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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.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Perilous Promise of the Polish

The irony of the polish is that in the step deal studios give to writers, the cheapest pass, the least costly for the studio, the one they determine as least work, is the polish.

Now, building a script from scratch is big work, no kidding, and deserves just compensation.

But what's the deal with the polish, the smoothing out the rough edges, being so deadly? Why does it bring fear to the hearts of executives? And why does it require such keen attention from writers?

Because it's the classic "so close, yet so far" stage. All the pieces may be in place, but the piece may have no life. Or it has the wrong life and you have to shape it, or recast it. And even though the changes are small - their impact is huge. "We're 90% there, but no one's showing it to talent yet" you may hear their voices quavering with a "please please please don't fuck it up" kind of a ring to it.

There's a great Ray Bradbury short story called "A Sound of Thunder" about a man who travels millions of years into the past on a travel adventure, accidentally steps on and kills a butterly, and returns to a present that is different. Some things look the same, but languge is different, the culutre is suddenly war-like, the colors chosen for clothing are all wrong - and he did it all by killing that butterfly all those millions of years ago. Without that butterfly, the story of the world developed differently.

A polish is delicate You don't want to kill your butterly.

And at the same time, you want to hone it, tighten it, make your characters shine and your scenes snap.

And you better go to the mat with your own emotional landscape and make sure you're really delivering true performances from your characters.

This is the nature of the polish, and why it's so ironically demanding. After all that effort to get 90% in, you need to put 90% into the polish.

What is very telling is the glee factor. You should be feeling real glee as you pass in and out of each scene - you should be able to see it in front of you in the theater. It should all feel that close and that positive.

If not, maybe you need to be writing more than a polish.

I myself have had the confounding experience of blasting out a first draft in three weeks, and sitting with my polish for twice that time. But part of creating is feeling the life you generate into a piece. You have to ride that delicate balance of allowing yourself to follow the life you've generated, while also guiding it, controlling it.

I'm closing in. Taking out my file one last time.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Rumors of my blog's death are greatly exaggerated

Hey, the very kind words and concerns were greatly appreciated during my time in my cave where I put keyboard to grindstone to polish down my recently blasted out first draft. Is it finished? Not yet, but I'm closing in and suppose I feel confident for the first time I haven't destroyed everything good in it, and have actually, finally, made it better. I have some thoughts to share on the perilous promise of the polish, and the irony in re-discovering how much work goes into the last 10%, after all the work you put into the first 90%. It's the first math to provide the calculation 100% of product requires 310% of energy. This and more in the next post.

Thanks also to Anna from Iceland, Jeff M. and the others who emailed me directly with words of kind concern and where the F are you? As well as the cadre of public posters many of whom have become the usual suspects on our mutual writing blogospheres.

The Internet is a brilliant gift to the writers of this world who want to be part of the public stage, has revived the long dead practice of correspondence, and has provided a forum of sharing ideas until now limited to the poker games, pool side chats and night clubbing of those with "access". I find it very meaningful to be part of sharing what I know, and still learning what I don't.