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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.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Speed Writing

Can one write a good screenplay in a short time? It's certainly been done. I did it once in my twenties and sold it. Haven't been able to pull it off again. Why? Who the hell knows?

The fascinating thing about screenwriting is that the structure is so well delineated at this point, that if one can build that house, and has the channel open inside them to populate it with real living characters, then time would seem to be a non-dependent function of the process.

Some should be able to do this quickly, some will require a very long time (I have a friend who writes a script and it takes a year - if he's doing an original, and he's brilliant and very highly regarded).

Of course my friend has learned to adapt to the rigorous time demanding schedule of the professional scribe as well, it's something any professional writer needs to do, period. Regardless of where your paycheck is written, we all write to deadlines. Newspaper, television, news or creative, it's all very demanding.

So, don't feel badly if you can't write like a speeding freight train, is the message. You write at your own speed. However, if you crave a job on the speeding freight train, you're going to have to amp up your muscle and figure out how to get to speed. If you're creating an original feature, then it matters less. When you sell the original feature and are asked to re-write it in 8-12 weeks, it will matter more.

So all this has gotten me to thinking about speed. I can write quickly for others in a professional capacity. I've built up the ability after years of requiring to do so. (I couldn't do so when I started and sold my first pieces, by the way, and lied and said I could and then had to figure out how).

But now that I can, I haven't written quickly for myself in years. Why not?

Sometimes I've been very busy. But what about the times when I haven't been? I'm afraid I have fallen into the category of writer who's a little bit precious about their own work, I want to drench it in time, and then in my case - lose the thread and stare back at the mess and go - WTF? Why was I connected to this in the first place? Can't I get a re-write gig somewhere?

Writing quickly prevents you from losing that connection. There are other issues, but that's not one of them.

So I'm going to give this a shot and see if I can pull one out of the hat. I'm ten pages into a new piece, and will see if I can finish it in two weeks. Why the hell not? The only thing holding any of us back is hard work, commitment and belief in ourselves. Relatively, we've got it pretty easy if you look at what's going on in the rest of the world.


Blogger Fun Joel said...

I knocked out a cheapo straight-to-vid type horror script (with one quick revision) in 15 days. Quickest script I ever wrote BY FAR. It still awaits another decent revision (prob another week's worth), and I wouldn't say it is any masterpiece of literary quality. but it's a perfectly workable and decent example of it's type.

To me, the key to writing quickly is pre-planning. I had a fairly strong outline going into that script, which was why I was able to write it quickly.

Monday, August 15, 2005  
Blogger Jacob Sager Weinstein said...

Yeah, I can do 10 pages a day pretty easily if I have an outline, mainly because I can break it down into easy, monitorable goals--3 pages an hour, which works out to 1 page every 20 minutes.

The early stages of outlining, when I don't even know all the story beats, is much, much harder, since I've never figured out how to pace myself. It's not like I can say, "OK, I'm going to have three good ideas a day, or one good idea an hour, which is, erm, 1/3 of an idea every 20 minutes..."

-Jacob SW

Tuesday, August 16, 2005  
Blogger TN_Dreamer said...

2 weeks! that's awesome. I'm not sure if I could ever do that myself. Good luck.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Warren said...

I recently read a script by a guy in my writing group. Great story, fantastic characters, building tension. This thing had it all. It's the best script I've read in that workshop yet, and I told him as much at the meeting. "That's great," he said, "especially since I wrote the thing in a week."

Start to finish, in one week. Including the outlining period. Oh, the horror.

Okay, I've got to get back to my feature now, the one I've been working on for the last three months with no end in sight...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

After a week of outlining, caffeine and a good cigar or two, it takes me about two weeks to write a first draft. I am a pulp screenwriter so I have to be fast - my income depends on it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Fun Joal: you da man, jacko. 15 days, wow. Very impressive! And that it even made sense! Wow. That's a total victory. Yes, I agree, one has to know the road map clearly before you can speed through it. I have a "finished a script in a week" story that's rather insane and funny and will have to relate it one day either here, or over far too many espressos one day if we all get together.

Captain devincible: 10 pages a day, you could open a writer's mind gym. that's a great page count. Yes, I find the creation of a piece in the early stages requires tremendous energy, persistance, patience and follow through. It's so easy to want to bail, too. But it's in those deep fires that real stories are brought to life and can become undeniable. I still have some ideas I worked out over ten years ago which are still as exciting to me now as they were then, and I feel I will one day get a chance to do, all because I took the time to complete those early thoughts.

whl: don't be put off by the dazzling fancy footwork of the fast brilliant script executed by another writer. Everyone gets moments of grace, and he just had one. It's a beautiful thing - those moments - and there's plenty of grace to go around. We all deserve it, are worthy of it, and if you stay open to it, will receive it. But grace reveals itself in different ways, and your gifts may manifest along different lines. In the end, good work is good work, and we all take a million different paths to a good script. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. It's an ego killer. Just get your work done. The only rule - don't stop, finish.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Bill, what you do fascinates me and would love to chat more on it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

I should also add, by the way, that if anyone's seen or thinking of reading Viki King's (I think) book, How to Write a Movie in (30?) Days, or something like that, don't bother. In my not so humble opinion, it stinks. But hey, that's just me. :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Fun Joel: "How To Write A Movie in 21 Days" Vicki King. Yes, I agree. I think the title is the best thing about it, and thrilled some publisher who knew it was a slam dunk profit maker. As for the tools given in the book. Kind of useless, I feel. I bought the book ages ago, and pretty much realized it didn't speak to me in any way after about 30 minutes.

Thursday, August 18, 2005  

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