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.

Yeesh!

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

– – – – – – – – – –

Incarnationcover
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
inspiration.

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
inspiration.

That would make me a real boob.

The script, my friends, is done.

It’s a day late (or several days late, depending on how you look at it).

Hopefully, it’s not a dollar short.

At 5:19 this morning I made my last edit.  I hit save, converted to .pdf, and sent off to Dean for his take.

I will have one more quick pass this afternoon sometime to integrate Dean’s notes (which seem, so far, to be minimal).  From there, it’s off to the producer of the ScriptNight reading, so he can get the script to the casting director.

I will, of course, want to take one more read.  You know, the one where I am actually awake and have my wits about me.  The one where I am not rocking back and forth and drooling like I’ve been locked in some rubber room for too long.  That’s when I will trust the work is valid.  And it is then that I will, I am certain, make the "final" changes that constitute this draft.

That’s the version I will trust to send to the TInseltown producers and such who have expressed interest.

Billwork2

For now, my life–like my office–feels like it’s a complete mess.  I am certain that’s not the case, and that all it takes is a little tidying up to be good as new.  Over the course of this week, however, as I have locked myself away day and night to cross this finish line, I could hear balls dropping around me right and left.

That’s not a good feeling.

And it’s a strange thing to know it’s happening, yet know that your life at the moment depends on your keeping focus on achieving one particular goal to the exclusion of nearly everything else.  And that in order to do it service, the process of achieving said goal, in fact, demands it.

You bracket that feeling away and soldier on, knowing that the fabric of your life is
unraveling some in the process.  Your hope being that the pieces of your life are
still relatively intact when you return to "normalcy"–at least
intact enough that you can them pick up and that they will function reasonably well when you put them back in place.  You trust in that…in your ability to do that and in the strength of your relationships with the ones you love, who suffer the most when you step away.

It’s the thing, by the way, that I am not certain I like about writing.  It’s certainly the hardest for me to wrap my head around because I’m the "I want everyone to like me and to have everything be okay" guy.  And yet, for some reason, I accept the "not okay-ness" of this life.  I submit to it willingly.  And with gusto.  And abandon.

I guess that’s why I say it’s a calling.

That said, I am going to start tidying up.

Billwork1

Yes…those are beer bottles.  More than I realized.  And dirty dishes piled up.  And something nasty is wafting up from the garbage.

And then there’s getting the tabs for the car, which should have been done Monday.  And paying some bills to, you know, keep our home working.

And touching base again with what makes it all worth it.

Robbye and I are heading off to a Haley Bonar concert tonight.  A CD release party for her new album.  It was a Mother’s Day gift for Robbye.  I am looking forward to spending some quality alone time with her.  To enjoying some of our favorite music together.

And maybe this time she’ll actually talk to Haley!  (I will let Robbye explain sometime…  [wink])

The script, my friends…

This is gonna be short today.  The recent embarrassment of riches in my professional life have had one downside.

This INCARNATION draft..?  Still not done.

Ack!

Incpt
I’ve got the producer of the July 8 event emailing me this morning asking for a draft of the script, so he can get it to the casting agent.  And we’ve got at least two Hollywood actors who are considering doing the reading.

The script, my friends, must get done.

I have been trying to carve out the time to simply finish it.  This week, for example.  But something always comes up.  Now it’s Friday, and I am barely further than I was on Monday.

The script, my friends, must get done.

There are at least two companies interested in buying the thing.  There is another production company interested in looking at it as a Dean/Bill project.  There are a couple of folks interested in possible financing.

The script, my friends, must get done.

I gotta lock myself away.  With the exception of the Super Sale tomorrow, which is a Heavir-Schlafer tradition that deserves its all due respect, and Robbye’s 40th B-Day gathering, which is a once in a lifetime thang, I gotta go into my cave.  I have to somehow make the time to put myself in the mental zone, so I can see how all these pieces fit together.

The script, my friends, must get done.

Yet, the floor drain in the basement is backing up.  One of the cars might be on the fritz.  Bills must be paid.  Loved ones require care and attention.  Dogs and cats must be let out and fed.  And businesses must be run.

But somehow, for a moment, I must close the door and escape into this world my mind has conjured.  Because the Universe I live in on a day-to-day basis is telling me the solution to all that stands in front of me right now is simple…

The script, my friends, must get done.

Bill True, this is your life

See this?

Beatlist2
Innocent-looking enough page with some typing and scribble on it, right?

If that’s what you think, you’d be wrong.  This page, and 105 others very similar to it, have the power to take control of a human life.  To keep it captive for weeks–even months–at a time.  Not just the body, but the mind.  The soul, even.  And they are ruthless, unforgiving captors.

For the past four weeks, I have been trying to complete a rewrite of my script, INCARNATION.  There at least two production companies (one has read a draft, the other hasn’t) who are very, very interested in it, and I am also counting on it to absolutely seal the deal on this very cool manager I have been sort of working with of late.  So…no pressure.

The good news is that everyone who reads it pretty much loves it.  Therein, however, lies the bad news, as well.  Everyone pretty much loves it.  And that "pretty much" makes all the difference.

It’s nothing fundamental, like the premise isn’t interesting or the plot is lacking or the characters aren’t real and engaging.  No, everyone really likes all of that.  In fact, the universal response is that this is a great, solid script that is beautifully written (gosh…thanks, folks).

The problem is that I made a decision for one of the main characters at the outset of writing the thing, and that decision is proving to be potentially fatal.  It has everyone who reads the thing saying, "In the end, I loved it.  It made perfect sense, and I was really moved and entertained.  But in the beginning, I wasn’t so sure about where you were going with that Henry character.  I was afraid to like him.  I was afraid that I was going to be sorely disappointed and hurt later if I put my trust in him."

I get it.  Oddly enough, it was that specific reaction that I was looking for when I sat down to write the Henry character.  My assertion was that it’s important for him to be something of a cypher and for us to question his motives.  It heightened the impact of the eventual reveal, I thought.

And all that is true.  People get that.  But it still gets in the way of the experience of the read.

And it’s getting in the way of people committing to the script.

So I have to fix that.  Problem is, something that integral to the structure of the story has implications throughout the entire script.  It has tendrils that burrow into several scenes, which must be ferreted out and contended with.

My solution was to go back to Screenwriting 101.  Break the script down beat by beat, which is represented by the scribble on the page at the top of this post.  The only way that I can make certain that the issue is adequately addressed and resolved is to tear the thing down like an engine.  Line up the parts on the floor; take a look at each and every one.  Identify which ones require polishing, and which ones require replacing.  Then put the thing back together.

After I am done, the thing’s gonna look kind of different, but my hope is that this baby hums like it ain’t never hummed before.

But right now, all the parts are still scattered across the floor.  I am feeling a little overwhelmed and a lot under pressure (mostly of the temporal variety).  I am somewhat behind the 8-ball in getting the new version to the people who want to read it, and I have to get it out the door sometime next week.  At the latest.  And so the rest of my life is, at the moment, at a virtual stand still until I can find the best and most creative way to put all these pieces back together.

We’ll see what happens.  For now, I feel most bad for Robbye, whom I knows misses her husband.

Don’t worry, Baby.  Good news is the work is paying off.  I had a burst of inspiration yesterday, and I think I know how do this now.  Keep a beer handy; I’ll be emerging from the garage soon.

I can’t stand up (for falling down)

Shit.

That’s about all I can say.

Right before dinner last night, I zipped upstairs to my office to hit send on an email I forgot about.  Click, went I.  Whiz-Bang, went the message.  Pop, went my inbox.

That’s when I saw it.

It was a message from a production company executive I’ve been working with toward developing a particular book series as a mini-series for a major cable network.  I opened the message, hopeful for good news.  Good news, it seemed, had taken the day off.

From his email: Also, finally heard back from MANAGEMENT FIRM re: TITLE and there are apparently two
offers (one real, one not so much) on the table now.  Also a writer, he didn’t
tell me who, that is making a play for it…
Not great news, but at least you know what’s happening with it.

Damn it!

It sucks because mere months ago, I had checked in with the management company.  The rights were available–free and clear.  There was another producer I’d been trying to interest in the project.  Yet, though I caught his attention and he’s been very generous with his time and consideration, he’s also up to his eyeballs with his own wildly successful cable series and its impending follow up.  Go figure.

Last month, as I sat in this other exec’s (who is a really cool guy, as well) office, it occurred to me that I should mention the property and what I knew about it.  And he did sometime no one else had done to date: he pricked up at the mention of it.  He got up, went immediately over to his computer, and Googled the series title.  One peek at the Wikipedia entry, and he was in.  He was, in fact, kind of excited.

We parted with a commitment from him to verify the rights availability.  If they were still clear, then it seemed he was interested in making a offer for them.  Most important, he seemed committed to letting me adapt the thing, which would not only have been amazing fun, but a great and steady gig for at least the next two years…maybe even longer if somehow the thing could be leveraged into an ongoing series.

Not a bad position to be in, eh?

In the feeding frenzy of gobbling up rights to virtually every book, blog, TV show, and magazine article known to humankind, I was amazed when the word came back that the rights to this series–which is quite popular and well known in certain circles–had reverted back to the author’s estate.  I had, it seemed, found the golden egg that rolled under the bed, overlooked by the scavengers.  I tried to hurry.  I tried to not tip my hand too overtly.  I knew that it was only a matter of time until someone lifted the dust ruffle and discovered my little secret.

And so it came to pass.

I know I shouldn’t be upset.  I know I shouldn’t let it get to me.  And it won’t…not in the long run.  Tomorrow I’ll wake up and reset and be okay.  It’s who I am.  It’s what I do.

But today I am pissed off.  Today I feel bad.  Today I just wanna curl up and cry.

The problem is that I broke the cardinal rule of the movie business.  I am nearly as upset about that as I am about the project dying on the vine.  I feel like a neophyte.  I feel like an amateur.  I feel stupid.

The problem is that I let myself get excited about the possibility.  I built a tower of expectation, forgetting that such things are unstable in the extreme and prone to collapsing without warning.  But I built the damned thing, anyway.  And I climbed clear on up to the top without the slightest thought to the cuts and bruises I’d earn for my trouble if the thing went down.

Because it was a cool idea.  Because it coulda worked.  Because it came to me unexpectedly in the first place.  And because I’d secretly harbored a dream that maybe I would be the guy to turn this book series into a movie since I was a kid.

HHHHHHhhhhhhhhh………………………

Bummer.

Silly.

Stupid.

Me.

POSTSCRIPT:  When I got home from my lunch meeting today, I got a really nice hug & kiss from Robbye and then discovered something had come for me in the mail.  A box.  An Amazon box.  And inside, this…

Planet_of_the_apes_tv_4a871
Very cool!  But I didn’t understand.  I hadn’t ordered it.

After some sleuthing around on the packing invoice, I found a little message: To: Bill From: Mike  Happy Birthday, lad!  Feel free to do the simian step as you return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Huh.  Sweet!  And heads above the 4 Questions thing I recently received from him.  Whadda guy..!  Thanks, Uncle Mike!

And suddenly, between that and the nice greeting I got from my darling wife, my day started looking up.