the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘Screenwriting’

The Life & Death of a Short Film–my first short film…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on March 5, 2012 at 6:19 am

OK, here’s something you’ve never heard before: making a movie is hard and it’s expensive.

That’s all I got for you.  That’s really all I need to say on the matter, and if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a blog and by nature, I’m verbose (which is why I have a blog), I would leave it there.  But well, I’m here, you’re here, so let’s talk.

I made a 9 minute movie and I got it shown at the Castro Theater here in San Francisco on Saturday.  Getting the movie to show is not as big a deal as it sounds.  I joined something called Scary Cow, which is a film collective that allows people to pitch a movie idea, find a crew, and get something on film.  You have to pay a monthly fee, but in addition to access to a crew, your money goes toward funding future projects.  Anyone in the collective can get her movie to play as long as it’s under 10 minutes and uses Scary Cow members.  If the film places (the screening is also a competition) then you get money for your next project.  It’s a good system and it allows for beginners like me to get involved in film.

I loved the process though it’s exhausting.  Not only did I pull two crazy days in January filming, I then had to spend countless hours with an editor finding out I didn’t get all the shots I needed or the sound for the shots I did have.  If you watch the movie, which I hope you will, click here for your filmic enjoyment , you will see that I ended the movie in what I would call Gray’s Anatomy style. I.e., I ended with a montage of images accompanied by music supplied by my very talented friend, Brent Newcomb.  Great song, but I sapped it of its charms by making it play along to the sappy images of reconciliation.  Oh well.  This is what you do when you have to.  By the way, what makes the good writers of Gray’s Anatomy inflict the montage-sappy song combo on us?

The hardest part of the film making process happened this weekend.  Harder than the writing of the script, the auditioning of actors, the filming or even the editing, is the screening.  Overall, it went well.  I have caught the bug of screenwriting.  I knew even in November when I wrote the script that I loved the format.  I like collaborating. I like working toward realizing a vision in concrete detail that goes beyond the page, that’s as complicated as any moment in life.  Description through words on the page only has always been my undoing as a fiction writer.  Sometimes I hit the mark, but usually, I feel myself bloating the language when I try to describe in detail and do so aesthetically.  You have to be detailed in scriptwriting, but if it’s not being said, you don’t have to be pretty or artistic.

Aside from the pleasure of writing for the human voice, there is the pleasure of sitting with an audience and having them get what you wrote.  With only one exception, I can report that the audience on Saturday laughed when I hoped it would.  It’s communication, I guess.  The feeling of connection.  AWESOMENESS!!

That’s the positive side of the experience, but then there is the competition.  I never intended for my movie to win anything.  I went in with the idea that I would learn from the experience and nothing more.  I learn best by breaking eggs, and I broke plenty on this film.  But then you get to the screening and you see the other films and you think, hey, my film is ok.  I think I can say that in my division (those movies made my unfunded newbies like myself) The Unfortunate Brother held it’s own; t’s a real story with a beginning, middle and end.  So I started hoping until I found out that I didn’t win anything.

I can’t say I wasn’t bummed.  I can’t say I was surprised either.  The story is a good one, but the execution, the technical stuff of film, sometimes got away from me.  Onto the next one.  This morning, I got up and after sulking for a couple hours and driving my poor wife nuts, I packed myself off to the coffee house and started my next script longhand.  A friend of mine who did actually place with his very pretty doc, was bummed because he didn’t win, and I told him what I am telling myself now: it’s about not giving up.  It’s about writing and not stopping, just like I’m doing with this post.


the anxiety of making my first short film…

In humor, life, media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 27, 2012 at 11:45 am


This weekend, along with fourteen other generous and talented people, I shot my first short film. You’d think that I’d be on cloud 9, or at least, that I’d be excited and anxious to get on to the next piece, which is to edit down the footage I have. Yes, that would be a normal response. And to a certain point, that’s how I feel. Normalcy can breach even the fort of craziness that is my head. But just like in those late-night commercials that peddle penis-enlarging pills, my brain is also yelling out, “WAIT, there’s more.”  And that more comes in the form of a question: what was the point of all that work?

My answer: I’m not sure. And maybe that’s the best answer I can give.

Up until I was 23, I was a classical musician, very serious and pretty untalented. My high school music teacher, a strong, opinionated lover of school spirit and Schubert, was unable to sell me on the former, but I took the latter to heart. I also took on her disdain for something she sneeringly referred to as dilettantism.  It’s probably not the best pedagogical strategy to fill your artistically-inclined students with a fear of doing something for the love of it, which is, at least one meaning of the word. But I can also see her point. There is the flighty connotations of the word that she wanted her students to avoid. Mrs. Anderson wanted her students to do things as well as possible. I think that’s all she meant, but I corrupted the lesson somewhere along the way.

When I take on an artistic project, I am less concerned with whether or not I do my best and much more concerned with the purpose of it, by which I mean, will it help me to a career? This not only leads me to judge the validity of what I’m doing, but in the case of this weekend, it leads me to judge some of the people around me, as well.  Basically, as my crew worked the two twelve-hour days this weekend filming my script, I kept having to fight back this annoying gnat-sized voice inside asking why all these people were doing what they were doing. Could this movie lead to anything tangible–beside the move itself?

This little voice is clearly a symptom of my recent conversion to the cult of crass careerism. As a musician, I was always more concerned with practice than with performance–no one, it’s safe to say, gets a career in music by playing scales alone in a room, but that’s all I wanted to do. Then, in my next incarnation, I thought I might be an academic, but once again, I thought about ideas and mastering their lessons without asking myself til a good way into grad school if I could see myself as a career scholar. The answer, I found out, was no, no way in hell!

See the pattern? I know I do. And though I’m glad to say that in middle age, I’ve found mine, that I’m throwing my lot in with writing, that I’d like to make my living creating stories, that I can actually see myself doing what needs to be done for both the craft AND for the career, I can also say that this new concern for career is driving me to ask the WHY question, which is dangerous.  When I think about it, I know there really are two sides of myself battling for control. And to keep with the context of this post, I will liken them to a producer and a director. The producer is practical and worries about budgets, bottom-lines, etc. He is judgmental and always questioning.  On the other side, there is the director/writer side that doesn’t care. It has to be free to play without worrying about what it all means.

Maybe both sides are necessary to making art. Like any team, there’s going to be disagreements, and I need to accept that. But even now, I hear the battle raging. I think of it as subtext for the movie.

The producer inside me is strong and completely uncomfortable with the notion of play for play’s sake. He is feeling a little threatened surrounded by fourteen other playful souls and wondering why they were all there? Then director/writer enters the scene and begins to yell back. With bullhorn in hand, he says: We are a bunch of kids pretending to be in a different world? So what?

Fine, the producer yells back, “but aren’t they concerned about their rents about making it?”

The director smirks, answers by showing and not saying. He yells for the camera to roll and the camera goes on and then the lights follow suit and the sound person starts to make words turn into 0s and 1s on her digital recorder, and soon, everyone is playing. And collectively saying by not saying, SUCK IT, MR. PRODUCER MAN. SUCK IT!


Being Defeated By a Blank Screen and a Flashing Cursor…

In humor, life, media, observations, teaching & education, writers & books, writing on December 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

It might be a sign of our virtual times, but I’m getting a beat-down by nothingness. Specifically, the nothingness of a blank screen on my scriptwriting software. How the hell does that happen? It’s been a week, and I keep managing to do anything but write my spec script. Jesus, what is wrong with me? I know what I have to write. I have the plot lines all mapped out, and I’ve even gone over them with a professional writer who gave me the OK.

(The fact that I feel the need to mention this is part of the problem. Why do I even need that someone else gave me the ok?)

I gotta say that getting a pummeling by a blinking cursor is a humbling experience. It reminds me of some of my GED students who are tough as all get-out and yet are complete mush-pots in the way that they won’t even try a new math problem without me sitting there and giving them permission. Maybe, it’s about guts. Maybe some people are just more brave about trying new things than other people. But I suspect things run deeper–for both me and my students. The young people who come to me lack confidence in the smarts-department. I don’t know why that is–probably no one ever stopped to tell them they were capable, which is a crime but it is what it is. For me as a writer, I can’t exactly cry a river. It’s not like I’ve had crazy success, but I have had some support from generous readers and teachers. That said, I do have something in common with my students: we all are fearful of trying because we fear failure.

As a teacher, I’ve gotten into some arguments with my colleagues who also work with GED kids because their way around that fear has been to not push the students too hard–the thinking here is that if you don’t push students too hard, they will eventually try on their own. My thinking is that we should push the living shit out of them (in a nice and gentle and nurturing way) because the world doesn’t wait around. The difference is that I try to be there for my kids and to let them know that it’s not only ok to try, it’s ok to fail–whatever fail means.  I will be there for them so that they can get up and try again and keep trying until they hit the mark.

Well, those who can, do and those who can’t, …GOD, I hope that saying is wrong. I know that what keeps me from actually putting words to paper–unless those words are a blog entry explaining with other words on the page that have nothing to do with the words that would appear on my script–is a fear of failing. I can’t handle the pressure because the pressure I have building up on me isn’t just about the damn script. Just like my kids who are freaking out about adding fractions, it’s not the thing in front of us that holds us back. For them, it might be their pasts full of bad teachers and crappy learning environments. For me, it’s my screwed-up sense of the future. I turned 40 a couple months back, and before that, I never once was much about looking back. But now, trying to get myself to try to write a spec script, all I can think about is the fact that I’m trying to do something that most other people do when they are in their 20s. That I will have to put up with the odd looks and TSK’s. It’s dumb. It’s futile. And I know full well that I’m only pushing back the inevitable because at this rate, I’m going to be 41 and trying to write my first script, which is one year worse than my current situation. I tell my kids the same when they tell me that their little brothers in the fourth grade are learning fractions. They don’t admit it because they’re too tough, but I know they’re basically saying they’re stupid, or at least they feel like that. I tell them that they’re learning at their time, the right time for them and that they shouldn’t compare themselves.

Good thing they don’t read this bog. But then again, what’s that saying again? People who can, do, and teachers? What is it they do or don’t do. I forget.  I must really be getting old.

Why I’m Mentally Constipated

In life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 5, 2011 at 12:50 pm

OK, so I have a few ME’s inside me and I’m going to share them with you because it can be crowded up here, in here, up and in here–you get the picture.  Though the company can be good at times because of the way they lend other points of view, there are times when all those ME’s clog me up–not so much in the usual sense of the word, but rather, in a mental way.  Recently, I’ve gotten a little of both–perspective and constipation.Here’s how:

I was applying for a job–a good job teaching young people how to write fiction.  The job seemed like such a good fit that I didn’t check with the other ME’s because I thought WE were in agreement.  Good money, good benefits, what more could I ask for? So for a month, I worked on the application, got it in, got an interview, did pretty well at the interview, but while driving back from that interview, the Thoughtful ME or the Neurotic ME (they look so similar sometimes, I can’t always tell them apart) started in.  Basically, this ME asked a simple question that I hadn’t thought to ask: is this great job a great job for me, by which I mean ME-ME?  Good question, I thought, but before I could answer, Practical ME jumped in and things got nasty. “It’s good pay, good benefits, not an office job, and Gabe is poor, so shut the f-up!” That’s what Practical ME stated screaming. Practical ME can sometimes get a little aggro.

Well, Thoughtful/Neurotic ME is pretty stubborn.  IT persevered and pretty soon, my head became a battleground.  It was ugly and since I was operating a moving vehicle, I made a deal with both ME’s: if I get the job, I’d take it, but if I didn’t get it, then I’d take that as a sign that I should take on a new writing project–which made the Writer ME get excited.  Writer ME, it should be said, had been wanting to write a script for years now, but Practical ME had put that idea on ice for me, by which I mean, ME-ME.  (Confused? Try being me.)

At this point, Neurotic ME wants me to chime in that this idea is not random–just in case some of you were thinking that. The idea of writing for TV or film has been with US (by which I mean the ME’s) for a long time.  If you don’t happen to be in my head (and for all I know, you are), then you might not have known that. Admittedly, I have wanted to write scripts for about three years now–all of us agree on that.  We also agree that scriptwriting goes to my strengths as a writer.

When I write fiction, I tend to think less about language than about the images in my head and the plot points of the story, which makes for less than wonderful literary fiction.  I can adjust and I do when writing for the page. But naturally, I write story and dialogue. That’s what I love most. I also like working with others.  Yes, I have a loner-streak (even though the ME’s do keep me company) but sometimes I need more. The ME’s can only provide so much company.

So, back to the job: I didn’t get it, but I kept to my crazy pact with Writer ME. After doing some research, I found a TV writer who currently works for AMC’s The Killing, and after stalking her for a little while, I convinced her to do a private class with me.  She agreed. And we’ve had two sessions, already. Abso-fucking-lutely cool?  Right? I mean I found a Hollywood insider to show me the ropes, and I had two great sessions in which we talked about the makings of TV drama.  We mapped out my first script, and now, this week, I’m supposed to have a first pass at a script done. I’ve had two weeks to do it. Plenty of time. But my friends (and by that, I don’t mean the ME’s, I mean the YOU’s) I’m a screw-ball. No, that’s not right, that’s an easy way out. I’m a ball of fear all rolled up ball-like fashion with the other selves.  The only one who’s not stuck is the Asshole-ME.  He’s just standing around criticizing telling the rest of us to stop trying, to give up, to stay rolled up until we end up in the gutter of life. (Asshole-ME is not very original, metaphorically-speaking.)

One thing I’ve noticed about ME-ME is that I’m really good with goals when I’m the only one expecting anything from.  But as soon as someone else gets involved in the whole expectation thing, I become all wishy and washy and puttyish. I should be in a good place, writing a first spec-script. I have someone who’s helping. I’m even feeling like my intuition was right: that script writing is a good place for me, that it goes to my strengths. So I should be happy and working. That’d make sense.  Instead, I put the thing off, and I’m anxious about starting.

I have accomplished a lot these two weeks because Catholic ME guilts me into doing stuff even if it is not the stuff that I should be working on. I’ll say that for putting things off. I am a really an achiever when trying to put the thing I am most interested in putting off.  Then, I’m great! Amazing! I’ve cleaned my bathroom twice in the last week, ran all kinds of errands to the post office. I’ve seen my folks in LA and paid bills. I’ve written two fables, finished a script for a short film, which meant that I was able to break through the fear of learning a screenwriting program. Though in point of fact, I used the fear of that program to get me to finish the fables and all the chores, but that’s ok–right.  I’m checking and most of the ME’s are in agreement that that is ok.

OK, so maybe I don’t have to worry. I’ll get this spec-script done. We will, eventually. But like so many other things, I will do so only after I drink too much espresso and fidget and waste time worrying when I should just sit down and write. It’s just not that hard. And yet, Pessimistic ME needs to get the last word: it is. It is hard.

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