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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.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

It Doesn't Suck!

Hey, how's that for a review? Make a great copy line for the poster someday, too, woudn't it?

Well, the good news is, for those of you who haven't been following, the script I just wrote in three weeks, which is a rough draft, really doesn't suck, which is kind of surprising! I've taken longer and come out with real disapointments. Other times I've taken even longer and after a very intensive brutalizing of myslef, have come out with pieces I've love. But the short race to the finish and a good product is unusual and amazing.

So now I'm polishing, and trying to stay at a good clip as well, for it's easy to fall into detail re-write loop hell easily, and stay there for the rest of the year. But I find myself getting pulled into too many details - and literally have to detach.

You know the saying "analysis is paralysis"? There's something to that in artistic work - you have to trust your gut on a lot of this, and not work your story to death in the details. This, alas, is exactly what Hollywood Development does. They kill flow. You have to try and resuscitate your draft with the electric paddles every time you get notes.

But when you're writing an original, we all have to ride that very difficult line of being oh too precious about our work, while also not being so stupid as to cut the good stuff to keep the page count down. Stay with the flow, stay with the energy, trim the excess.

So, how does one ride that edge?

Unfortunately, for those of you who haven't done it enough to know, there is no formula for that one. That's why re-write and polish people at the top levels really get top dollars. Because they can bring an element of effortless poetry to a rushed and sometimes heavy handed industry of story telling.

What I've learned, after all this time, is two things:

1) After months (years for some?) of intensive work, when you really do polish a cut diamond from a mound of clay you've blasted out, it's a tremendous feeling. It's easy to also own the process, in the sense of establishing yourself in your own mind as a genius. Until you start writing the next piece and discover you're back at square one, clay level zero, and how the hell do you write again? It's dispiriting, and depressing, doubt generating and awful. And what's amazing is, it's non-time dependent. You can write for one year, or twenty, and still feel this way every time you start a project. (A friend of mine, an academy award winner, was sharing with me the suffering he was going through on a project over the summer) The saving grace of time, is that if you've done it a few times, you just know that you can do it.

2) If you have taken into your own identity your brilliance, you have to take in your dimness as well, that is when you're a solid block of cement and consider yourself a failure on those days. That's a real drag - and if the bad days stretch for months, they can become years - it's a self fulfilling prophecy for some.

But if you realize that you have fashioned yourself into a lens, one that lets through the brilliance of the creative source from somewhere other than you, then it becomes your job to fashion what comes through. You don't take in the judgement of being in flow, or lack of flow. You just sit in your chair as long as it takes to get the job done, try to get out of the way as much as possible, and let the brilliance come through. Then you can know it will get done, as that inspirational source that comes from beyond is always there, always brilliant, timeless and unending.


I sit, and apply my lens to the work, and try to let the inspiration flow through me and tighten, polish, tighten, hone.


Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

Let me tell you, if my current script 'doesn't suck' when it is finished, I'll be the happiest guy on the newbie block.

I've set myself the deadline of almost two weeks to get it finished. My screenwriting program refusing to run on my work PC has hampered that a little as I had my lunch breaks set aside for writing. Oh well, back to pen and paper :)

Monday, September 19, 2005  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Congrats Phil, welcome back from the script mines, pick in hand!

Monday, September 19, 2005  
Blogger writergurl said...

Great review for a new script.

Not so much for a new lover...

I guess it's all about context!


Tuesday, September 20, 2005  
Blogger Grubber said...

So, does it still not suck? ;-)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Grubber: is that a koala? So far it still doesn't suck. Thanks for asking. Promises to be great. The challenge is to hone it, polish it, not kill what's great now, while tightening up and bringing up to great - what's not great in it now. Does that make sense? 'taint easy. Extremely time consuming. Time is often a function of artistic work, I find, whether it's visual, musical, writing, what have you - where you generate - then have to step away, then return with fresh eyes to see in a moment clearly what had been unclear the day before in a cloud of creative chaos, just a buzz in the mind where everything was equal and impossible to fathom. I have to do that again and again in the polishing phase. Depending on what your writing profession is, this turnaround can become highly tuned and time sensitive. Writing the spec, you have all the time you want, on the production re-write you have weeks, perhaps days or hours on the set, and in tv you start with the great luxury of days as you generate the script, then you may have to do the same thing in minutes on the floor of a show, for example a comedy, as they're asking you for a better comic line as the one that just ended the scene in front of a live audience didn't get the laugh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Hey Phil, where have ya been?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

joshua: writer, brother, writing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005  
Blogger Grubber said...

Not just a Koala, but THE coolest Koala, you can tell by the jaunty sunglasses! ;-)

Great to hear Phil, glad it is going well.

Looking forward to hearing more about it when you are finished, and have been able to clear your mind with several bottles of wine.

Yes, pressure changes from job to job, but it never fails to deliver what it promises, stress and headaches.....and sometimes inspiration.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

We miss ya Phil.

Let us know what's up!

Thursday, September 29, 2005  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Where you been Phil?

Friday, October 07, 2005  
Blogger Grubber said...

When I drop by and read the title "It doesn't suck" it makes me think...."I,m sure there is a reality tv show in there somewhere".

Only kidding Phil, hope it is going well.

Monday, October 10, 2005  
Blogger Q said...

Just found your site... I enjoyed the encouraging words since I'm working on my first screenplay... looking forward to more of your posts. You've just been bookmarked!!

Friday, October 21, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Such kind caring words, means a lot. I'm determined to have my next post say, draft is finished! Who said polishing was easy?

Friday, October 21, 2005  
Blogger Jessica said...

I'm joining the long list of "miss ya" fans. Until the "Draft is Finished!" post, I'll keep checking your status bar--holding steady at 47% right now. Good luck!

Sunday, November 06, 2005  

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