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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, January 17, 2006

An Indication of Positive Reinforcement

So, I wound up polishing about 70 pages of my friend's script in one blast and sent it off in the middle of the night. Now, the structure was fine, well the third act is too mechanical, not emtional, but characters are flat, unreal, and not smart. And it's a detective thriller. How can you send that to talent?

So I made them smart, edgy, real, funny.

Now remember, he's the director fast tracked at a company with the film ready to go, but the draft came in disappointing and he's concerned the film will go away. To give you an idea of what's at stake for him, it's a company that won an acadamy award last year and they were thinking of going to Hillary Swank to star.

So he calls this morning and says he loves the changes. Can he come over?

There's nothing like positive feedback. Always makes me feel good.

So we work for several hours in my study and go back and forth on the changes. We also laugh a lot and probably because of the ridiculous situation we were in.

I experienced something very eye-opening, however, which was being completely free and creative in the moment without any tension (except for the time demand) because I was completely unattached to the material, and was literally searching for the the best movie to reveal itself to me and come out from the existing script. (by the way the original writers wrote a solid thriller, great structure, but weak characters. The re-write guy slowed down the pacing and gummed up the characters up more. Re-writing work is tricky and I of course don't know the notes he was given, conflicting as they may have been, and what he was attempting to satisfy and placate at the studio level).

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed myself. Now - that's the secret to inspired writing. No attachment.

It's the resistance we feel to changing our own work that sometimes creates the stress of the job. And that can be writing an original and re-writing it, or being a hired hand and attacking your second draft.

This business is one that takes you from "Puffed up to shattered in six weeks" as my wife likes to say. But there's something deeply teaching in the practice, if you can step back and appreciate it. Because your expectations and attachments are what puff you up pand shatter you. And if you literally stay with your work, day to day, in the moment, and just do good work - that in the end will be a reward. And that reward can manfiest material rewards in the real world as well.

Anyway, he's sent the script off tonight to the company and we'll learn this week if the work done has kept the project moving forward.

Today was fun. Reminded me of college.

Now why the hell can't I do that on my own script? Maybe I should get him back in here and give me notes. I'm hoping to take some of what I learned back to my own work, which can sometimes make me feel beaten down and lift myself back up when I'm feeling the ghoulies encroach.


Blogger David C. Daniel said...

It's working screenwriters like you who screw up the business for others.
There's no good or valid reason for you to do the work for free. If your director pal is such a pal he would have made sure you got something along the lines of the WGAw's MBA.
Not only did you scab, but you're making the hack who wrote the script look like a real screenwriter!
I bet you never thought of that did you?
If you're so willing to do favors, why not do me one: Don't do your friends any more favors.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

David: You make a valid point. When a friend calls it's a moral dillema. He's not in a hiring position, and we've worked for each for free before, back when we didn't have careers. Also, as longstanding friends in a difficult business we've helped each other out before and each feel indebted to the other from our history. Regardless, in the end my work was very minor, based on his notes anyway. He's a writer/director and had already laid out the work the company asked him to do, and I helped him with that. My work wouldn't generate credit, and hasn't taken away another writers work as the writers budget is blown at the company and no more writers will be hired on this project.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Blogger writergurl said...

It's great that you're looking out for your friend and your friendship, let's just hope he does the same for you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Blogger Tommyblaze said...

The secret to success is not caring. I'd write more but who gives a shit?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

tommy: LOL.
writergurl: he's already covered my back a few times to make this more than even.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous nilblogette said...

As a script reader, I always finish notes feeling the way you're describing. Amazing how easy it is to see the movie the way it ought to be when it isn't your own. No second guessing yourself, no hesitating to cut something personal or that took a lot of time, no trouble seeing what the audience needs that is missing. I don't know how to achieve that in my own work, other than giving it to a reader or writer friend who can look at it objectively for me, or developing a split personality.

Friday, February 17, 2006  

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