June 23, 2008
Thanks, George!

"In local news, an earthquake has struck a maternity ward. Twelve people died, but five people were born."

This is one of the Carlin news briefs that always makes me laugh out loud. I thought of it this morning when I heard about his death. His album "A Place for My Stuff" was one of my first comedy albums! And to this day whenever I hear "guacamole" I have to say it like him - "guacaMOle!" Thanks, George.

Saturday we took out "Brightly," the Newport 30, the sailboat a friend has let us partner on. (We do not share in ownership, but slip fees.) We traversed the same strip of coast from Marina Del Rey to the Santa Monica Pier (where the seals objected to how close we came to their buoy) that we usually do, but this time - not as day-renters. We could stay out as long as we wanted, and no filling our forms or returning parking passes afterwards.

Of course, it was as hot as hell with very little wind - so we didn't stay long. But it was the point of the thing.

In health news, after I continued to get bills for my appendectomy last year, I finally started adding it all up and checking with the details of my insurance. Would the bills ever stop, I wondered? How many anesthesiologists did I actually HAVE? Four phone calls to Blue Cross later, it turns out that they had overcharged me - meaning, charged me past my out-of-pocket maximum. By $20!

So I still had to pay the $600 or so in pending bills, but those were the last dollars I'd have to give for things I had doctors to to me in '07.

In context, this is like finding the bank owes you about $2000. SWEET VICTORY.

I have realized recently that I had about five comments from actual people just waiting to be "reviewed and published" by me. Many apologies to my faithful commentors! I am looking for a new system here - there has to be a better way than either being besieged by porn ads, or having no comment action at all.

Posted by Chris at 11:07 AM
June 18, 2008
More writing excuses, in list form

Here are some other reasons I'm still, STILL working on this same screenplay, I think:

- Maybe it's because I didn't adequately plot it to start with. Or didn't know exactly what my story was.

Even though I am on the third Official draft, it's more like the eighth or ninth - because several times I would get to, say, about the midpoint, and have vital, startlingly clear revelations about how it could all be so much better. These were the revelations one would hope for after a complete draft was done, but no: they were coming to me only halfway through the current draft.

And no, they weren't hallucinations sent out by my subconscious in an attempt to self-sabotage. These were legitimate, streamlining, better ideas.

So for each draft I keep a file called draft+1.txt nearby (the latest is draft4.txt - you follow me) for all the ideas I'll incorporate into the next version.

But in struggling through, there would be so many good "next draft" ideas that I'd question why even continue with the present one.

It's particularly difficult, depressing and demoralizing to struggle like a pack animal through a given shitty scene that I am 90% sure will not be in the next draft, and all the more so if the page count is already way out of the decent length territory.

So these kind of "resetting" plot revelations occurred about five times.

- It has taken me a long time to get it, but when you start a screenplay, it's not going to be some leisurely, pleasurable cruise where you get to bring along every single idea that may occur to you. Maybe so for prose, but with a screenplay, it's more like a harrowing tale of survival set in a small dinghy. There is only so much space and resources.

Along the way, inevitably, you're going to have to chose which of your beloved ideas either gets shoved out to die, or gets eaten by the others in the name of survival.

- Here's another trick I just added. Another cause of the delay is that in doing major rewrites, it's very tricky to go back and repurpose existing scenes. Sometimes the old ones are really good but the information and setups I have to cover are very different.

I've tried to keep as much as I can but it's like simultaneously unweaving one blanket and using the threads to make another.

The trick is, if the changes are large enough and it's truly not something where lines can be inserted or omitted, it actually takes less time to forget completely about copying and pasting the "good" parts, and just re-write the scene completely. It sounds painful and tedious but it's much LESS so than the other method.

I tried this last night, just leaving the old scene open right beside as a guide - and it went a lot quicker.

Posted by Chris at 9:31 PM
June 16, 2008
Creative Accounting / Topanga canyon

We expected to sail this weekend, but when that didn't happen we explored Topanga Canyon a bit. Much like PCH you have to know where you want to stop way ahead of time because it's a busy 2-lane with no lights and no place to turn around for miles. We stopped by the Oasis - an outdoor furniture / Buddha store right at PCH and Topanga - it would be a fantastic movie location.

I reached the end of "Creative Accounting" the other day, having more or less skipped over four scenes. For those four I left a big sign that said SCENE MISSING duct-taped to the page and moved on.

It's possible the reason this screenplay has taken so long to get to this point is pure psychology: if I DO finish it I have to then go on to the next step of getting it out there, showing it to people, improving it, etc, and who wants to be subjected to that. It's also possible that the script turned into a detailed fantasy story - I'm not sure.

My pattern has been to have two good days and then a day of despair; then maybe a day of recovery, then start again. If I'm ready to give it up it might just be Wednesday.

At various stages in the processI like to take stock of my writing tricks. This is what I have so far:

1. Don't start at the beginning, don't work all the way through it in order. (Prior to this latest epic, this was my only trick. For a while it felt like an innovation.)

2. Anything less than two hours a night, and you might as well not be working on it - especially in the tough times. Keep in mind if this seems paltry, I also have a 9-5.

3. When you get stuck, try paying attention to all the character arc crap in the screenwriting books for a while.

4. My big new technique has been in writing skeletal connective scenes instead of getting bogged down in a section I can't finish. This is what I was talking about above.

For instance: If I felt I could be more productive later in the screenplay, or just for the sake of momentum, I learned on my own (after having heard it and read it 1000s of times from other writers) to just write THERE IS A CAR CHASE DURING WHICH MY HERO UNEXPECTEDLY GETS AWAY. I make it bold so I will definitely notice it on a later scan, and presto - the first draft of the "scene" is done.

Just removing the stray notes from the script in this way seems to help. On later passes I might add a few lines and go on, or I might just finish it.

5. It really helps to get out of the house and go to a cafe occasionally - not because it is comfortable to work there but precisely because it is not. 'I will just work here until the battery gets down to 20%,' I think.

6. I like to say I use index cards to structure but I really don't yet. If I had used them for this one I'd guess I'd have used about 50.

The smart method in the future might be to take the big pile of notes I'd already taken (because if I didn't have a big pile I probably wouldn't be starting a screenplay anyway), and see if I could make any quick scenes out of what was there, and hopefully have the structure emerge; but in the name of God I hope I don't get attached to anything at this stage, because I'd say the biggest part of the work on CA has been learning to put those aside.

And from there, try to do an outline w/ notecards or whatever, moving into the real "structure" phase. Then flesh that out with whatever scenes I had, combined with bare connective scenes; then just do pass after pass until it was done. Basically take it from outline to detailed outline to skeleton to screenplay. See? So simple.

Posted by Chris at 7:19 PM
June 12, 2008
A vacation before the Mad Max Era really kicks in

Since we will all shortly be hoarding gas (It's north of $4.50 for the cheap stuff out here, which is the kind of thing you used to see in time-travel movies from the 80s, along with ads for "Jaws XIV" or something) and roaming the outback in outrageous marauding post-Apocalyptic gangs, we took some time recently to enjoy a vacation in lovely coastal Maine.

Ami and I rented a cabin (found on the indispensable VRBO.com) south of Brunswick, on the tip of the Harpswell peninsula, called Cundy's Harbor. It was basically a Casco Bay vacation - we visited Bath, Boothbay, and Portland; we had Maine's Best Lobster Roll in every location. (The best was actually at Five Islands.)

On the way back we spent a lovely evening in Newburyport, MA, and got to see Simon and Macy in Salem the next day.

Just catching up on stray thoughts I meant to put down: Harvey Korman! He will be missed. The day he died I tried to find as many clips of him as I could. I don't think I knew how much I'd absorbed his Hedley Lamarr / Count De Monet character into my own repetoire. No one could sneer at underlings the way he could.

Posted by Chris at 4:39 PM

Yes, you are a BRILLIANT mimic of the Hedley character. I had forgotten that! You always get the sneer and the eyebrow, not to mention the angle of the eye roll, absolutely perfect. Keep the memory alive, my friend.

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Posted by: Aimee Bolian-Faulkner at December 21, 2008 7:39 PM
June 5, 2008
A Correlation

I guess I feel about a "Sex and the City" movie the same way I feel about gangstas wearing their jeans pulled down with the waist at about at thigh-level - so I guess they kind of walk like penguins? Moving so that the jeans don't fall all the way down, I guess?

What I think when I observe these things is that they don't even make sense when I extrapolate from remote yet known facts.

TO WIT: I could understand going to a movie as a guilty pleasure if the show itself was dumb but a guilty pleasure; I could understand, say, wearing shorter and shorter pants if you wanted to show off your legs - I guess?

But I look at these things and I can only say - why? How did they come to be?

Posted by Chris at 12:46 PM