Meanwhile, 365 days later…

When exactly are the days of auld lang syne again?
When exactly are the days of auld lang syne again?

Things definitely changed for me during 2013, happily for the better.

-My script DREAMSHIP got me a manager, was a semifinalist in a high-profile contest and placed in the top 15 percent of the Nicholl. While I hope more things happen with it this year, I’m also pretty excited about the potential of the western spec and the two still in the rewrite/development stages.

Most importantly, I’d say I finally realized the true meaning of “write what you know”. A lot of what I write could fall squarely into the category of pulp material. A high-flying adventure guaranteed to buckle anyone’s swash. A western where you can practically breathe in the dry and dusty air and hear the thundering hoofbeats. A noir-style mystery that makes you want to hang on to your fedora as you toss back a shot of cheap rotgut.

I live for this kind of stuff, and strive to convey the same kinds of sensations and experiences in my work. It took a while to really understand this, but it’s made a significant difference for me and how I approach writing.

-Through this blog, assorted networking websites and writing forums, I’ve connected with a lot of extremely talented people from all over the world. Pleasantries, experiences and script advice have been exchanged, and I’m looking forward to continuing all of them (when possible, regarding the latter).

-Absolutely nothing happened with relaunching the podcast, mostly because I never found the time. Will do my best to change that.

-I ran 5 half-marathons, including two where I finally managed to break the 1:55 mark and set a new personal best – 1:51:10. I don’t know if I’ll do as many this year, but would like to try and at least hit 1:50.

-The running and bike riding definitely helped me stay in shape, and I attempted to maintain a semi-regular regiment of upper body work. Not as fit and toned as I’d like to be, but it’s helped a little. This will continue.

-The great baklava experiment was a smashing success. It’s been requested I make it again, this time with pistachios instead of walnuts. No reason that can’t happen. Still undecided about what new concoction to attempt this year, but baked alaska currently holds the frontrunner position.

As always, I’d like to thank you for coming along with me on this thrill ride of an experience, and hope you stick around because 2014 holds bigger and better things.

Happy new year, and see you on the other side.

Putting the characters first

No, no. After you. I insist.
No, no. After you. I insist.

The end of the latest polish of the western spec is at hand, with just the last few pages needing some work.

Various subplots are being wrapped up, and I know what happens with the characters involved, but all of my attention now is focused on what may be the most important scene in the whole story: the main character makes a literal life-changing decision.

Notes from a few trusted colleagues indicated the decision as it stands now seems out of character. I’d known since starting this project that this was how I wanted this storyline to end. Changing it was out of the question.

Bonus points for those who’ve probably already figured out what happened next.

Their suggestion kept making more and more sense. My main character would not choose this, despite me wanting her to. But the story’s not about what I want. This change had to be made.

Now that I’ve opted to take things in this new direction, I’m working out a real heart-wrenching scene that depicts the character in the process of making this decision and the toll it takes on her. Conflict, character development, moving the story forward – all based on her.

It’s often been said that your characters will let you know how things are supposed to go.

It’s too easy to have a character do something because that’s what you would do. The challenge is to have them do something you wouldn’t, but you have them do it because that’s the kind of character they are.

All wrapped up with a bow and everything

Nothing like a gift from a nice Jewish boy on Christmas
Nothing like a gift from a nice Jewish boy on Christmas

This being Christmas Eve, the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.

I’m very grateful for my ever-growing legion of readers, and try to show my appreciation when I can. And today is no exception.

You know if I could, I’d give each and every one of you much success with whatever project or projects you’re working on. And a piece of pie, just to make this festive occasion that much more festive.

But since neither is actually doable, I hope you’ll enjoy a gift of a more hypothetical nature.

Don’t worry. Size, color and the usual details do not factor into this. It’s actually pretty simple.

Here’s how it works: You can have anything connected with the making of any movie ever made. Prop, costume, vehicle, director’s chair, animation cel, script.

Whatever you want, it’s yours with my compliments. Again, hypothetically.

What’s it going to be?

But remember – just one.

(And once you’ve made your decision, maybe reconsider the pie option)

The story behind the story

Figure out how it works before you start, or things could get messy
Step 1: Figure out how it all works

A slightly altered holiday work schedule has resulted in more hours on the air, which is always nice, but less time cranking out pages, which isn’t.

So I make the most of the handful of minutes between reports with the always-reliable working on an outline. This time – the monster script.

Despite knowing the general playing-out of the story, there was something that wasn’t clicking. Most of the items on my mental checklist had been checked off.

Most. Not all.  What was missing?

It took the constant back-and-forth between the opening sequences of the two previous outlines to make me realize what it was: I’d never fully established what happened before the story started.

Not knowing how everything came about was preventing me from moving forward. I had to create this world before I could write about it.

Think of the opening crawl in STAR WARS (“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, etc. etc…”). It establishes what we need to know. Without it, we’d be too busy trying to figure things out.

Using that as an example, I worked out my own version of the opening crawl. It won’t be in the actual script, but it’s a pretty solid foundation for setting things up – a better realization of how this world works, what the antagonist wants and how that can be accomplished, the challenges the protagonist faces, just to name a few.

The work on this is far from being over, but developing this really helped. Some important blanks have been filled in and I’ve got a firmer grasp of how the story works.

Time now to start the latest version of the outline and see how it goes.

-Regarding the recent release of this year’s Black List. There appear to be a handful that sound pretty good, but the rest don’t really do much for me.

No doubt they’re all extremely well-written (why else would they be on the list?), but a majority don’t have that “Read me!” vibe. It probably doesn’t help that the writers are not the ones providing the loglines. I suspect that would make quite a difference.

Dream big, work small-ish

Small beginnings can have big endings
Small beginnings can result in big endings

Last week, I had the good fortune of having a “getting to know you” lunch with a working writer I’d connected with via Done Deal Pro.

We discussed numerous things, almost of all which were about our writing. Hearing about another writer’s experiences never gets old, especially one that’s had some success.

As our time started to wrap up, he offered to read one of my scripts. “But,” he added, “don’t send me any big-budget tentpoles. There are six people who could actually make those happen, and I don’t know any of them. On the other hand, there are about three thousand who can work with a small, low-budget script, and I know a lot of them.”

As much as I wanted to send him one of those big-budget tentpoles, I decided it was better to go with an older one that would be considered small budget and only has a few locations. (Since it was an older script, I added that my skills have improved since then)

Another point he made was that there are a lot of writing assignments available (TV movies, small indie films, etc), and a small script could show you’ve got the chops to handle this kind of work. He admitted it may not be the most glamorous, but I totally understood when he talked about the thrill in seeing his name with a “Written By” credit on TV.

As much as I enjoy writing the stuff I do, just about all of it does fall into the big-budget tentpole category.  I’m not an established writer, which makes it that much harder to move forward with it. Having a manager helps, but it’s still an uphill climb.

It’s smart to take this kind of realistic approach. You may love working on that effects-heavy epic extravaganza, but don’t count out the potential of that low-key dramedy you haven’t looked at in years. A little touch-up work may be all it needs.

It never hurts to have more scripts in your arsenal of material, and a smaller one may end up being the one that gets things started.