Pop Art Makes for the Best Snuggie

In a January 16, 1957 letter, Richard Hamilton, creator of what is universally regarded as the first piece of “pop art” (Just What is It that Makes Today’s Homes so Different, so Appealing?, 1956), concluded with, “I find I am not yet sure about the ‘sincerity’ of Pop Art.”  If the father of pop art was having a difficult time buying the genre’s legitimacy, it’s easy to see how others in the art work could and did question it.

Yet, pop art not only survived, it’s become a metaphor for our collective consciousness in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.  Why?  Paraphrasing from H. de la Croix and R Tensey’s book, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Wikipedia states, “The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.”   The overriding attitudes leading to pop art were the rise of existentialism and relativism–our certainty that there is no longer any certainty, except that we are all kicked off this mortal coil at some point.

Any legitimacy the genre has garnered, therefore, is not from experts, but from a dazed populace whom I believe, took some comfort in a form that at least celebrated the absurdity this clash between our programming (there is an absolutely truth “out there”) and our revelation (all that stuff about there being an absolute truth is bullshit).  To this end, I submit that pop art doesn’t challenge the beholder, so much as it validates their response in the face of this schizophrenic clash of ideas.

Consider Hamilton’s Appealing.  A young and buff adonis stands almost self-consciously in the middle of his pad, a hodge-podge of all the modern trappings of life…including a stripper in tassels and a lamp shade, waiting to party.  The Tootsie Pop he holds becomes a bloated phallus about to explode, and the promise of “Young Romance” on his wall overpowers the shameful glare of the unidentified Victorian man in the painting beside it.  The whole is no more than the sum of its parts…it simply says, “Yes…you feel ridiculous in this life, and that’s okay.”  What makes homes today so different and so appealing?  Now one can laugh at the whole thing–life and convention and decency–right in the face and simply enjoy oneself…because enjoying the ride’s all you got left.

Mr. Livingston, I presume?

There's a thing about being a writer.  It's kinda important.

In order to be a writer–a real writer–you gotta do one thing.  That's, you know, write.

My website and my biography and every damned thing I publish about myself attests to this notion that I am a screenwriter.  A professional screenwriter, no less.  Truth be told, however, it's been awhile since I have felt like either a "professional" in the movie biz or a "screenwriter."  Talk, talk, talk with no walk, is what it's felt like.

The reality is I haven't been a writer lately because I have failed to meet the most basic of litmus tests.  Stick the little slip of paper in my beaker brain and it comes out unchanged.  Empty.

All that's changing now.  I am doing something now that I haven' done in awhile.  I am not just talking about working on a new script.LSActual  I am actually working on a new script.  FADE IN is a reality, and FADE OUT is just around the corner.

I am relieved that when I am in conversations nowadays, I don't have to feel like I am telling a white lie when people ask me about what I'm "working on."

Thank god.

Writing.  It's good to have you back, stranger.  Don't ever stay away that long again.  In fact, just don't leave.  I need you.  For so many reasons, in so many ways, I need you.

Relax… It’s good for you?

I've been in a funk lately.  And not the cute sitcom kind where I sit on the couch for a day or so and fire pithy quips at the boob tube or whomever blocks my view during Oprah.

No…this has been a bonafide funk.  The real deal.

I've lived my life, sure.  Every day, though, has felt like slogging through mud.  Every action requires five times the energy.  And everything that comes out of my mouth seems lame.  Probably is lame, as the dead space between me and whatever thought I'm searching for, much less the right word, can be measured in astronomical units, and then there’s no guarantee that whatever I latch onto is right or appropriate or even coherent.

It’s really bugged me because I am at a “feet don’t fail me now” point in my life.  It’s not simply that there are a lot of things I want to accomplish; there are myriad things I need to get done.  You know…keep life integral stuff.

I make lists and then sit down in front of my computer (through which most of said work must be done)…and nothing.  Well, not if you count reading Yahoo! News or thumbing through my iTunes library.  I excel at those lately.

What gives?  It’s not only that I have to get these things done…I want to.  There’s so many things I want to do, and this goddamned funk—it’s mucking it all up.

For every day the list is swelling with the things I didn’t get done the day before.  Things small and large.  Overflowing.  Dropping onto the floor around my feet.  In pieces.  Which leaves another, more complicated and troublesome task to heap atop everything else: picking up the pieces and trying to put them back together.

And trying to keep forward movement—hell! ANY movement—going.

So far, I’ve been able to keep things reasonably together.  Things are fine.  The speaking has been going well, and things have been moving forward with INCARNATION.  But I know.  Inside I now that my performance is sub-par.  And there have been outward signs lately—the orbital decay has become apparent to others.

That sucks.

I am tired of hearing the whys and the well-meaning hypotheses, from me as much as anyone else.  I just want my energy back.  I just want me back.

The silver lining in this dark cloud is that when the world is quiet (or I succeed in simply ignoring it), I am experiencing some of the most creative journeys ever through my inner space.  The result is that the MANIACAL ENGINEERING story I’ve landed on is, I believe, pretty good.  It feels fresh and inspired.  As I work to put it together, I am realizing that it represents a real evolution in not just my storytelling ability, but in my story generating ability as well.

And then there’s the matter of the other thing that’s cooking in my head all of a sudden.  The stuff that Facebook entries like “Bill had an interesting creative realization Monday that set his mind a-whirring. Me thinks…it just might work” are made of.  I don’t wanna say too much about it.  I’ve bounced it off a couple of people in my inner sanctum and gotten the wide-eyed, smiling nods that tell me I am on the trail of something worthy of pursuit.

It’s important for now that I keep the idea close to my chest.  Not that I think it’s gonna get stolen or anything like that.  At the moment, it’s simply delicate, fragile.  It’s going to require a lot of TLC to grow into a strong and full-fledged concept, much less a great script.

But for the first time since the germ of this idea popped into being (which was a few years ago), scenes are playing in my head.  I am hearing characters talk, seeing them interact.  Dots are being connected between them.  The world and the path through it are revealing themselves to me.  That feels good.

And it’s a TV idea.  I’ve been wanting to come back to TV for over a decade now.  Even gooder.

Which leads me inevitably to this: do I just relax?

All the billboards along the Interstate warning us about the dangers of depression aside, everyone gets the blues, right?  I mean, please don’t misunderstand—I’m not demeaning the seriousness of depression.  I know it’s real.  I know it’s devastating.  I know it’s a killer.

Trust me.  I know.

My statement isn’t one of denigration or denial, it’s one of recognition, yet trying to get a handle on type and severity.  Of trying to identify whether or not I am on well-trodden common ground or somewhere else…somewhere lost and needing to call for help.

It’s not like I’ve never been in a funk before.  It’s not like I have never been flat-out depressed before.  And though this funk has felt more acute than others in the past, I sort of understand how I got here.  Take everything that’s happened in the last several years and line it up, and it makes sense that I would feel tired.  Yet, I don’t want to make the mistake of dismissing it out of hand because I know how slippery a slope these funky things can be.

Hmmm…  Well, I guess here’s where I stand (hence my “do I just relax?” comment)…I know that over the course of the past couple of weeks I've been feeling incrementally better.  I feel a little lighter. I know that through sheer force of will I am kick-starting myself and attending to a number of things that have been screaming for my attention.   These are good signs, adding up to a feeling of “I’m on the upswing.”

I know that all of a sudden I am writing again. That’s a good sign, too.

And there’s the rub.  I am writing again.  Harvesting ideas fertilized and cultivated in the manure pile of this funk.

I remember telling a psychologist once that I wanted to be happy in my life, “but not too happy.”  I worried that through the course of therapy I would lose a grip on my underlying angst.  That it might dissipate and be gone forever.  That would be a bad thing, I thought.  Tantamount to a creative lobotomy.

Well, fear not, self.  You have nothing to worry about.  Through thick and thin, your beloved angst hasn’t gone anywhere.  I doubt it ever will.  Then again, you know now what you knew then, huh?  It’s par for the course.  An occupational hazard, if you will.

Laborers have back injuries.  Typists have carpel tunnel and eye-strain.  Miners have black lung.

Writers…we have our angst.  Our funks.  In the end, I suppose it’s a good thing.  It is, after all, as much a source of our inspiration—maybe even more so—than our elation.  And, I must admit, there is an odd comfort in that.

Keeping it in check.  Keeping perspective.  Only heading so far down the rabbit hole.  Now that’s the trick, ain’t it?

#3–Bill’s top 10 highlights for the 2008 Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference

Over the next 5 days, I am going to post the highlights of this year’s
AFF screenwriters conference.  Well, my highlights, that is.

To continue our journey, here are #s 5 & 6.


– – – – –

5. Analyzed movies with Robbye – I think this was the highest highlight of the entire trip.  We were driving home, and it was kinda quiet.  Robbye was napping.  I decided to use the time to try to work out beats in this new spec script I’m writing, based on a short script I’d written a few years back called MANIACAL ENGINEERING.

After miles of silence, this from the backseat: “Can I read your ‘Cat’ book?”


“Your ‘Cat’ book.  The writing one.”

“You mean ‘Save the Cat’?”

“Yeah.  That one.  You keep talking about it, and that Blake Snyder guy was nice.”  (she’d met him at the Great American Pitchfest…like she met Syd Field, and I didn’t.  Go figure)

She climbed into the front passenger seat.

“I think I’m learning something about the screenwriting thing.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.  “You’ve picked up quite a bit.  But that doesn’t surprise me.  You’re pretty sharp.”

She went on to explain that she’d been listening to me as I judged the pitch competition and in conversations, and she noticed I was using categorical phrases like “fish out of water” and “man in a box” to describe the types of stories that people were talking about.  And she remembered me talking about INCARNATION as a “quest” story.

“I’ve been thinking about that movie, BLINDNESS, that we saw.  That was a ‘man in a box’ story, wasn’t it?”


“But something like CHILDREN OF MEN—even though people are comparing the two—isn’t the same kind of movie.  Because that’s a ‘quest’ plot.”

“You’re right.”

Next thing, she gets out her bumblebee notebook and a pen.  She’s poised.

“What other types of stories are there?”

I rattle them off, and she jots then down.

For the next couple of hours, we found ourselves dissecting dozens of movies—what their A plots were, what their B plots were.  What kinds of story structure they employed and how that structure was evident as the plot unfolded.

Every time she got a little stuck, I’d say, “Look at the inciting incident.  The best clue to the type of story it is right there.”

To this, she said something that was cute as hell.  “That inciting incident.  It plagues me.”

I thought I was gonna drive off the road, I was laughing so hard.

We live busy, full lives.  We find ourselves on the run most days, my beloved and me.  The road trip down to Austin was supposed to be a time where we could slow things down a little and just be together.  To reconnect.

As I’ve previously documented, the way to Austin was not exactly conducive to this reconnection.  For my part, I found myself a little worse for wear having missed out on that experience.  This moment, though…this was exactly what we were hoping for.  Just what the doctor ordered.

It’s really cool when your friends are interested in what you’re passionate about.  Even better when it’s your best friend.

I can’t adequately express my gratitude or my enjoyment of that small moment in time.  All I can tell you is that I will treasure it as long I live.

And then…  Robbye got that look on her face.  The one where I know she’s committing to do something.  The one where I know said commitment WILL be fulfilled.

“I was thinking that I might write a screenplay.”


“Is that dumb?”

“Are you kidding?!?  No way, it’s not dumb.  I think it’s a great idea.  You’re a great writer.  Better than me.”

It’s true.  She’s got about the best natural voice I’ve ever read.  I think she’d write a great screenplay, and I, for one, look forward to reading it.

6. Kicked ass at judging the pitch competition –
Robbye and I got in the night before the conference began and decided to stay in and rest up.  The AFF, after all, is a marathon, not a sprint.  Plus, we were celebrating having met each other three year ago to the day.  Champagne, jalapeño pretzels, beef jerky, and PROJECT RUNWAY.  What else did we need?

Well, over the course of the evening, we got no fewer than four calls from people asking if we were coming out meet up at the Driskill Bar.  One of the calls came from Monica Jones, who is the director of the AFF Pitch Competition.

“You’re a celebrity, Bill True,” was how she greeted me.

“Why thank you,” I replied.  “But to what do I owe this proclamation?”

“You’re judging the first round of the competition tomorrow, and it’s sold out.  And it’s the first session that sold out.  We’ve never sold out the first round before, much less it selling out before other ones.  I think it’s you.  People have been talking about your feedback during past years, and other people want to hear you give critique.”

Wow.  I was kind of speechless.  And kind of tickled.

Then, the next morning, as I stared ahead at the standing room only crowd in the small pitch competition room, I was a little nervous.  These people were there to hear what I had to say..?  And though I was flattered when Monica introduced me, I was also a little anxious when she referred to me as the “favorite pitch competition judge from the past two years.”  Ikes!

I was on the verge of psyching myself out, hoping I wouldn’t fall on my face or say something stupid or embarrass myself.  Or worse…that I wouldn’t disappoint these good folks who’d put their money on the line to participate in this competition and relying on me to be on my best game. I decided to use a little SagePresence connection exercise to get out of the little feedback loop I was generating.  As always, worked like a charm.  Thank you, Dean Hyers.

In the end, the round went great.  We all had a lot of fun, and people seemed to respond really well to the feedback.  In fact, if I can brag just a little, one of the co-winners of the competition, Jim Macak, wrote to me afterward with this really nice testimonial:

I’ve written episodes for a number of TV shows including “NYPD Blue” but pitching was always a huge problem for me.  The only reason I got the writing jobs that I did was because some producers like David Milch were forgiving enough to let me submit a written pitch.  But those producers are extremely rare and I inevitably lost out on numerous others jobs.  This year, I decided to give the Pitch Competition at the Austin Film Festival a shot.  I was fortunate enough to go second-to-last in a session judged by Bill True.  As I listened to his criticism of other pitches, I realized that what and how I intended to pitch that day would have left me in last place.  I chucked that pitch and improvised one on the spot.  And, yes, that’s scary as hell and I stumbled over some words.  But it was enough to get me into the finals.  Bill gave me additional some additional criticism after that – and I took every single note he gave me.   There were 120 contestants in the pitch competition – and I ended up tying for first place.   To say I would not have won without Bill’s advice would be a gross understatement.   He’s got to be the best coach in the business.

Cool, huh?

Honestly, I am just glad that I can help.  And it’s damned fun!  I mean, how cool is it to be able to sit with your kind and dissect movies for an hour-and-a-half?  And be a part of other people maybe getting their scripts sold or movies made, and seeing their dreams and all their hard work maybe come to fruition?

Twist my arm.

The feedback, however, is nice.  And affirming.  It tells me that I am on the right path.  That, though it rarely be easy, it is truly worth it.

BTW – my good and talented friend, Troy Miller, took second place with his pitch for THE WOODS.  In my humble opinion, the competition should have been a three-way tie, because Troy rocked the freakin’ casbah.  Way to go, Miller!

A brief interlude: a more accomplished screenwriter than I gives me some solace

Earlier today, I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine.  He’s a very accomplished screenwriter who spent nearly two decades as a development executive and in-house re-write master at a few of the major studios.  Now he’s on his own and putting together a new company with an A-list screenwriter and a former studio head.

Anyway, so he’s working on this re-write for the screenwriter he’s partnered with, and he’s talking about the difficulty he’s having making everything gel together.

"It’s hard," he tells me, "because the scenario is set at one point in the story and then at a later point in the story, and my job is to fill in the gap between.  I know basically what I need to do, but I am having a devil of a time in the execution.

"I heard a quote–I can’t remember who said it–that just at the point where you’re about to throw your hands up and quit is when the answer comes to you.  I’m about at that point."

I am not happy that my friend is having a difficult go.  Of course, I know and he knows that he’ll find the answer, and everything will work out fine.  This is what he does.

At one point in our commiseration, he asked me, "Do you know what I mean?"

"Do I ever," I replied.

Uh…yeah.  Trawling in the cracks?  Trying to turn those lame "placeholder" scenes into real, full fledged, creative and dramatic ones that jump off the page and suddenly make the whole story work on a whole new level?  Story of my writing life.

I take a measure of comfort tonight knowing that guys like my friend struggle with the same problems as I do.  Makes me feel a little less lame.  And a little more like I belong here on the playing field.

#2–Bill’s top 10 highlights for the 2008 Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference

Over the next 5 days, I am going to post the highlights of this year’s
AFF screenwriters conference.  Well, my highlights, that is.

To continue our journey, here are #s 3 & 4.


– – – – –

3. Had a writing epiphany – About two hours after our run-in with the deer, both Robbye and I were understandably a little shaky.  We’d done our best to soldier on through the night, but the wind was definitely out of our sails.  Even worse, everywhere I looked in front of me I saw deer.  Whether they were real or imagined made no difference.  My freaked out meter was near redline.

We needed to stop.

We pulled off the Interstate in the middle of nowhere.  This tiny oasis of light was the only thing we’d seen for over an hour.  There was a gas station and there was a small café.  Good enough for us.

We went inside the café, The Plainsman, and instantly felt like we’d stepped onto the set of some kitschy indie Americana drama.  As we walked in, we were greeted by—no kidding—a huge stuffed deer head nailed to the paneled wall.  Aside from the waitresses, who wore matching smocks (of course), the only other people in the place were two regulars, Bill and Carl, both of whom were members of the bib overall brigade.

Okay…I realize I need to take a sec to say this.  So hold on the story, please.

A common mistake by many new writers (yours truly included) is to write dialogue where characters are constantly calling or referring to each other by name.  It looks like this:

John: Martha, would you like a martini?

Martha:  If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, John.  I don’t like martinis.

Now…yes…people do, indeed, call each other by name at times.  What seems to be a universal problem with folks at the starting line of their writerly journey, however, is that they tend to overuse character names in dialogue.  Basically, you can spot a newbie a mile away this way.  And when you become attuned to it, it becomes absolutely glaring.

Because this has been an issue for me in the past, I am very cognizant of how many times I use character names in dialogue.  Of the several passes (i.e., editing reads) I give a script before I call it done, I always do a names once over.  It’s critical.

Okay…now I can return to the story.

Robbye and I are sitting in a booth, bleary-eyed and out-of-whack, sipping the colored water the place was trying to pass of as coffee.  During this time, something was working its way through the veil between my unconscious and conscious minds.  I couldn’t put my finger on it until I heard this exchange:

Kathy: You need more coffee, Bill (customer, not me)?

Bill: No, thanks, Kathy.

Kathy: How ‘bout you, Carl?

Carl:  I dunno.  Hmm…Sure, Kathy.  I’ll take some.

Bill: Well, Kathy, if Carl’s takin’ some, I’ll have one more cup.

Kathy: Sure thang, Bill.

I kid you not.  It sounded exactly like that.  Almost word-for-word.

Through the rest of our Plainsman dining experience, I had a hard time focusing on the conversation between Robbye and me because me ear kept drifting back to the conversations of the indigenous peoples.  Every time I tuned into one, it was a virtual replay of the Bill/Kathy/Carl exchange.

By the time we walked out, my writer’s mind was officially blown.  All of a sudden, my hard-and-fast rule wasn’t so hard-and-fast anymore.  I realized that there was at least one small pocket in the world where real-life people spoke like characters in a newbie script.  If there was one place, there were bound to be others.

I’d had an epiphany.  Though I will remain vigilant about my name usage in dialogue, I will relax a little.  Especially if I am writing characters who hail from small towns in the southern part of Kansas.

4. Kicked ass at moderating three panels – I mentioned in an earlier post that I had asked the AFF if I could try my hand at moderating a few panels this year.  I was very excited when they assigned my to three of them over the course of the conference.

I printed off pages of research materials, determined to be the sharpest, most engaging moderator the AFF had ever seen. My plan was to use the drive down to Austin to go through my research and notes and formulate a plan for each panel.  And even though I wasn’t exactly sure what angle of approach I was going to take for the “Know Your Rights” panel, I was feeling pretty damn skippy about the rest of them. 

That is…

Until we hit a deer.


And then I realized that I’d forgotten all my research and notes on my desk.


Luckily, there was a computer and printer at the Driskill Hotel.  Friday was a light day for me, so I had time to squirrel away and re-research.  I was able to re-print most of the stuff I’d left at home.  It was difficult, but also I managed to extract myself from the collective for an hour or so between Friday and Saturday and do my preparation work.

Also, I’d met a really cool guy by the name of Scott Richter on my Competitions panel.  Scott’s not only a writer, but he’s also a lawyer…and he won the 2007 AFF teleplay competition with his GREY’S ANATOMY spec.  He was a great co-panelist, and he and I had a rapport from the very beginning.  Felt very easy and very conversational, and we were able to build on each other’s points in ways that I think made the panel far more valuable for participants than it’s been in other years.  Anyway…he was slated to be one of the panelists on the Rights panel, so I asked him if he would have breakfast with Robbye and me beforehand and help me figure out how to make the most it.

Well, to make a long story er…not quite as long…the all three panels went swimmingly. Robbye had heard people talking about my Competitions panel and the Pitch Competition rounds I’d judged, and apparently the word on the street was that I was a guy whose panels you wanted to catch.  So all three were packed.  Standing room only, actually. 

I got a lot of great compliments from the folks that attended the panels, many of whom (and many of the panelist, too) said they were the best-moderated panels they’d ever seen at the AFF.  In fact, several people who were in attendance at my first Sunday panel showed up at the second one because they enjoyed the first one so much.

It was cool and humbling at the same time.

When all was said and done, I was just glad that I had delivered some value for the participants.  I was glad that I could bring a writer’s perspective—their perspective—the panel topics, and ask the questions they were burning to ask.  And I was glad people had fun.  That there was laughter at the same time as there was learning.

My two favorite moments:

–In the “Online World” panel, Brad Neely got defective instructions and showed up 30 minutes late.  TO make things worse, there was no chair for him.  We tried to get a standard AFF-issue high director’s chair for him, but all the volunteers could rustle up was a plain old chair.  As a result, poor Brad, though he’s kind of a big guy, sat a full 24 inches lower than the rest of us.

The first time I directed a question to him, I said, “Brad, I think you might want to weigh in on this.  What’s the perspective from the Shire?”

The place was in stitches for nearly a minute.  Brad, who was obviously feeling a little discombobulated and not quite sure why he was there in the first place got a big, ole smile on his face.

“That’s a good one.”

The ice was broken for Brad, and the conversation finally kicked into high gear.

–In the “Niche Projects” panel, Turk Pipkin brought in a twelver of Shiner Bock.  Everyone on the panel cracked one open, and we all swilled beer as we tried to talk smart.  During the Q&A, we rewarded the best questions with a beer.  So…okay…as much as I’d like to believe every panel was a favorite because of me, I have to admit that the beer was definitely the star here.

During the panel, we were talking a lot of about securing financing, in particular through getting sponsorships from companies.  At the end of the panel, I raised my bottle and said, “I’d like to thank you all for coming to the ‘Niche Projects’ panel, brought to you by Shiner Bock.”

People got a kick out of that.

Re: “What else you got?”

My good friend, Seth Talley, sent me an email this morning suggesting that I take a peek at one of the threads on Wordplay and chime in.  Thought it might be good to also post my response here, too.  Since, you know…this blog has at least something to do with…ummm…writing.

– – – – –

First off, thanks to Seth for the props in this thread. He asked me to poke my head in here, so…

Yes…yes…I, apparently, was one of the chosen few. My first script sold. Meaning the first screenplay I’d ever written.

Yes, it felt great. Still does, in fact. I got great reviews,
screened at most of the A-list festivals, and won a national award.

And you know what? That was three years ago. My career is
moving forward (FINALLY!), but I suffered greatly from "What else you
got?" ‘Cause my answer was "nuthin’."

It’s taken me quite awhile to recover from my own initial (and
humble) success. It has been both a blessing and a curse. I struggle to
get work, and I struggle to get and then keep and then get an agent. At
this time, in fact, I am without one.

Someone in this thread said something along the lines of
(pardon my paraphrase) "First time scripts sell on premise as opposed
to execution." I think this concept is profound and largely true. I
think my first script was pretty good, but I look back now on the
version that was sold and I go "oy!" The producers obviously saw
something, but I believe that what they saw were more the raw materials
that could be shaped. And, quite frankly, I think the fact that the
production company could shoot my script for a smallish budget had as
much to do with them buying it as anything.

Thank God I became friends with the head of the production
company. Thank God he graciously let me stay on and do my own rewrites.
That, my friends, is where I started to realize just how much I DIDN’T
know about screenwriting. Every day I was wringing my hands and
gnashing my teeth because trying to keep up with these folks who had
made a helluva lot more movies than me (read: any) was one of the most
difficult and exhausting experiences of my life. I am proud of the work
I did and proud of the contributions I made to the movie, but I felt so
unprepared. So behind the eight-ball all the time. I suppose I would
have felt some of that no matter what, but it was amplified to the nth
degree because I was such a newbie–even more accurately, like a

I look back, and I sometimes wish my path would have looked
more like Larry Kasdan’s. He kept the day job and wrote five or so
scripts. By the fifth one, he *felt* ready. Then he moved.

My path, however, is my own. I have no regrets and, in spite of
the underlying tone of this post, I know that I am one lucky

My point, however, is this–if writing to sell is your primary
reason for writing a screenplay, stop and rethink. For one thing,
writing for money (i.e., to get rich) is an oxymoron. For the
other–and this simply echoes sentiments already well-expressed
here–writing isn’t about selling something in the first place. It’s
about your passion. Your calling. All of the best writers I know would
write even if they could never make money at it. It’s nice that some of
then do, though, because it’s nice to put bread on the table, too.
That’s reality.

It’s been eight years since I told myself I wanted to be a
screenwriter. Three years since the release of RUNAWAY. During this
time, I have gotten paid a smattering on various assignments. Not
enough, however, to fully sustain me. It’s been a difficult road. Far
more difficult than I’d imagined and far, far more difficult than
*before* I sold my first script.

I’ve written five more scripts in the past three years. FINALLY
I am feeling what Larry Kasdan felt. Ready. Educated. Versed (at least
at a base professional level) in the craft. Happy that the sixth draft
of my latest script (versus my 11th of RUNAWAY) is getting great play
in Hollywood and has that high-pro glow.

Oh yeah…and by the way? Eight years is ahead of the curve in this business.

As my amazing and wonderful wife would say, "Calm the hell
down." Don’t be in such a hurry. This is a journey. A long and arduous
one. It’s not for the feint of heart. If you’re standing at the
starting line and already grousing, there’s something wrong. And it
ain’t the process.

Hopefully I don’t sound too offensive here when I serve up a
little tough love–screw your head on straight. I gotta tell you,
reading the original post left me with a familiar feeling–one that
I’ve had a number of times as I’ve traveled around the country talking
to would-be screenwriters and listening to some of them complain like
that. It’s the feeling of, "Oh…I guess that person’s not going

My grandpa used to tell me, "Keep your ass up and your beak
down." Keep working and embrace the struggle. Because the struggle’s
not going anywhere. It’s part of the process. Part and parcel with it.

You’ve written a screenplay…congrats! Now be a writer. Do it again. And keep doing it. Every day. And maybe…one day…

All the best to you…Bill

Bill’s Interview w/Box Office Magazine on Breaking in as a Screenwriter

Writer’s Remorse

First off…a theme I notice in a lot of screenwriting blogs: the ever-present apology for long and unannounced breaks in posting.

Those of you familiar with this blog know that’s also the case in OLUniverse.

I can’t tell you why it happens to other writers, but I can tell you why it happens to me.  And I am guessing their stories occupy the same zone as mine.  When I am working on a new draft of a script it’s all-encompassing.

Okay…that looks lame now that it’s out there in black & white.  But it is what it is.

A while back, I wrote about the toll getting the last draft of INCARNATION took on Casa (and Office) True.  What I am talking about here is basically an extension of that.  The "zone" has a formidable gravitational force.  Once I am pulled into/back into orbit of the process it’s nearly impossible to break it.  That plays hell on the rest of everything in my life while I’m stuck there.

The blog, however, is victim to something of a double-whammy.  It’s on the outside of the zone, so it gets ignored.  It’s also–you know–more writing.  After a several-hours stretch toiling around Planet Movie Script, I’m exhausted.  Physically.  Creatively.  Wordally.

About the only thing I’m good for then is planting my ass in front of the tube and letting the latest episode of PROJECT RUNWAY or FAMILY GUY wash over me.  Yeah…it’s that bad.

So bear with me.  And bear with my other brethren (and sisteren).  Because we can’t help ourselves.

Hey…when we’re not blogging, you can be reasonably assured we’re being at least somewhat productive on story/script front.  …Or at least memorizing lots of clever and pithy "Stewies-isms", so we can entertain you at cocktail parties.

Okay…but that’s 296 words that have very little to do with either the title of this post or the reason I sat down to write it in the first place.

Oy, True.  Oy…

The last 4-5 weeks have been interesting ones for me.

Though the INCARNATION reading went very well, it also illuminated some significant…er…opportunities to improve the script.  Excitement by the various Hollywood players who want to get involved remained/remains high–and, in fact, some newcomers have poked up their heads.  The consensus around the playground, however, was that a new draft was in the cards.

That means work for me.  In this case, I knew it meant a lot of work.

And here’s the rub…it’s not that there was so much wrong with the script.  On the contrary, the script was mostly right.  It’s a relatively easy task, though, to diagnose problems in early drafts.  In those case, the problems are usually of the "low hanging fruit" variety.  Upon reading the thing, you’re all "Holy mother of Jesus in the sky!  How did I miss that!?!"

Badda bing, badda boom.  More often than not, the solution is right there in your face.  It’s hard to miss.  For me, the rotating orange lights and claxons are dead giveaways.  Done and done.  Fixed.

The later-draft problems are buggers.  They’re deep.  They’re hidden.

Most of the time, the only clue you get that you’ve come upon one is a vague tingling of your Spidey-sense.  And even when you uncover it, finding the solution is a matter unto itself.

All that adds up to Bill trying his damnedest to juggle life and rewrite.  Trying to not break the former, and trying to move the latter to a new and dazzling level.

For all intents and purposes, said process on said draft was put to bed on Tuesday evening.

And here’s the rubbier rub.  The point I really wanted to illuminate today.

Why is it when I am in the middle of the writing process and I am really jazzing on the writing, when I am putting hours and hours and days and days into it, when I am sure that I am challenging myself and not settling for anything other than an A+ result, do I think the shit sucks so badly when I finally read it?!?

Why do I feel like I wasted my time?  Like I can already see other people rolling there eyes when they read the thing?  Like the more I write, the worse I get?

Why do I wish I woulda just said no?  Just not started down the path in the first place.

Why do I have writer’s remorse?

I mean, crap!  I STILL feel it with RUNAWAY.  And it got great reviews!  And most everyone that comments on the movie points to the writing as one of its strong suits.

Yet, as recent as June, during the LA screening, I was cringing most of the time as I watched it.


WrpillsWhatever.  I mean, I know the answer–or answers.  Well, some of them.  You know…what’s behind it all.

What I wanna know today, though, is why it happens in the first place.  I spend a lot of time and energy creating and refining this stuff.  Isn’t it possible that at some point I am allowed to actually enjoy it?

There’s gotta be a pill for that.  Right?

Follow up on INCARNATION reading…

This got posted all around the globe this morning…more later from the OLU angle.  We gots lotsa catching up to do.  I promise that in the next day or so, as the smoke starts to clear, we’ll be kickin’ it again OLU-style.  ~B

– – – – – – – – – –

Dean and I want to express our sincere and heartfelt thanks to Robb Mitchell, the Screenwriters Workshop, and the great actors who lent their talent to the recent reading of INCARNATION at the Ritz.  We also want to thank the folks who came out last Tuesday night to experience this stage in the script’s evolution.

Feedback sheets have been compiled and scores tallied on the INCARNATION reading.  The first question on the sheet was: "How did you feel overall about INCARNATION?"  Respondents were asked to rate it on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being "excellent".

I am happy to announce that INCARNATION received an overall rating of 4 on the surveys.

Of course, Dean and I would have loved it if the script would have garnered 5s across the board on this survey, but neither of us expected that.  In fact, I think either of us would be hard-pressed to rate it there, ourselves.  We know that it is a work in progress, and we appreciate all of the constructive feedback the ScriptNight process has yielded.

Three weeks ago, I was having lunch in LA with a former studio exec at Paramount who is starting up a production company with the former head of Paramount Classics.  This person, by the way, loved the current draft of INCARNATION (though he was far less fond of even the last draft), and is one of several Hollywood folks interested in it.  Anyway, he told me that as a writer, you know you’re on to something when people either absolutely love or absolutely hate your script…if all of your feedback is just okay, you’ve failed artistically as well as commercially.  This is one of the "truths" this man believes has been revealed to him over 25 years in the Hollywood development trenches.

Well, I am happy to say that it looks like INCARNATION successfully passed another milestone.  People love it, and people hate it.

I guess we’re on to something.

As I write this, Dean and I are considering opportunities presented by at least three players with Hollywood ties to produce INCARNATION.  And these are just the expressions of interest that came to us as a direct result of the reading.  Again…what a debt of gratitude we owe to Robb and company for providing us a venue to make that happen.

We’re in the process of compiling and considering all the great feedback we’ve received, weighing it against what we experienced and the feedback we’ve gotten from Hollywood production companies that have expressed interest in the project.  The next incarnation of…well, INCARNATION already feels palpable, as you’ve helped us to see a number of ways to make it a better movie.

One person that attended the reading had, I believe, the most insightful perspective on INCARNATION in its present form.  He had read the script two drafts ago and wanted to see how it had changed over the two subsequent drafts.  His comment was that he really liked the “quiet and touching art house version” of the script he read before, and he also thought that we would like the “emerging Hollywood movie” that the current draft represents.  His take, however, was that it felt like the script was still in transition—wanting to be one or the other, but not quite deciding which one it wants to be yet.

That comment made perfect sense to me.  It’s what I knew, what I felt, but it was an amazing thing to have someone else speak it back to me.  The cool thing about this script right now is that there is so much commercial interest and audience interest from both sides of the fence—art house and mainstream—that our job now is to land on one side or the other, then to hone the thing to a sharp edge.  Because that’s all part of the process.  We know that the company and the people we opt to work with to bring INCARNATION to the screen will help us in that, and we’re excited to take that next step in this journey.

So…INCARNATION.  Thanks for loving it, and thanks for hating it.  Thanks for sharing this moment with us.  It means everything to us.  And everything to our project.

And thanks for your encouragement, for your voices, and for your ongoing support of filmmakers who decide to live here.

The mortal enemy of the writer

Typo!  O! typo!  Thou art a demon!

Why why why why why why why, oh why?!?

Why must I be plagued so, with fat fingers that produce the most stupid, most embarrassing errors.  Especially when I am trying to…you know…impress someone.

This is what it was today.

Okay…so I was sending out announcements to my mailing list about the upcoming RUNAWAY screening in LA, and there were a few very special ones I wanted to send.  You know…in cases.

One was to Thomas Dolby, who lives in LA.  And of whom I have been a rabid fan since I was, like, 15.  Yes…I have all his albums.  Well, all of them except the She Blinded Me With Science EP, which was my first Dolby purchase.  On cassette.  I wore it out and haven’t been able to find a replacement.

Dolby’s, by the way, was the first "rock" concert I ever went to.  At age 19 (gimme a break!  I grew up on a freakin’ farm!), at First Avenue, with my friend, Mike Popham.  The Flat Earth tour…Hyperactive as the day is long.

One was to Nikki FInke, because I think her Deadline Hollywood Daily is the coolest, most informative place on the Internet for the inside scoop on what’s going on in the movie biz.  If you wanna know the story behind the story…and then wanna know the story behind that..?  Read Nikki’s blog.  Anyway, I sent her an invite.

The last one was to WIl Wheaton.  I would LOVE it if he would come (well, if any of them would come, but I am not holding my breath).  His blog and his book (I read Just a Geek during my downtime while I was in NYC for RUNAWAY preproduction) and his attitude–and integrity by which the guy leads his life–all impress me.  And they’ve inspired me.

And, of course, he’s the reason why I started a blog in the first place.

It was to Will Wheaton dot Net that my brother, Jack, sent me one day in 2003, saying, "Have you checked out WIl Wheaton’s blog?"

"You mean Wesley Crusher?"

Unfortunately, any cred he’d gained from being the Stand By Me kid had been erased from memory after Star Trek.

And that’s no offense to him.  He was fine in it.  It was those first two seasons–especially the second one.  Yeesh!  Then there was the matter of the producers and writers obviously throwing their hands up in the air virtually every episode that featured Wil’s character and crying, "What they hell are we gonna do with the kid this episode?  ‘Cause I got nothin’."

Anyway, back to Jack and me.

Jack replies, "Yeah.  You wouldn’t believe it.  It’s amazing.  You need to give him a read.  …And then, Bill?  You need to be doing that, too."

And so it came to pass.

The name of the blog has changed, but the inspiration has not.  It’s why I keep the tagline "One droll primate with an iBook can’t be wrong" in the blog banner.  It’s an homage to Wil’s old tagline "50,000 money with 50,000 typewriters can’t be wrong."  (You’d be amazed how many people ask about that.  Now.  You.  Know.)

Okay…so you get the picture.  I wanted this email message to be smooth.  Fly.  All that and a bag of chips.

Yet, in the last line, I type this:

I would love the opportunity to thank you in person for the gift that it that

And I hit send.  Of course.

What the hell?!?

Ack!  Ugh!  Shit!

Why does this happen?!?

I proof and proof and proof and proof and still…

I wish I had that detailed eye, but I simply do not.  And it is the freakin’ bane of my existence.  Makes me feel like an idiot when crap like that happens.

Which is always in the most Wheaton of situations.

All I can say is that I hope Wil looks beyond the typo and doesn’t think I am a total dip.  "This guy calls himself a professional writer?  As fi!"

Oh well…at least I didn’t type:

…for the gift tha tit that

That would make me a real boob.