14 March 2014

12 in 12: Marching On

Okay, so for those who don't know, I'm doing a challenge in which I'm going to write 12 feature screenplays in 12 months.  I haven't laid out my overall plan yet -- that's soon to come, though -- but I have been working at the first script.

I think this'll be the official image of the challenge.
I'll see what I can do to spruce it up.
I got a bit of a late start since I didn't finish my last script until a few days into March, but I jumped right in as soon as that script was wrapped up (it's not that bad of a script, but it's definitely first draft material) and am driving ahead with the first script of this challenge.  Granted, I'm only on page 24, but I tend to hammer out at least 5 pages every time I write.  And since I'm only getting 2 to 3 hours a day to write I make damn sure I'm getting those 5 pages.

So 24 pages written plus 5 pages times 18 days gives me 114 pages total -- which is about 20 to 25 pages more than what I'm expecting this script to run.  Going with those expectations, I should be done with the script around March 26th or 27th.  I like that.  It means I can either relax for a few days (yeah, right) or move onto the next script (a possibility) or go back to the script I finished last week and give it a once-over before diving into the re-write proper (another possibility) or try to craft some query letters in order to get an agent or manager (most likely).

But, Zach, I hear you say, you're in the midst of this huge undertaking, why would you divert your energies to non-scriptwriting endeavors?

That's a good point, but here's the thing:  Last March, I was hired to re-write a feature screenplay which, from last I heard, is scheduled to start production in May or so.  Then in October, I had a feature screenplay optioned.  The producers are looking to begin shooting late this year/early next year (the story takes place in winter, so they'll need snow).  And then last week, I had another feature script optioned by a production company out of in Nebraska. 

The thing I've heard about getting representation is that you need to have a really good script -- two
scripts are better, but one can do the trick -- that the agent can shop around and get you in line for some writing jobs.  Another avenue is to have a script (or multiple scripts) optioned, because if someone else is willing to buy your material -- and make a movie from it -- your work must have some merit.  See, with filmmaking (or Hollywood, really) no one wants to be the first to bite because if you get a bad taste, your opinion carries less weight for others.  For a sports analogy:  if a baseball scout, year in and year out, promotes prospects who never pan out, the manger isn't going to pay much attention to that scout's opinion.

Swing and a miss.  Again.
So basically, I have a few things going for me that I can showcase in a query letter.  On top of that, I've done fairly well in a few contests, so with the optioned scripts, the re-write job, and the contest results, I stand a decent chance of impressing a potential agent enough to get signed and get paid to write screenplays.  Which, of course, is the whole point of being a screenwriter.  Plus, the script I just finished (Bake Sale, a comedy in the vein of Old School and Wedding Crashers) and the one I'm working on now (yes, I'm only 24 pages in, but -- and this is really unlike me to say about my own stuff -- they're a really good, strong 24 pages) feel like they're packing a lot of potential to get others interested and excited. 

I'd do that too if I had a desktop.
Bring up my feelings about my screenwriting has me thinking:  I used to not like anything I wrote; I always felt (knew) I could do better no matter how much others said the scripts were good and interesting.  It always seemed like I was being placated and patronized to.  Even when I got the re-write job, I kept thinking, "Really?  Me?"  And then when the script was done I knew I did something good with it.  I could see the potential in it.

At the same time I was doing the re-write, I was writing a feature script (The Incredible Frog Boy Is On the Loose Again!) as well, which has become one of my best-received scripts -- it's the one that's been doing decently in contests.  When writing it, I knew I was doing things differently with how I was writing.  It was as if all the years of reading about how to write screenplays finally transformed from theories and ideas into something real.  Okay, I spent about five minutes writing that last sentence and it still doesn't explain what happened.  It was definitely an epiphany of some kind, as if all the writing I had done before was just to get me prepared to be an actual writer with talents, skills, and abilities to write not just a good screenplay, but a really good to maybe even great screenplay.  I guess there's some truth to Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule...

What that leads me to, then, is the fact that I've written so many scripts -- shorts and features, plus the endless/countless re-writes involved to make them just presentable -- has, of course, made me a better writer.  Bake Sale was the first script I'd written since finishing Frog Boy and the Dead Mountain Road re-write (I spent the last few months of 2013 re-writing my optioned script for the producers) and when I was writing it, everything came so easily, almost effortlessly.  True, I had been sitting with the story for a few years and had it mostly worked out, but the script I wrote was different from what I thought it'd be.  That is, the whole first act was basically what I thought it'd be, but the second and third acts took some left turns and morphed into something I never intended it to be (but those changes made the script better, so I'm not complaining).

Oh yeah:  Obscure '90s reference.
And now the script I'm working on is flowing from my mind to my fingers to my screenwriting
program like a spring pouring from a mountain -- there are no barricades or dams or obstructions to its progress.  These first 24 pages are probably the strongest 24 pages I've ever written.  Hell, one scene affected me so much that once I finished writing it I had to stop for the day.  Of all the writing I've done, that's only happened once before (in the my first optioned script, so my fingers are really, really crossed that they don't change the scene when they shoot/edit it).  The next day I was working on another scene and it, too, was really emotionally powerful.  And this is just in the first third of the script.  And I know how the rest of the story goes (mostly), so I've been prepping myself to nut-up and just write the script and not get too involved.  But I don't know if that's possible.  I guess we'll see.

I do think, however, that I should probably write a comedy or at least something lighter and less dramatic next month.  Unfortunately, the ideas I'm toying with -- which I'll post soon so everyone can keep me on task if I start to wander -- are mostly intimate, dramatic character studies.  No room for much brevity in other words.  But that's what I like to write.  I like digging into a character and finding answers to life questions I have. 

Here's the thing:  Nuts and bolts, my Frog Boy script is about sex jokes, a giant frog, and the search for faith.  Seriously:  The frog is equated to God.  It's something everyone's heard about, some believe exists, and few have claimed to have seen/experienced.  Even in Bake Sale, which is a raunchy, R-rated comedy, the central question/theme is about what it means to be a good parent.  And the current script I'm writing is about the secrets we have and keep from even our closest loved ones.  All three of those ideas/themes are what I'm dealing with or thinking about in my own life.  By dissecting the characters in these stories and seeing what/how they do and think gives me insight into how I could possible deal with things.

I suppose that's what all writing is about anyhow, so I'm definitely not breaking any new ground here.  But actually doing that and consciously putting in the effort to explore these questions has not only improved my writing, but has made me appreciate what I've written and recognize what I'm doing when I write.  In all honesty, anything I write is me.  If you read one of my scripts -- short or feature -- you're reading and learning about who I am and how I live my life.  And as crazy as that is, it's actually refreshing and stress relieving.  I feel incredibly relaxed after writing because I've just dumped a lot of issues that were on my mind and put them on the page.  Sure, the issues don't go away completely, but I've at least found a brief respite from them.

Although, I have a feeling that if someone was able to pinpoint a certain aspect in a script that's completely culled from my life I wouldn't be as relaxed.  But that won't happen.  Right?  


Oh, god, what have I done?

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