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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.

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.


Blogger Spammy the Pig said...

Speed scripts are like Yeti spottings and cute blonde twins who don't have boyfriends. You hear stories about them, there must be some credence to the idea they exist, but I have never encountered one myself. One thing I do know about in terms of writing, and always insist on, is variety. And there's something very invigorating, even healing I think, about trying on occasion to write a fast one.

After laboring over feature scripts for years at a time, I had a chance to do some paid primetime series writing, which was such a completely different challenge. Later, in response to all that boarding and carding and beat sheeting, I wrote a novel (my first) that I allowed to be as spontaneous and in-the-moment as possible. No big outline, wasn't even sure lots of times where the story was going next (though I did have a vision for where it would end up). Tried letting the characters tell me what *they* wanted to do, and it was I would say 90% successful (and very fun to do.)

After 15 months, having finished a 126,000 word first draft, and wanting to go back then to more LA-style writing (I live in LA so might as well jump back in and splash around with all the other kids) I returned to an old feature spec and got quickly b-o-g-g-e-d d-o-w-n ... in my writing, in listening to other people's comments, in meetings and potential option deals and directors who loved the script but wanted me to change absolutely everything about it. Hey man, like, can I keep "fade in?"

And it is just when all this is happening and I can't get a meeting or a new TV agent and the phone is ringing - sure is - but from people with 800 numbers who call me "Mr." and need the last 4 digits of my SS #, that a LIGHTNING FEATURE - a script in an established genre that can be banged out without a great deal of pressure to break new cinematic ground - can be exactly what the (script) doctor ordered.

It's fun, it's a chance to stretch and take myself less seriously. I can put my framed photo of Charlie Kaufman, and even the one of Steve Gaghan with his statuette, away, out of sight, in a drawer. And let's just write a thriller, man, and keep the locations tight, the scope modest and the cast to a minimum. Set it somewhere I know about that I'd love to visit again (not Hollywood!). And let's even try writing at the same time every day, which I never do. I write all day, typically, when I write. In between snacks, naps, showers, Crossfire, SportsCenter, The Onion, ebay, Craigslist and Limewire. The usual hell.

So the point at the outset of a lightning spec is to write it, to stretch, and to experience all the surprise and wonder that comes when you open up the top of your skull and let a percolating story spill out into a brand new Final Draft file. The aftermath - who to send it to - what they will say - how much the bastards will pay me for it - is *later*. It is not here now. And what it feels like is the absolutely best place a writer can ever be: with a story in mind, a safe place to write it down, and the willingness to try.

My outlining and prep work (which I'll detail if anyone wants ... a new technique) is done and I'm starting pages later tonight. Over the next few weeks, I'll let you know how it's going.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Spammy, what a fabulous post. Please do share your outline, as it may be helpful to others. And let us know how it goes!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005  
Blogger John Donald Carlucci said...

Thanks for all of the comments. I've felt bad when I haven't been able to pound out the script in a few weeks andeven bought into the feelings that I must be lesser for it. I can't stick to a 6 Am to 11 Am writing schedule. I write when I write and all the time.

You just have to trust your kids. Sometimes they just need more attention.


Saturday, July 16, 2005  

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