An update on writing.
I haven’t written in my writing blog in a long time, but that doesn’t mean I have stopped writing. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. I have been writing more than ever and I have neglected to write about writing.
I have finished my latest screenplay. An accomplishment that is beyond what most people set out for. It’s been a long time in the making, but something I never gave up on. I’ve just taken my time. I’ve been making it just right and always making sure it was something I was carefully doing. I’ve always been passionate about my script and because I was so passionate, I made sure I was telling the story I needed and wanted to tell.
It’s 99 pages long and I feel like I went though a journey with my characters. I lived in a world with these characters. I’ve felt what they’ve felt and been where they have been. It’s an adventure and you lose yourself a little in it and gain something else.
I still have a long way to go before I ever feel finished. I still have notes for myself and notes from peers to adjust and I’ll still be thinking about if that beat or line is in the right order, but for now, these characters had a beginning, middle and end. I gave them a life and nothing can ever take that away from them. I gave myself a voice and nobody can take that away from me.
Reveal in the moments when you see the end of something. But remember, the end is just the beginning.
You want to know my writing process?
I’m currently looking through bridal magazines and ripping them up and putting them on my giant bulletin board next to the outline of my script.
This is what I call the ‘creative process’
I like to get a visual of the world that I am creating. I like to take that visual and then tear it down. Scripts have worlds. Settings. Colors. Feelings. Just in between the lines of the script.
I could write a script with no description in any of it and I would still know, as the writer, what it would look like.
This doesn’t seem like something, but actors do all kinds of exercises to prep for a role without even reading the script. I do all kinds of things to prep for writing, that has nothing to do with writing.
Images = words = movies.
So I feel like it’s been a while. One of the things I’ve been really busy with is I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a week at the AFI Film Festival in Hollywood, California.
I spent the week seeing the films, interacting with the filmmakers and getting involved in a dialogue about film. One of the more recent things I’ve been getting involved in and having a passion for is film festivals. It’s a great way to make friends, network and see films you never would have the opportunity to see. I saw 14 movies at AFI this past year (a personal record) and each film was more interesting than the last.
Here’s a small breakdown of that list and just small thoughts. I’m not going to go through what the film is about but rather how it made me feel:
Green: This was a very improvised low budget film and I gotta say, after the Q&A with the filmmakers, I had so much more appreciation for it. As strongly as I feel about sitting down and writing a script - there’s also something amazing about just taking a camera, pointing and shooting. It’s about nature, obsession and jealously. What I loved about this is how two female characters that share nothing in common except for the fact that they are woman and how their relationship develops and then breaks down all from one perspective.
Miss Bala: All I really can about this is that it’s an extraordinary story and incredible filmmaking. This is masterful and thrilling. It’s horrific and it has such a tragic and strong female character in it.
Snowtown: This was a very hard and depressing film - very Animal Kingdom like. It’s terrific but difficult to watch. But, it’s filled with incredible performances and it feels more real than most films I’ve seen this year. It’s haunting to know it’s true too.
Butter: I was excited for this script a lot since it’s from the early Black List days. I love the parody idea of it’s politics and how satire-y it is. It’s a quirky script that’s interesting on it’s own.
Haywire: If you want to see Soderbergh’s take on Bourne with an incredible female lead - this is it. The action sequences kick all guys of ass. You will be gripping on to everything around you.
Michael: If you’ve ever read the book Room - it reminds me a lot of that. It’s a horrible storyline in terms of how depressing it is, but it’s chillingly haunting.
Shame: Michael Fassbender gives the performance of the year in a film that’s so powerful in terms of internal character. It’s very much an actor’s and director’s piece, but there is so much context going on in that script - I actually have it on my desktop to read right now just so I can take it apart.
With Every Heartbeat: It’s an emotional and moving story from Sweden that’s got mainstream American appeal. It’s a romantic comedy of sorts, but about two women who fall in love. This film is all about letting go and deciding what you want and following real passion.
The Artist: I’m not saying this is my favorite of the year, but it’s gonna win Best Picture. I truly think that. It makes you nostalgic for the early days of film. It goes by so fast and it takes you through so many emotions just silently. It’s an incredible storytelling feat that just takes you back to the origins of film. It’s beautiful.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home: A Duplass Brother’s film. If there is one thing I discovered while watching their films it’s that it has independent style, but it has mainstream/rom-com structure - which is a really fascinating thing. It’s shot small, but it has the same beats as any romantic comedy would from a major studio - but honestly, the very best version of that. If only all major film were this real. This is the way the studios should be going.
Attenberg: Honestly didn’t know what to think about this film until I saw the Q&A and the director was so truthful. She had so many ideas about her own film and had so many layers to it. I just appreciated it so much more. I wasn’t sure how much I liked it when I saw it, but after the film, I wanted to watch it again. All I can say is - if you can go to a Q&A and ask questions, always do that. I respect filmmakers that can give insight into their film and sight their decision making process.
Play: The most realistic and truthful take on what it is to be a child. It’s completely fascinating and the child actors were amazing. It was almost cruel to watch how kids are today, but it’s universal.
We Need to Talk about Kevin: I could write a book about how masterful this is. Lynn Ramsay is incredible. Every shot is perfect. No filmmaker is this precise. The mise en scene means something in every shot, every scene. It’s so layered and I could watch this film shot by shot. But, the story is so haunting, it’s difficult to watch. This film will stay with you for a very long time. It’s perfect and chilling.
The Adventures of Tintin: This is Spielberg’s animated Indiana Jones. It’s got something very adult and child will enjoy. It might be some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen too. This was a great film to close the festival with because I saw so much hauntingly beautiful but dark films - it was great to just sit down and enjoy the ride.
Sorry if this seems so lengthy with brief reviews and thoughts. I just wanted to put this out there in the cyber universe. Sometimes, to write, you must watch films and understand what the film is trying to do.
I can’t stress this enough.
People like to think that writing is a solitary thing. I agree, about 75 percent of the time, when I’m gonna write - I’m gonna write alone. I alone am gonna pour over every word and I alone am gonna get random ideas in the middle of the night where I have to get out of the warm sheets and covers and search for my writing notebook in the dark even though it should’ve been next to me the whole time and I alone am gonna have no idea what I wrote the night before but just the figuring out the thought will get me thinking about a new one…
But you gotta share your ideas. With a select few. The ones that are interested in story-telling - but the ones looking to be taken somewhere. The ones that ask your process and are inside your head are worthy. No one else.
One of my favorite people to discuss writing with is also one of my best friends. I met him in a screenwriting course and he was just this random guy that I had been partnered up with the first day to share ‘three ideas with’ in the workshop. Four years later, he’s read every draft of my first feature, one of two people I’ve shared my second feature with, and asked advice on every idea I’ve probably had morph into the next idea.
I’ve been there for him in return. I produced the first short film he directed and cowrote it with him. I’ve read every draft of his other short films. I’ve outlined two feature ideas with him. We’ve basically used each other as our own muses for years.
The other day I came across a single image on tumblr that reminded me of an idea for a film of his. I immediately texted him and saved this image to my computer. I went over to his house after work and I think he thought I was being crazy talking about this drawing I saw. He had stopped working on this idea; He had put it on the back burner; we haven’t utter the character’s names for months; and he originally pitched the idea to me two years ago at a Dodgers game…it felt long forgotten about until I saw this image. So for me to rush over this excited, he humored me…but the moment he saw it - he felt it.
We busted out our tape recorder/iphones and recorded ourselves talking about what the image meant. We suddenly were developing things we never saw before. We suddenly outlined half the movie in under an hour.
A few days later we had a writing session. I have two hours of recorder conversation to go through with ideas layered with ideas. We’re excited and we both know we’re on to something because we both feel it.
Having a great idea is like electric. You can feel it’s kinetic energy in the room. It’s a force you can’t control. You don’t know you have it until you have it. That’s all I can say about that.
But the bottom line is collaborate. Share ideas. Talk. When I need someone to listen, I know he’s there - and even if he doesn’t have anything to offer me - the fact that I’m just talking about the idea - is good for me and you never know when your crazy friend is gonna bring you an image that is gonna change your direction.
I had this sudden burst of inspiration yesterday. I had nostalgic and hope for myself. I felt great being me. I was writing for catharsis in myself. I had writing meetings - preparing screenplay projects for someone else and I was writing for my own ideas and vision.
Yesterday I had every bit of great feeling for myself. Today - not so much.
I won’t get into my personal issues or self-struggles but just to say that we all have those moments where people don’t understand why we write. Mostly, parents.
People don’t understand writing is an accomplishment. Putting together a thought is a struggle. Processing an idea is a victory. Having the time for it is a luxury. Projecting a theme is a goal. Most people think it’s nothing. A waste. No meaning.
But most people don’t write. They don’t care. Their accomplishments look good on paper, in small talk, in similarity. Family and people like to judge you on what your actual day job is, what your resume looks like and who you are dating. What they never ask what the weight of you as a person is or what you have to say.
So when I have days where someone questions what I am doing - and we all have those days. Or brings up the fact that I am unemployed - what goes unnoticed is the three screenplays I’ve written, or the poetry that’s inspired or the projects I am actively pursuing. These things aren’t pointed out and they hurt. And they always hurt by the ones you love the most. Despite the fact they don’t understand and you want them so desperately to understand - you still love them, but you wish their questions wouldn’t hurt.
My words matter. My feelings matter. My objectives matter. What doesn’t matter is what is on paper right now for the sake of proving something. The only thing I am proving is that they have not written a 110 page screenplay with a complete story, setting, character, themes. All they have is the money they make and title they’ve earned.
The only thing I want to be measured in is meaning.
The only thing I say is that, I have moments where I question everything and I have moments where others question everything for me. Both are struggles. Regardless, I write through.
I just wanted to say a big thank you! All I can say about following your dream is - check their web site every so often for their internship opportunities and plan ahead accordingly. You want something, just chase it with the purest intentions. Clearly you’re in college and taking that step with your degree, so keep moving toward that. People say dreams aren’t realistic, but they are if you plan for them. And again, if you fall short - that’s more than most can say. All I can say, Pixar is totally possible and do able - you just gotta believe it. :) Best of luck!
A year ago, I interviewed with Pixar Animation. I had no experience other than I loved the company and had a few internships from the previous summer. I don’t even have a background in animation - just a blind instinct for writing and a passion for film. I saw an opening that I could possibly pass to apply for - knowing it was the longest shot in all the long shots.
I spent days writing my application. I never worked on anything harder and I never wanted a job more. I still haven’t ever felt that feeling applying for something. I knew I had to think outside the box and I wrote the most creative cover letter of my life - something I don’t think has ever been done before in a cover letter. I won’t reveal what I did - not because I’m trying to protect what I did or save from the copy-cats, but all I can say is that I used my strengths as a writer and went with it. It paid off.
Pixar called me.
They noticed me and not only that - they praised me. I was being complimented by people who work at Pixar Animation. I mean, I still hold that as one of my favorite moments of my life. They interviewed me - I was nervous - tried my best to be prepared and at least I can say, was genuine.
I didn’t get hired. I was devastated, but not surprised. Not because I thought I had a bad interview - but everything felt too good to be true to begin with. And ultimately, I just felt lucky to have that moment. I feel like my experience wasn’t enough and I would’ve been in shock to actually be there - working, even temporary.
A year later, what am I thinking? Still intense gratitude. In some ways, I have a sadness feeling because I constantly question: “What if that was my only shot with my dream company?” In that respect, you can’t help but think - well at least I even got that close, but at the same time, you don’t want to settle for giving up or knowing that that was it.
A year later and I’ve had more experience under my belt. If I had the interview again today, I would be much better candidate with impressive experience and knowledgable. Now I feel ready for the job, but I don’t have the opportunity.
Still, I feel good about it.
In some ways, I’m back to unemployment for the time being and I’m not exactly sure what to chase. Pixar was the big dream. The influential company. The perfect filmmaking philosophy. The impressive story-telling techniques. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? To make something that caliber and affecting.
I chased my dream and even though it didn’t happen and I felt as if I fell short - I found a million little new things to love along the way. Mostly, people and moments and ideas. I’ve been chasing those ever since.
Even though a small part of me wonders what I missed out on, the biggest piece of me knows I’m on the right track.
Who knows what I could be doing at Pixar or who I could’ve met or what my life would be - probably what I imagined but let me tell you something - I’m also doing things in Los Angeles I didn’t think would happen and isn’t that the best? Not knowing what’s to come. I’d hate to think I’d be missing out on this. I wouldn’t even know about it.
I’ve made incredible friends, connections, been involved in non-profits, worked at film festivals, gotten real experience, completed another feature screenplay, started a pilot and had a job working with writers and producers as a Script Coordinator. I’m not gonna be sad about that for one second. If anything, I’m bummed for Pixar. ;)
I say, chase your dreams. If they come true or you get to them - then that’s incredible! If you touch them, but it doesn’t fully happen the way you expected - don’t be turned off - just turn away for the time being and be diligent else where. You never know what will come around and perhaps, you’ll experience something profound elsewhere.
Dreams are called dreams for a reason - when you’re actually asleep you have no control over what happens when you’re in them. All you get to do is ride through it. And when you awake and it’s over and all you wanna do is go back and recreate them - you can’t. However, you can lie in bed thinking about it every night and who knows, maybe if you do that along enough - you’ll get back to it somehow. In the meantime, enjoy the other nights.
One of the many things that keep me inspired is seeing movies. Every once and a while, I’ll go see a film with no expectations and be just completely blown away. In those two hours, I live in that film and it becomes a part of me. I don’t look at my phone, I lose all train of thought and I breathe cinema.
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing The Skin I Live In. If you see one movie in the month of October for the sake of Halloween - let it be this one. It is not your traditional horror movie but let me tell you - it is disturbing, shocking, twisted and grotesque.
Pedro Almodovar directed this one so if you’re a fan, you know every shot is perfectly constructed and symmetrical and blood red just pops out of the screen. The score is gripping, the acting penetrating and the story is an intriguing one but I urge you not to know anything other than see it.
One thing I will say if you’re a screenwriter and you’re like me and you’re always looking to analyze a story - Almodovar is a master of how he reveals information and just making everything over complex. The thing that blew me away about the film is how the plot and characters and actions are cinematically revealed. You will watch more than half this movie wondering what is going on - asking for it to get to the point, begging it to be coherent. This movie will frustrate and confuse you and then at one point, it will come into complete perspective and it will blow your mind hole.
If you want a lesson in storytelling, plot twists, cinematic intensity and twist endings - you must see this. You must study his technique and understand that this is epic storytelling. Not many can pull this off and this film is not realistic - it’s surreal but it’s so grand and so compelling that you will be convinced of the outrage.
As far as story-telling, layered characters and cinematic structure goes - Almodovar is a genius. I dare you to be this good.
There is this 11 page feature in the New Yorker this week about Taylor Swift and if you’re a fan, I highly recommend you read it. There were at least 2 moments in the article where I felt myself wanting to be her best friend and gasping for air. She confessed she ended up “telling everything to Gwyneth Paltrow” who she met at Faith Evan’s house and she’s obsessed with JFK and read “The Kennedy Women” recently - which is a current obsession of mine.
Beyond these moments of insane reasoning in my mind of conversations I would start with Taylor Swift, the article focuses on Taylor as a writer - which she is more than a singer. Yeah, she’s got more Grammys and sells out more shows than anyone else - but she would not be doing that if she wasn’t writing her own music. The article goes into depth that she could just retire and move to sweden and become a pop writer with just on those talents alone.
So what makes Taylor Swift’s writing so great that screenwriters and creative writers could take a cue from?
She’s writing for her demographic and she’s writing from personal experiences. As a fan, I got new last album and speculated who she was writing about in each song. Who was about a Jonas, or a kid from Twilight and a 32 year old ex of Jennifer Aniston’s ex. I read into every line and every other song I thought about the context. She gives reasoning for everything she writes. It’s not just a song - it’s therapeutic poetry and guess what? Any female from the ages of 8 to 50 can relate.
What Taylor Swift did with her music writing was make it personal and the more personal artists are with their fans, the more we get involved and fall in love with them.
So, if you’re writing music, poetry, prose, novels or screenplays like myself, I suggest we all take a lesson from Taylor Swift and be as personal as possible. The best writing comes out of that. Relate to our demographic and interests. Taylor wrote about fairytales, romeo and juliet and kissing in the rain - she made us nostalgic for things we long for - do the same. Write about your most intimate moments and write about the ones you wish you had.
In the article Taylor said on what she writes about, “Love, and unrequited love and love that didn’t last or love you wish you had lasted or love that never even got started.”
Because isn’t that what we’re all really writing about?
- Beauty and the Beast - Jan. 13 2012
- Finding Nemo - Sept. 14. 2012
- Monster’s Inc - Jan. 18. 2013
- The Little Mermaid - Sept. 13, 2013
I can’t say I’m surprised. The Lion King rerelease became a huge hit for Disney and we’re gonna see a trend with this until it dies. Especially because no one is seeing 3D movies anymore either. Titanic is being released in 3D and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other big blockbusters get that treatment if Titanic is successful. We know the Disney formula works, but what else?
To be honest, I saw The Lion King 3D and it was a blast and in some ways, but I paid $23.00 at the El Captain in Hollywood to see it. Was it worth it? Yes, but can I afford that for every Disney release? Well, I guess that depends on how much I’m making by then. I say, bring it on. Let’s take our children and let the adults relive their childhoods.
Haha. I know - it’s seriously the best place to get all those thoughts out. Lately I’ve been trying to record myself talking out loud on my walks - externalizing my thoughts with the video memo app on my iphone - or if you have the itouch or just any phone or recording device. I look like a crazy person talking to myself, but hopefully they think I’m just on a call.
I went for a walk today to clear my head from my crazy-person thoughts. While I was walking I thought a million thoughts - I played out outlines, story structures, character descriptions and dialogue for multiple scripts and ideas.
Then I came into the house, sat down at my macbook pro and had nothing.
This happens a lot. The great thing about being out and clearing your head in the sunshine and wilderness is that you don’t actually want to clear it - you want to box your great thoughts and lose the ones getting you down.
I take the walk to be able to get outside and get away from the computer and the moment I’m outside, I want my computer with me.
So I thought so many thoughts and had nothing to show for it when it came down to writing them. I’m okay with that. Tomorrow, I’ll go on another walk. Perhaps eventually, a thought will stick.
I’m the type of writer who wants to write everything down and use it - because you never know when a thought could turn into something later. I might even write something and have no idea what I meant when I wrote it, but it gives me a new idea. Regardless, if it’s on paper it will spawn into something.
However, I know a number of writers who believe if you can’t remember it, then it’s not worth going into a script. Sometimes, I can experiment with that - but I’m still trying my best to remember. But at the end of the day, it’s not the words or the thoughts or the ideas that I’m trying to capture - but rather the feeling.
So my writing partner and I have been working on this screenplay for a long time and we’re so close to the end and a while ago, we decided what the end is but sometimes you realize you don’t know how to get to the end.
Obviously it has to be right - usually when I get toward the end of what I’ve been writing - I know exactly where the character need to go, but it’s those details of how it’s going to play out. The best way I can say to find those things are to just talk it out. I like to play the “WHAT IF” game and go through all the notions of each possibility.
There are certain rules to writing and you know that it’s only gonna go a certain number a ways - especially if you are writing a genre piece but you’re still having to arrange the order of the outcome and that’s everything sometimes.
I believe in the importance of outlining. I need to see what’s in front of me to know where I’m going - at least I do at the end. I like having a very loose outline when I start writing - maybe only half the script worked out. Like the first 60 pages. Then, once I hit the first act (page 30), I’ll need to know the tentpole and beyond. By the time I’m at the tentpole, I gotta know where I’m gonna end up. I like the freedom of finding the script - but I gotta be working toward something - I can’t imagine writing blind.
So to sit down with my co-writer yesterday, we discussed our various options. We both agreed and disagreed on some. When I know we’re disagreeing (even if it’s something I’m so sure about) - I know I can’t be right either. If we’re both writing this together, we both have to agree on it together because then it’s just an indication that we’re both wrong.
So we made decisions and found something that felt truthful to our characters. It’s funny, we talked about the scenes in terms of plot/setting/action but then went more specifics like emotions - and that’s when everything always comes together for us. When I know exactly what a character is thinking - then everything makes sense.
If I say one thing about finding the end of your script - find what you’re character is going through. It’s that simple.