An Open Letter to Gwyneth

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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.

How Doing Your Taxes Can Give You the F*ckits

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Just finished putting together all of our income, expenses, etc. and emailed it off to our accountant. Done.

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However, the IRS (and our accountant) is going to look at the ledger and say, “How are their expenses so much higher than their income?” Well, Mr. IRS Agent, we’ve had a financially complicated year. Between our car needing a heart and kidney transplant, me losing a couple of my internal body parts to a malfunction in my reproductive system, sending our older child to preschool for the first time, buying over $11K in gear and supplies for our business, all while losing our biggest client halfway through the year, can make for some uneven numbers in one’s taxes.

But today is Friday, and you know what that means? It’s a whole new day. Better yet, next Tuesday is the start of a whole new (tax) year. And I’m working on the (final?) revision of a kick-ass screenplay. Oh yes, that’s right- Kick. Ass.

My point? Just because 2012 looked like shitonastick, doesn’t mean you’re not going to be a superstar in 2013. Just because you couldn’t get a boyfriend last year, doesn’t mean you won’t get married this year. Just because your house blew away with some b*tch-of-a-storm named Sandy doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get it all back this year.

And just because you didn’t make a whole lot of money doing what you really love this year, doesn’t mean you won’t be taking Donald Trump out to dinner this year just so you can tell him he’s a douchebag.

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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.

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?

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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 54 – Jobs I Can Do While Watching Kirstie Alley Movies

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Mediocre movie... back when Kirstie was attractive and not openly crazy... oh, and a total all-star cast

Jobs I can do while watching Kirstie Alley movies (namely, “Sibling Rivalry“, which is presently on Encore):

  1. Design our new business card on BrochuresPrintingOnline.com
  2. Design our new brochure on BrochuresPrintingOnline.com
  3. Go through emails
  4. Work on the to-do list for the expo we’re exhibiting at next month
  5. Eat crackers (no, it’s not a job, but I’m pregnant and I don’t feel well so it’s what I’m doing right now)

Jobs I can’t do while watching Kirstie Alley movies:

  1. Call the Labor Board and complain about how a business our daughter did some print modeling for never paid us (eh hem, don’t ever sign up with Jet Set Models)
  2. Call the “tax place” (I don’t know if it’s the IRS or what) and try to find out how much we owe from months ago for our property tax
  3. Call our accountant to tell him his email doesn’t work, so I can’t send him any of the info he needs for our returns
  4. Blog (the TV’s paused right now)
  5. Write anything (it’s okay, I’m so damn busy running our two businesses this week that I just don’t have time to write anyway)

 

Day 46 – What Are You Working On? Me? Oh, Nothing.

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I went to the post office yesterday and gave them $17.50 of my hard earned money to mail my inquiries, bio, cover letters, 10-page samples, synopses, complete scripts, and resumes to 12 theater companies in NYC.

Now what?

Today, well, I did go to yoga for the first time since I was pregnant with my daughter over two years ago. But now? I’m sitting on the couch, having just eaten Ramen, potato chips, and prunes, and now I’m finishing it off with some chocolate I got in my Christmas stocking, and watching “Nine Months” with the oh-so-lovely Hugh Grant and my un-favorite, Julianne Moore. Whatever, she’s fine. She’s just too… red all over.

So now what do I do? I’ve submitted my play to all the places I know to send it to, and my screenplay is, well, still waiting until I get a better idea of where to send it. A writer writes, right? So I should write. I write plays because I love it. I write screenplays because they make money (and I enjoy it for the most part.) Is it time to start a new script? Oh, the dauntingness of it.

And yes, “dauntingness” is a word. It’s right after “daringlyest” in the dictionary.