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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Gold in this Gold Rush Town isn't the Gold.

Creativity and manifestation are the cure all for all ills, I believe, and the self worth, and self help that come through with it is life saving and life transforming energy. New work is not the gold in the gold rush of Hollywood. The gold is what is deposited in your own soul. Writing a story that moves and thrills you is giving back to the world. It's a gift you place on the "once upon a time" altar where you found inspiration in the first place. Sure when you sell something you'll bring some bucks into your household, but what you bring into your own spirit will be priceless. It's not just the bucks. Creative work is expansive, extraordinary and profound, and of course, at any moment, is the work that might be the thing that turns life on a dime.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Speed Writing

From an old friend:

Q: What is the speed limit for writing a new spec by human beings? Think it can be broken???? I'm launching into a new script this weekend ... because I have nothing special to do, because I need to write or I will self-detonate, because because. Send power bars, red bulls and soft pillows!!!

God, I love that - he has to write or he will die. That's why you write.

But it made me think about how we are all fascinated with the disposable script. The one you can write in 21 days and dump on the market for big cash and prizes, and then head off into the hinterlands.


It's the only art form that has been turned into a dietetic regimen. Add 1/4 cup character, 4/5 dilemma, bake for only a short time, and viola! A masterpiece!

Movie structure has been analyzed and re-analyzed after it became big insane boffo business. The acts, the arcs, hell, in meetings people tell me the "poster" and the copy line before the script is written. It's almost like the script is an afterthought, taken for granted.

Yes, the screenplay is a long form story that can be hammered out with blood and guts, in limited time, because the structure is unusually uniform regardless of story content. But unlike television which only has two speed settings, fast and off, screenwriting most often has that one big setting. Slow. It's like a hot pot on your kitchen counter cooking a stew for two years. At the end of all that time, that's the best damned stew you've ever tasted in your life. But who wants to go to work in a hot pot and sit in stew all day for two years? I guess, only the person that feels they will otherwise die.

But I think that's why the immediate script was born - to literally take control back of our own lives from "the slow process". It was wonderfully liberating for all of us.

And some lucky bastards really did it, jammed it, and sold 'em, totally ruining it for the rest of us. Well, hell, I did it too. Cranked one out early on and sold it.

But then when I couldn't do it again it totally messed me up. Every script I've written for myself comes out at a different speed. Why couldn't I do it in three weeks again? I thought I had broken something inside. Well, I hadn't. The reality is - every piece has it's own nature, and it reveals itself in its own time.

On the other hand, every script I've written for a studio has to be delivered on time. But with the ones that needed slower cooking, I often delayed delivery until done.

As Billy Wilder was once quoted, "when people come up to the box office to buy their tickets for their movie, they don't ask:'Excuse me, was the script handed in on time?'"

Finish your work. But make sure your work is finished.

So what are you going to do? Sit at your desk every day, follow the energy of your story, finish your pages, and get to THE END.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

From a Master

Ray Bradbury's rules on writing. I heard him speak recently, and he was full of life, incredibly passionate and speaking almost as a minister to his congregation.
1) To Hell With It, Whatever It Is. (translation - don't let anything get you too wrapped up, too upset, too distracted. Move on, continue with your life, continue with your work.)
2) Get Your Work Done. (translation: make sure you make your pages, your word count, your deadlines, whatever bar you're setting for yourself, employed or unemployed, professional or amateur, veteran or beginner. If you don't sit down and do it, and ultimately FINISH it, all you will ever have is talk.)
3) Don't compare yourself to anyone else. (Translation: we are all unique, all creative expressions are unique and all levels of success are unique. Comparison will only make you feel bad about your gift, your talent and your ability to get it done.)

Good words, good thoughts for anyone who picks up a pen or hits the keyboard to tell a tale.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What Delights? What Thrills?

What delights you and what thrills you in writing? You never hear people talk about this. You hear about the 21 steps to a screenplay, and the four boxes or character, and the seven steps of walking the plank to perfect writing. Structure is important, but if it's devoid of life, it's still dead. So what thrills you? Character. Squeezing it, pressing it, crushing it, expanding it - I hope. I mean, sure - there is thrill in the unique plot, the brilliant device, the unexpected reversal, but without someone you love in the middle of it being mind-screwed, then what's the point?

My Rule of Character is simple. In any story, for whomever you create, make things impossible, then make them worse. We only reveal our true nature in times of hardship. The harder the hardship, the more that is revealed. If you lose your wealth, are losing your life, fighting for your love, watching your last moment at happiness slip into eternity, whatever you construct - it is these moments will make a character collapse, fight, expand, crumble, whatever - delights you in your story telling. So, who is your character, what are their strengths and their flaws, and what will delight and thrill you as you take them on the ride of their lives?

By the way, it has to be the ride of their lives. I hate when someone only brings four tenths of a crisis to a story. You've got to bring ten tenths. Don't misconstrue this to mean that every story has to destroy Manhattan with a tidal wave. But in your character's life, what is the tidal wave, on their inner or outer landscape, that will destroy them? Bring ten tenths of a crisis to that character's life, one that will reveal their true nature (as opposite as it may be from where you started) and that's a story.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Don't Talk An Idea To Death

Ideas are energy. And energy dissipates. There's nothing worse than a writer willing to tell everyone his/her idea, and then unable to sit down and write it. That's because in the telling you are depleting the energy. In your mind you may think you're making it real by talking about it constantly, but in the end, all you're doing is draining your batteries, draining your passion, and using all that talking energy when you should be putting word to paper and getting to the last two most important ones: THE END.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Trouble With Ideas

The trouble with ideas is that they are ephemeral. Just energy. Formulating them in your mind creates a sort of "creative tension" if you will, and sharing them, telling them or writing them down resolves the tension. I've found if I tell a brand new idea too much too soon I seem to somehow deflate this new tension and lose the steam for creating. It took me a while to figure out it wasn't that I didn't like the idea, but that somehow some aspect of the energy had been diminished. I realized this literally came from the over-telling of it. This is even true of a pitch. You have to formulate it, lock it in, before you over tell it. The trick is to find the system that works for you to hold the idea. Some quickly throw everything down on paper, even in the roughest form of outlines and ideas so that when they turn back to it I find what first excited them (me). Others have to write out finished few pages. But the common denominator here is that they are written down. Whatever works for you. If I create the structure "holds" the energy, I can always return there and be re-fired up if I lose a thread. You have to find a way to create a system to hold your ideas if you're in the business of telling and selling.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Why Screenwriter Bones?

Because if you don't feel it in your bones, if you don't have the need to write as much as you have the need to eat, set the compas on anything else but West and keep yourself a good 600 miles out of town.

On the Rules of Business Relationships

The rules are simple. Trust no one. Keep business and friends separate. Pretend otherwise and smile and be charming as hell with everyone. Gossip is the currency of a morally bankrupt town. On the other hand, the food's great, the hot and heavy lifestyle is available for those who can pay for it or fake it, and the ethnic, eclectic, spiritual, cinephile, new age lifestyle can't be beat.

So You're Meeting With a Director

Okay, Director meeting. Very good - that's a big step. The studio must really like you, and the director must like your ideas as passed down to him from your previous meetings, so good work. I've been in meetings where the director didn't want to meet with me and the studio insisted. Those are fun.

But here's what you want to know. Director meetings are different than a meeting with an executive, as in the executive meeting you're dealing with someone who juggles nine thousand thoughts a day from the story problems of your meeting, to the boss who looked at them funny, to the spouse who's demanding the renovation on the house move faster, to the deal they didn't make and passed on and look stupid. So your attention span window is very small. You don't mince words, you hit the broad strokes and big beats of your story with enthusiasm, and then pause - hoping the eyes haven't glassed over. If not, you go in for the detail because they ask.

Directors love detail. They care deeply about story and the character. It's compelled them enough to devote a year and a half of their life to it. Always start with character, the emotional arc, the ascent, descent, the theme. The heroic moment. The un-heroic moment. They think visually, love images, usually love the search for personal identity and how does it play out and reveal itself in your tale. That kind of thing. Fortunately, Directors tend to be Direct and you can sus out their energy, they will reveal where their concerns and delights lay, where they are opened and closed.

As a good friend of mine says:"As you get into bigger rooms with bigger shots it doesn't get any easier, but if you do it long enough, you drive a nicer car." Well, that's something to look forward to, isn't it?