Wednesday

Adaptation

ADAPTATION

If you have, or haven’t seen “Adaptation”, it is a Charlie Kaufman scribe where the central character is a screenwriter. Kaufman, brilliant as he is, doesn’t proscribe to the central theme of every blog I’ve ever written about structure – that there is a structure, an underlining thread to all movies/story telling. “Adaptation” is about a screenwriter… STOP! Don’t even try to explain Charlie Kaufman (I fucking love that guy. If anybody can tell me what “Synecdoche, New York“ is about, I‘d really like to know).

Back to what my original thought…

I am in the process of reading the book, “Story” written by Robert McKee. He, in the circles of screenwriting teachers, wrote the “bible” on screenwriting. He sells out every seminar he does across the country, charging hundreds of dollars to attend his workshops. Dozens of the most successful screenwriters (not Charlie Kaufman) took his course.

In “Adaptation”, the protagonist attends one of his workshops (a mockery of sorts). It is brilliant how Mr. Kaufman does what he does (like no other), but I must disagree with him in that, I must say, Robert McKee’s book has enlighten me. His book has given me a new meaning of life. I believe in his genius.

On page 152 (one of the dozens excerpts I would like to highlight) from the book "Story", he writes about “Writing from the Inside Out.”

… “Why during the creation of a scene must we find our way to the center of each character and experience it from his point of view? What do we gain when we do? What do we sacrifice if we don’t?

Like anthropologists, we could, for example, discover social and environmental truths through careful observations. Like note taking psychologists, we could find behavioral truths. We could, by working from the outside in, render a surface of character that’s genuine, even fascinating. But the one crucial dimension we would not create is emotional truth.

The only reliable source of emotional truth is yourself. If you stay outside your characters, you inevitably write emotional clich├ęs. To create revealing human reactions, you must not only go inside your character, but get inside yourself.”

Robert McKee
"Story"


I have always stayed on the outside of my characters. I knew they had pain (see my previous blog, “Lonlines… ) but I saw them, and every scene like I was looking over them in a dollhouse, moving their pieces around like I was better than them, that I saw what was best for them, even protecting there best interests. To all my protagonists, I’m sorry. I didn’t see what you were going through. I thought I knew you, but I wasn’t listening to you. (I wanted to ask the young man why he was crying. See my previous blog entitled, “More Thoughts.)

If you ever come to Portland, Mr. McKee, I want to attend your workshop, but I don’t think I can attend. See, those writing contests have taken all of my money (read my “Writing Contest” blog).

To Richard… I see your pain. I promise I will get back to you. I have not given up. (See my blog, “To My Friend, Richard“)

More Thoughts (These are about writing)

Thought #1

I went home thinking about what I read about writing screenplays this morning and thinking about my next writing session, as well as my next possible blog. On my way to my place, I saw a young man sitting in the hallway crying. My first thought was that I wanted, more than anything else, to sit next to him and ask him questions. I really wanted to know his story. Why was he crying? Did he just loose a loved one, someone close to him, or did he loose his favorite pull over sweater from Abercrombie and Schmidt? I want to know everything about him. Since I started writing, I see things bigger than I ever thought.

Thought #2

I watched “Finding Forester” today. It, in a nutshell, is about a young man from Brooklyn who loves basketball but is a better writer, breaking away from the stereotypes and becoming friends with an old writer than won the Pulitzer prize on writing. He goes on to learn lessons… blah, blah, blah (I live in the blah)…

I also read an article on advice when entering screenplay contests (See my recent blog, “Writing Contests”) that mentioned how many screenplays the readers read had a protagonist that was a writer.

I started to think about movies about, or where the protagonist is a writer….

So far, I came up with these (no particular order):

“Finding Forester” (Duh)
“Final Draft”
“Sunset Boulevard”
“Adaptation”

Sunday

10 Random Thoughts

Handkerchiefs? Snot should be disposed of ASAP, not stuffed in your pocket for a later date.

I’m glad I’m not Italian. I don’t like Italian food.

Toilet seat covers don’t always stay on when you place it on the seat but when you flush, they rarely go down without a little assistance.

What do cows think about?

If you were a cow, wouldn’t being tipped over be kind of fun? At least different?

I wish I had a nickname. Nicknames are cool.

When does a napkin stop being a napkin? Hey napkin abusers! You CAN use more than one per sitting.

Wouldn’t pricing clothes by the amount of fabric detour people and their kids from gaining weight? (Sorry tall people). Further more, why don’t Big ‘n’ Tall stores carry more designer and popular clothing brands? I don’t know, could it because of the amount of fabric?

Do you ever wonder how people describe you to another person who also knows you but can’t remember your name? Is it by your physical appearance, your personality or your character flaws?

What if all appointments and schedules were based on how movie theatres schedule their movie times?
"What time would you like me to start work?"
"Why don’t you come in at 7:20am this week but next week come in at 6:50am."

Saturday

Writing Contests

It is, officially, contest season for spec writers. This is the time where dozens of writing competitions want your scripts, short stories, poems, etc…

I have never entered a writing competition before. This is mostly due to the fact that I believe I’m still in the learning process. I have written 3 feature length screenplays, a short script, multiple short stories, and one story over 75,000 words. Going back and reading them, it tells me, first, how bad they are, and second, how much I have approved. What I’m doing know, I believe, is far better than my first few tries. This is all about practicing (actually writing) and learning by reading as much as I can about writing. I feel I am at the point of not only sharing my screenplays and stories, but to shell out some of my hard earned dough and enter a couple screenplay competitions, maybe a short story contest. The problem is that all of the credible contests cost anywhere from $35 to $100 to enter. With the hotel business not the type of career that you can make a fortune at, and with taxes due next week where I have to pay the most in taxes I have ever in my life, (Single people without kids get screwed. Or do they? [Ha, Ha] I’m not needy or high maintenance - I would be a perfect ‘dependent’), I’m not sure it is the best investment at this time.

Anyways, back to writing contests. Could I be scared? Am I afraid of the “… thanks for entering but you were not good enough and you should really try another career choice because your writing is crap and you should be ashamed of yourself for paying the money which would have been better spent on a “book for dummies” on any subject other than writing” rejection letter? But what if I get the “…. Congratulations. Your screenplay was amongst the top five of the hundreds of screenplays submitted. You are more talented than you thought, you have a bright future in this business and you should move to Los Angeles, hire an agent and, oh by the way, Martin Scorcese wants to buy your script and believes Leonardo DiCaprio would be the perfect choice for the lead role” letter.

Could I scrape a few pennies from the usual places, buy the single burger instead of the double with cheese, and drink domestic beer instead of foreign or micro brews? I sure can. I could even take more drastic actions like cutting back on the several movie and sport channels I have on my satellite TV, or I could…

Oh Crap! It is all about finding out that you are still amongst the thousands of other want to be writers fledging away at an improbable task of becoming a paid writer. Those bastards that don’t have to wear a tie, can sleep in or stay up late, and actually get paid for throwing words on pages, telling stories. It’s not about money. A hundred bucks or so won’t break my bank. I can research the dozens of writing contests and pick the best and most respected ones and enter a couple.

The question, from a proud but repentant procrastinator, is will I do it?

Sunday

Jury Duty

A day after jury duty.

I had the privilege of serving as a juror yesterday. I spent my morning and early afternoon sitting amongst 50+ people in a large room surrounded by a couple microwaves, several types of seating, dozens of books (no one would ever think to read), and a judge tell me the history and importance of trial by jury.

Just hours before I was slumped over in a chair in the juror room, I was doing my best to meet that 8am required time to check in. Just as I was ready to leave my home, I was at the moment of truth - Should I take something with me? Then I did what I would regret for the rest of the afternoon; I looked at the small notepad in the kitchen just sitting there, staring at me right in the face. Next to the note pad was a pen. I, for whatever reason (I know now), chose to ignore that moment of truth and leave without a piece of paper to write on. For a writer, choosing not to have the ability to write (or type) words, is hard.

Have you ever been in a situation where any choice, no matter how small it may seem at the time, ends up effecting your whole day? Magnify that for writers.

That choice I made frustrated me to a point where I started to pace around the juror room. Characters were all around the room (what I mean by characters, is that I saw so many characterizations). Stories were there in that room. There was a ripe and foul (in a good way) odor of people that wanted a story written about them.

(Writers, no matter their level of success, spend every moment of their lives in public studying people and, not only how they act in certain situations, but how they dress and speak to others, especially their body movements.)

I fucking, and I repeat FUCKING, lost that moment to write. My day, amongst the dozens of people, was spent in exile. I was so disgusted in myself…. (and they didn’t even call my name)

Forward to a couple hours later. Relaxed, I pick up a book on screenwriting and then (after American Idol, of course) started to watch one of the DVR’d saved event of “Saving Grace”. Between reading a couple chapters of the book and watching a (Brilliant!) character driven TV drama series, I rejoiced in my choice this morning. I am so happy I didn’t pick up the small notepad as I left at home. The pacing in the jury room not being able to write that I endured this morning was worth it. I would have never realized the moment of picking up the book that night.

Characterization… format… structure… genre… character vs. story, structure in relationship with genre, scenes within story where scenes would mean more if paced somewhere else… should this scene be here or later in the screenplay… Is the relationship between the hour TV show and the screenplay the same? Why do characters become more important in certain scenes but not in others, even though the audience is more moved in scenes that doesn’t move plot? Did that scene need to take place in this setting? What if I moved it to another location…? Why do I continue to write questions and words when I should be sleeping?

Saturday

Loneliness, alcoholism, depression and all that good stuff

Stanislavski, the well known acting coach, would ask her students, “Are you in love with the art in yourself or yourself in the art.”

When I decided to devote my time to become a writer, with specific intent on being a screenwriter, I never really thought about what would come of being a successful screenwriter. Sure, I daydream of what it would be like to sell my first script and having well know directors and actors translate my words and my story to the big screen, but I never thought about it in terms of that being my “ultimate” goal. I just started thinking about what stories I wanted to write and then I would sit down in front of the computer and do it. The problem for me is that everything I have written and am writing right now, goes against everything that would help me break into the business. See, the types of stories I write are minimalist in nature. I’m more into the internal reason why people act as they do. There have been fantastic movies written about people struggling internally like the loss of a loved one (“The Accidental Tourist”, “Ordinary People”, “The Doctor”, “Terms of Endearment”) and people struggling internally with alcoholism and self doubt (“Naked”, “Tender Mercies”, “The Hustler“, “Leaving Las Vegas”, “The Days of Wine and Roses”). These types of stories fascinate me - stories about people struggling internally. Unfortunately for me, these are not the types of movies that are made today. I guess if I really wanted to increase my chances, I would change what I write. I could do as much research as I could about movies genres that are hot right now or have had a long run of commercial success like Horror movies and Romantic Comedies. Maybe I could write Saw VIII, the fifteenth movie about Jason, or a new sequel to the Halloween franchise. Maybe I could watch the last twenty years of the same romantic comedies that are, basically, of the same format and structure and then write as many as I could until I mastered it. This for me is down right boring and it would probably end in me giving up writing altogether. The answer to this is that I will continue to write screenplays with characters that I would like to see on screen.

I bet you’re thinking…

Why do these types of stories fascinate you? Why does loneliness, alcoholism, and dealing with personal, internal struggles interest him so much?

To add to this…

Some of my favorite writers are people that have lead that type of life like Dostoevsky, Poe, Hemingway, Checkov, F. Scott Fitgerald, and many others that committed suicide, had bouts with alcoholism, or who had failed relationships that contributed to alcoholism and/or suicide.

It is not because I relate to those authors or stories. In fact I am quite the opposite. I love life, I love to smile and I love to be in the company of friends and family. Nothing is better than spending time with people you love, laughing and having fun. The difference, I guess, is that we all have our internal things we are working out. We deal with these things on a daily basis - they don‘t go away. Often dealing with stuff like this leads to loneliness, alcoholism, depression and the separation of the inside world to the outside world. People have hard times dealing with the bad things life gives us. I ask myself, why aren’t more movies made about people who deal with these things? I am trying my best to stop this by writing as much as possible.