Don’t Worry, You’re Damned Regardless

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An Open Letter to Gwyneth

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Know What You Write

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When I was 13 I wrote a poem about an old woman. I shared it with my boyfriend who also considered himself a poet. He said to me quite seriously, “Do you know this woman? Do you know what it’s like to be an 80 year old woman? You should write what you know.”

Write what you know

“Writing what you know” is not a novel idea invented by Alex. However, I’ve never forgotten him saying that.

I’ve written many things I didn’t “know”. I’ve written plenty of main characters who are men, plenty of married people when I wasn’t married, people with children when I didn’t have children, and other lifestyles I didn’t “know”. And that’s fine. I mean, if no one wrote what they didn’t know there wouldn’t be any zombie apocalypse movies, right?

There’s also the kind of “writing what you know” when the part you really know is in the subtext- for example, “Big Love“, though not written by Polygamist Mormons, was written by two gay men who said they understand what it’s like to be ostracized in your society, like the polygamists living in the HBO show, because they have lived their lives as homosexuals in a not-always-accepting world. (RIP “Big Love”. We miss you.)

But I recently read that the Writers Guild of America claims that only 27% of their film writers and only 19% of their television writers are female. So what kind of service am I doing to the screenwriting industry by writing main characters who are male? What service am I doing if I don’t write the true female experience? (Men try to, but sorry Judd Apatow, your wife isn’t the only woman in the world.) And as Mitt Romney (though thank God not a screenwriter) said: he knows what women of America need because his wife talks to him.

So my new script, for which I’ve been writing the outline for weeks, is finally ready for page 1. And this one, though intentionally catering to all over-age-13 crowds, speaks the female experience that I understand best: the married one, the mother one, the overworked one, the struggling one, and the hopeful one. (And no, Sarah Jessica Parker is not starring in it and you won’t be left wondering, “I don’t know how she does it!” – though in its defense, was in fact written by a mother of two.)

On to page 1 – see you on the other side!

It’s Not Lice, It’s Confusion

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Monkey scratching

I was the kid in school who never wanted to proof their test before bringing it up to the teacher. I was the kid who as soon as they got to the last line of their essay, they just hit print. I used to have a writing partner who could never let go of a script – he would do rewrite upon rewrite upon rewrite, never believing it was finished. Me? My script is done when I get to page 100.

Okay, in all seriousness, I’m not that sloppy of a writer anymore. Now I proof, I outline, I revise and revise. But it’s in my nature to say, “Are we done? Good. Onto the next.”

I’ve been working on this outline now for a couple of weeks (note: Robert McKee says your outline should take months, but he’s a blowhard windbag so whatever.) I wanna start writing. I don’t know what to do next with my outline, so I want to say, “Are we done? Good. Onto the script!” But I don’t want to get lost writing the script. So my question is…

When is your outline done?

My feeling? Your outline is done “enough” when you can write your entire script without once having to look up at the ceiling, scratching your head. (note: there is nothing wrong with looking up at the ceiling scratching your head when you’re searching for specific words, phrasing, or dialogue. But there should be no looking up at the ceiling, asking yourself “where do I go with this now?”)

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

Bur I sit here, in the cafeteria of my local Whole Foods, looking up at the ceiling, scratching my head, and asking myself, “Can I start the damn script now?” I guess I’ll know when I get to page 50 and I know (or don’t know) where to go next.

You Don’t Have Writer’s Block- You Just Didn’t Finish Your Outline

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Working on an outline for a new script. Think Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Anna Faris.

I listened to a teleconference seminar on structure last week that was really interesting. It went into detail on the 15-minute segment method practiced by most Hollywood screenwriters. For those who are unaware, this is a process that divides your movie up into 8 even segments (i.e. if you have a 120 page script, each segment will be roughly 15 minutes.) Each segment has its own purpose, and its own rise and fall. Following this structure is a great way to lay out your script, avoid the second act slump, and more importantly, writer’s block.

cow writers block

As the teacher of the seminar said, “You don’t have writer’s block- you just didn’t finish your outline.”

Here is a (very) brief breakdown of the 15 minute segment method:

  1. Setting up the story
  2. Entering a new world
  3. Learning the new world
  4. The first major obstacle
  5. Things fall apart
  6. The hero hits rock bottom and the villain achieves his or her goal
  7. The hero takes on the villain’s allies
  8. The hero confronts the villain

Bruce Almighty

For people like me who write comedies, these breakdowns of action movies are sometimes a little difficult to translate into comedy-speak, but its doable. For example: “Things fall apart” in Bruce Almighty actually means “Bruce starts getting everything he wants.” I know, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but once you start overanalyzing a ton of comedies (like I’ve done these last few weeks, including Bridesmaids, 13 Going on 30, Bruce Almighty and Horrible Bosses) it starts become clearer.

By the way, overanalyzing movies is a great way for you to simultaneously appreciate the movies more and become totally sick of all comedies all at the same time. (If you ever feel the need to read a scene-by-scene play-by-play of any of those movies, oh yes, I’ve got it in MS Word.)

Some people can write without an outline, but most people (including everyone I know) can’t. I want my outline so perfectly laid out that by the time I open Final Draft, the thing is practically written for me already, and “writer’s block” is a virus I’m immune to.

A Writer By Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell as Sweet

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When can you call yourself a writer? Or an actor? Or a musician?

Once you’re playing music? Well, I played the piano yesterday, but I’m not a professional musician. Once you’ve acted in an independent film? Well, you didn’t make any money doing it, so can you still call yourself a professional actor? What if you wrote a book? Could you call yourself a writer? I’m writing a blog right now… does that make me a writer?

Work for free

Do I have to wait until I get my first paycheck for writing before I can answer the question from someone: “What do you do?” by saying “I’m a writer”?

This question has (sort of) haunted me since I graduated from college over 12 years ago. I moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, but I worked various jobs to pay my rent. If someone asked me what I did, I was hesitant to say “I’m a teacher”, or “I’m a bartender” because I didn’t really feel like that’s what I was doing. But I wasn’t making any money as an actor, and though I was going on the occasional audition and doing the occasional play or low-budget film, I also felt like kind of a liar to say “I’m an actor”. I pretty much gave up acting after a few years to pursue a career as a playwright and screenwriter. I’ve been doing that for a number of years now. But I haven’t made any money doing it yet.

But every day I work on my script that I intend to sell… yes, for real money. Plus now I’ve got a possible job to write the sequel for a movie that did pretty well a few years back. And that would be for real money too. (I’m not really talking about it until it’s more of a done deal.) In fact, these days I’m working more on my screenplay than I am running my and my husband’s business.

A parent at a music class for my daughter yesterday asked me if I worked, as she saw me without a job on a Thursday morning. I said, “Yes, I’m a writer and I help run our business.” I felt like kind of a poser, a “phony” as Holden Caulfield would call it, but the fact remains that I write. A lot. And I have every intention to make real money real soon.

Phony

As soon as that first paycheck comes in, though, there won’t be any phoniness coming out of my mouth. It’ll be a full fledged, “Yes! I’m a writer!” I guess this means that I believe in the argument that you need to be making money in order to say you do something. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to bring up the fact that I’m also a writer. Because I am.

Day 138 – My Outline Can Beat Up My Old Outlines

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Yesterday, I suddenly felt inspired to start writing a screenplay I’ve wanted to write on and off for years. This is much thanks to (and I’m embarrassed to say) my work doing The Artist’s Way workbook. During my two hours of uninterrupted writing time that my hubby and I give me five days a week, I began an outline for the third script. And you know what?

It fucking rocks.

In the period of two hours, I typed a 2 1/2 page outline in (almost) full detail… the kind of thing that used to take me 1-2 days. It follows a typical script structure of:

  • The Set-up
  • The Opportunity
  • The New Situation
  • The Change of Plans
  • Progress
  • The Point of No Return
  • Higher Stakes and Worse Complications
  • The Major Set-back
  • The Final Push
  • The Climax
  • The Aftermath

Sure, it needs to be fleshed out a lot more (God, I still hate that word), but it implements everything I’ve learned through trial and error over the years, through notes from managers and industry professionals, through going to the (blowhard) Robert McKee‘s writing seminar a few years ago, through working with my old writing partner (who knows structure like a hooker knows the right street corner), and through researching and researching existing movies. And you know what?

I fucking rock.

But let’s not get ahead of myself. I don’t expect every day to go that well. However, today I continued to enjoy working on it, giving it two more hours of love this afternoon, adding six B storylines of other characters (kind of like in Love Actually, but with less of a focus than the main character.) To give you the vibe of the movie, I’m writing it with Simon Pegg in mind for the main character (I like to imagine my actors in my scripts when I write them because it helps bring them alive to me.)

Needless to say, I’m jazzed to be so jazzed about a script. Hopefully, the jazzedness won’t die out before I’m able to finish the thing.

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