stuff I used to eat, because I'd become enormously unhealthy - and enormous. Thus, I am snacking on carrots and celery and crackers. I chain-snack for five hours a day. This daily fruit and vegetable binge adds more unfamiliar material to my system. My miserable digestive system is in non-stop freak-out mode, begging for its life of leisure back.

And that's not the only dietary alteration. Without cigarettes, sugar and caffeine are amplified. To beat back the life-long specter of insomnia, I've had to switch to Sprite, I've reduced the sugar in my iced tea, I drink less coffee in the morning. Caffeine aids in focus, sugar aids in motivation and postponing gratification (believe it or not, sugar-rich bloodstreams are more patient, more apt to work toward future goals, because they're confident they aren't starving). This adds up to me being fuzzy and unmotivated at work. Work is too much work when I'm on-the-ball. Now I'm slipping behind. Which means I have to stay later. Which means I'm more exhausted when I get home.

Yet, I can't smoke at the end of a day, so I can't get that chemical kick-start, that rush of stored-fats released by a cigarette, that magic second-wind. I needed it when my days were shorter, I really need it now that they're longer. Thus, to replace it, I am walking a mile every evening. Of course, this just dumps more mischief into the chemical cocktail that is my skull.

And on, and on, and on. Everything is shifting. My body chemistry resembles a hurricane. It's a witches brew that keeps sucking in more ingredients by its own occult powers.

Is it any surprise that my concentration is blown? Or that I feel depressed and trapped? Or that I'm ready to start a whole new life in the field of Occupational Therapy, or as storyboard artist in Connecticut?

My left-brain is struggling for control, teetering around on uneven stilts, trying to keep pictures straight on walls that are crumbling. It won't give up control, it won't take a break. It won't let the right-brain take over. It's afraid if it steps away, nothing will be left when it comes back. After all, it hasn't gotten a reward in almost a month. I don't know how to convince it that we'll all be okay. I don't know how to convince it to let right-brain have the wheel a little more often.

I only seem able to write when I've exhausted the left-brain completely, late, late at night. Even then it's a struggle. And it only makes the next time harder, since I'm too tired to enjoy it, and writing becomes associated with exhausted suffering and struggle, instead of right-brain release and peace.

I guess we'll just have to keep waiting.

It has been 4 weeks, 5 days, 0 hours, 47 minutes since I quit.