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.

Let’s Try More Smiling, and Less Hitting, Okay?

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Smiling no hitting

Walking across 96th Street from the east side of Columbus Ave to the west, a woman in an old Toyota turned through the crosswalk only feet before me. It is certainly legal to drive through a crosswalk if the light is green, but I do believe that the law states that no pedestrians may be in the crosswalk at the time. I was not only in the crosswalk, but almost directly in her path.

On a different day, I would’ve reached out and WHACKED her car with my hand (or my water bottle as I did on one occasion) all too ready to bear the consequences of what might come of it (not really- I don’t know how to fight and I hate confrontations.) How could she? Who does she think she is?? It’s a good thing I didn’t have my kids with me, or then I would’ve really been pissed (please note: in actuality, she has absolutely nothing to fear as, again, I don’t know how to fight and I hate confrontations.)

But today I tried something new. As her pseudo-beater of a car made its way past me, though I considered sticking a part of me out to “teach her a lesson”, I decided to smile instead. I smiled as this lovely child of the universe drove past me. “Have a good day,” I thought for her. And though I felt like a hippie with too much weed in my Raisin Bran, I arrived on the corner without a scratch on me, and with a slight smile on my face.

What does this have to do with my writing career, as I now sit here getting ready to continue my revisions on my script? My clear head allows me to think of good ideas, while my angry head helps me to slip into a pit of anguish and anger, which will ultimately cause me to throw my hands up and say “I can’t write today. I suck anyway.” Because I smiled instead, writing may commence.

To the woman in the Toyota, I say, “Have a lovely day.” To myself, I say, “Keep putting the aforementioned weed in your Raisin Bran.”

Point of fact: no weed was put in my Raisin Bran this morning. In fact, I ran out of Raisin Bran a few days ago. But my hippie southwestern husband did make me eggs with beans and salsa this morning and you never know what those Arizonans are gonna do to your food.

May the Schwartz be with you today, my friends. May the Schwartz be with you.

schwartz

Back in the Inspired Saddle

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ImageSure, I have adorable pictures of my two girls looking perfectly sweet together, posed for the camera, smiling, happy, commercial, yada yada. But that’s not really what our life is like here on the Upper West Side. It’s a little more like this impromptu photo of my 4 month old staring blankly at my iPhone while I stick her feet in front of her face.

Finishing my meditation this morning, I felt compelled to be a better writer, a more inspired artist, a more optimistic creator, an open mind to the possibilities of the thoughts that come my way today and how they could be transposed into a fantastic writing career that is useful and helpful to others.

And then I peeled an orange for my almost-three year old and breastfed my 4 month old. I suspect in a few minutes, I’ll be changing one, if not two, diapers. Then the wet, uneaten orange on the floor will need to be cleaned up. Even as I write these very words, my older daughter is fake crying next to me about how she can’t have any of her candy today, since she didn’t listen to Daddy last night when he told her to do something. Needless to say, my beautiful Dalai lama-esque, Buddha-like, meditative and inspired writer within me has been replaced by a woman who smells like sour breast milk and has 50 pounds of children currently sitting on her lap while one squeaks a rubber toy for the other one’s amusement.

But I’ve heard that JK Rowling was a financially-struggling single mother when she wrote Harry Potter. So who am I to complain?

Image

Good looking broad, ain’t she? Brains and beauty together at last. (You too, Margaret Thatcher)

Off to the shower and then to the Whole Foods dining area to work for two hours while my husband watches the kids. My renewed inspiration will return… probably after another cup of caffeine.

Day 218 – You WANT to make my movie… YOU want to make my movie… You want to MAKE my movie…

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The script is done. Oh yes. It’s done. And it’s the best screenplay I’ve ever written.

I finally have a script I feel confidently happy with. I’ve had doubts about every script I’ve ever finished. All I’ve wanted was one script that I felt really good about sending out- one I felt I could safely and assuredly use to get an agent. And now I have it. How is it that this is finally that script I’ve been hoping to write? I don’t know if it’s because of impending baby #2 (4 weeks left today), or my work with The Artist’s Way, or just that it took me a few years to really get a grasp on how to write the right script. I’m happy.

So now what? How do you get from awesome words on a page to the film on a screen and money in your pocket?

My husband (who is a DP, cameraman, and video editor) wants to find someone with a lot of extra cash, so we can make the movie ourselves. This idea has certainly worked for a few successful people (including our friend who made the movie Grace.) But honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to that. However, my script is not exactly Transformers or Titanic. It takes place in NYC (where I live) and has regular humans doing regular human things, so it’s definitely feasible that we do it ourselves.

But I’m about to bring an infant into this world to add to our little family, plus we’re broke, so I don’t think it’s the right time to take on a project of this magnitude.

How else do you get a movie made? You get someone else to make it for you. That is, you get a studio to buy it and make it themselves. This is my method of attack today. Studios aren’t interested in 8-month-pregnant-me waddling into their executive offices with 110 pages asking them to make my movie.


But a respected agent calling them on the phone? That’s better.

So I’m going through my teeny tiny list of contacts and asking them to either read my script or give me suggestions on where to go next with it. But one thing I do is make sure I’m being authentic with them, so I don’t finish my day feeling like a career climbing phony (thank you, Holden Caulfield). I try not to be sneaky, or fake. Because at the end of the day, my script doesn’t matter, but my integrity does.

I’m even contacting a couple of people I feel incredibly uncomfortable contacting, as I haven’t spoken to them in years and it’ll be an obvious “Hi… how are you… long time… hope you’re well… please help me?” It’s a sucky feeling, but sometimes it’s what you have to do. These people may end up thinking you’re using them and resent you for it, or they may look at you as lame and desperate… but people do help people and that’s how people get ahead.

So… call them, email them, or Facebook them, and suck it up.

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