Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The inevitable conclusion to Celluloid Dreams!

There’s this actor. Young guy, kind of a lunk, but a decent dude. He’s been in We Were Soldiers, Private Ryan, Remember the Titans and a few more (go on, guess!) He formed his own production company and went looking for scripts. He found me, and the tentative dance to option my screenplay began.

As long as the conversation was artist to “artist” (the one in quotations would be me) things were great. But there came a point when he was obligated to pass me off to his agent. From there, it promptly went to hell.

The agent is supposed to make an good faith offer. A dollar figure, and a length of term for the option. Instead, this dude asks what kind of deal I was expecting. Not as in, “what sounds fair to you, Mike?” More like, “Let’s see if this Cincinnati hayseed knows his ass from his elbow.”

Well, of course I didn’t. Sadly, I’m not so sure my attorney did, either. He set out to show this Hollywood douchebag that we weren’t going to get pushed around. By gosh, there are rules and standards for optioning scripts!

Um, yeah. There are rules and standards, except when there aren’t. And a screenwriter… check that, a first-time screenwriter…I mean, a first time screenwriter from Ohio… has no rights, no leverage, and no recourse. It got ugly fast, and the whole deal was incinerated in something like a week. I still have the angry, illiterate rejection email from the agent to my lawyer, and I quote: “your cleint is being terrible naeve.” Which, I suppose I can’t deny.

I tell myself how it would have likely gone down. They would have optioned it for twice the typical term for half the typical money. They would have pissed the time away, not getting funding while making me rewrite the thing six times. And in the end, I’d be back in Ohio with a script I no longer recognized and my option money long gone (I mean, we’re talking hundreds of bucks here.)

But who knows? Maybe I would have been the next Charlie Kaufman. More likely, I would have been that guy who had that one kickass screenplay and you never heard from again. I can’t recall his name.

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What made you want to write? Was there a particular novel or film that inspired you? Or was it something less romantic than that?

I remember killing time in a grocery store thumbing through the paperbacks. Of course, there was the Harlequin type crap for the ladies. For the gents there was a bunch of serialized action-adventure nonsense with covers depicting some grimy, scarred-up mercenary clutching a shredded American flag silhouetted against a blood-red atomic twilight. A typical description on the back cover might read: “In the post-apocalyptic future a rag-tag band of special-ops assassins battles their zombie/mutant/space Nazi overlords!”

And I remember saying to myself, “I could write this crap!”

Believe me, I gave it hell. I thought I had a pretty interesting setting and some compelling characters. It was speculative fiction, which is what you say when you don’t want to admit to science fiction. I’d describe it for you, but you’d swear I stole it from The Matrix, even though I started writing it in 1990. Anyway, after fits and starts and long stretches of inactivity, I’ve got 200 pages in a binder somewhere that will never be completed. First of all, they went and made The Matrix. I suppose I could change some elements to make it less Matrix-y. But, truthfully, the story is very bleak and hopeless and, thank the Lord, that’s not who I am anymore.

But it was a lesson learned regarding the various divergent paths of writing. There’s always somebody who thinks they can do it better. Like some pine-head in the supermarket that thinks he can write post-apocalyptic pulp fiction better than the guys making a living at it. Or the client who’s willing to spend $5000 for website design, but decides he’s going to write the copy himself.

So, for better or worse, the Novel That Never Was is what first stoked the fires. It got me thinking about the possibility of a future of not spent lugging 300lbs of video for the rest of my life. And bit by bit I started taking the steps to transition out of full time video and into full time writing.

By the way, I am Matrix fan numero uno. Just the first one, though. Reloaded and Revolutions both have the dubious distinction, as Bart Simpson once observed, of both sucking and blowing at the same time.

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“No better friend, no greater adversary…”

Expertise..acquiring it fast and cheap. As we used to say at ImageMatrix: “It CAN be Done!”

As famed guitarist and alcoholic Joe Walsh once said, I can’t complain but sometimes I still do. From time to time you may detect a note (or perhaps a symphony) of cynicism in my tone but, truth be told, there are parts of my job I truly love.

This will sound lame, but my favorite part is learning new things. (Note: warning the reader that something will sound lame does not make it less lame.) By this I mean new businesses, new fields, new products and so on. I have spent a few really productive years in an agency environment, both full time and as a freelancer. There I was exposed to a barrage of new clients in various fields, from shooting sports to military research to graphic arts to public radio.

Believe me, after a solid decade plus in healthcare communications, it was a definite paradigm shift (corporate douche-speak? Mike, you promised!) Sorry. Anyway, I loved the challenge of digging into the materials, interviewing the client, learning about their company, their competition and their industry at large.  And I loved being the proverbial fresh pair of eyes in the room. I guess the biggest lesson I learned was…how to learn. (Tonight on a very special Lively Exchange, Mike learns how to learn.)

All of these tender life lessons came in handy yesterday, when I had to dig into yet another field I knew nothing about (and cannot really discuss.) My mission was to turn 5,000 words into 5,000 different words, with another 2,500 words added for sheer volume.  I’d have to check the AP style guide, but I’m pretty sure that’s “a butt-load.” It promised to be a steep climb, but I was really looking forward to it precisely because the topic was so new. I was exhausted by the end of the day but, as they say, it was a good kind of tired.

How about you, my fellow ink-stained wretches? What’s your favorite part of the job?

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There are times I find myself impatiently, even nervously, Waiting for It. The inspiration, that is. I stare at my notes, at the client’s materials, at this pile of stuff, just waiting for the spark. And sometimes it’s slow in coming.

This can happen on my very first assignment with a new client, when that first impression is so crucial. For me, though, it’s more likely to be the seventh or eighth assignment, when I have said absolutely everything I can about their amazing product or service or patented process. When they change one detail, and expect a whole new animal.

So I have picked up a few tricks, fillers and time killers to occupy my brain and hopefully kick-start the creativity.

  • Change of scenery: Packing up and heading to the coffee shop, for a whole different set of distractions.
  • Shutting off the damn internet: sort of self-explanatory
  • Reading the job ticket: Sometimes I find a hidden morsel of previously overlooked info. “Oh, they want to SELL their product! That makes more sense!”
  • Thesaurus.com: I use this one all the time, on practically every job. “Ah, to garrote is to strangle! Good to know!”
  • Etymology: Studying the origins of words. In high school (Blackboard Jungle High ’82) I took two years of Latin, as well as Latin and Greek etymology. I’m like the dad in Big Fat Greek Wedding: “You give me word, I tell you Greek root.”
  • Reading the materials yet again: the client’s collateral stuff like their website, brochures, news clippings, or PR materials.
  • Imprinting: I don’t know a better word for it but, in severe cases, I will prop up their collateral stuff and start re-typing it word for word. The idea is to get their words in my head. I read that author Alexandra Ripley, having won the dubious honor of penning the sequel to Gone With the Wind, first copied the original novel in its entirety…by hand. The result, “Scarlett,” blew chunks, but I still like the idea.

When all else fails, just write. This is something I had to learn when I first started writing professionally. I used to think that if it wasn’t perfect on the first draft…I don’t know…that they would see what a FRAUD I was! I have since learned that you just need to give them something to react to. It’s just a first draft! It’s not meant to be perfect.

Besides, in the act of critiquing the first draft they just might actually, finally, tell you what they want.

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