The Loser’s Guide to Screenwriting

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Become Impregnated by The Idea

The Idea comes to you like a mythical creature. It creeps through your window at 2 AM. It rushes straight into your bosom, carried by a warm, southeasterly wind. When it comes to you, it’s fully formed, for it has been made by the hands of tiny green gods from another realm; they know more about storytelling than we ever will.

Yes, they’ve crafted The Idea, the green gods have, and now they’ve sent it to you. It’s so good it’s sexy. And you’re sexy too, now that you have The Idea. You cuddle it, coddle it, coo at it in your mind. You’d kiss it straight on the mouth if you could. Heck, you’d kiss yourself on the mouth.

Obsession. Development.

You write a few things down—not too many, just the broad strokes, really—afraid that delving straight into details will scare The Idea away. And it really is a fantastic idea. So good you can’t believe no one has come up with it before. How is it that a story like this has never been told? Not in this way. Not with this twist. You can’t believe your luck. You speak of The Idea to no one as you flesh it out in your mind, and even in your mind you speak in hushed tones.

The Idea is to be revered. Respected. Protected. You caress its head like it’s the prettiest kitty of all time.

Share Just a Little

Aflame with the exhilaration of having an actual writing project in the coffer, you find yourself unable to resist sharing a little with your writer friends—juuuuust a little.

But lo, when you open your mouth some kind of sentence fragment sputters out, and falls directly in your coffee. You have made a mockery of The Idea. You must stop speaking immediately.

Immediately.

Backtrack Paired with—What’s That? Oh, Yes—Panic

Back in your apartment, you pull out your notes, searching for The Idea. It must be here somewhere; intact, gorgeous, purring.

You read through one page. Then the next. And the third. The last? Wait…wasn’t there more than this? What about the opening images that gave you chills? Or the B story that brought just the right blend of levity and intrigue? This is not The Idea! This is something else, something lesser, something—God help you—pedestrian.

Excavate. Hyperventilate. Repeat.

Okay, just calm down. The golden Idea crafted by the tiny green gods could not have disappeared this quickly. (Unless you angered the tiny green gods. What did you do!?) You just need to think a moment. Just think. THINK.

So you need more than a moment. That’s okay. What’s that 99% perspiration thing? That’s fine. You can do that. Stop worrying. Go to the shelf. Pull out a few screenwriting books as reference, and you’ll have the bones all nice and laid out before you in no time. Sexy bones. The bones of The Idea. It will be fine.

Reinvent All Wheels

Whatever crap they’re selling in screenwriting books isn’t going to help you now. What were you thinking? What, were you hoping to write formulaic drivel that will make a bunch of money for some studio fat cats out there but will leave you dry and listless in your soul? Starved to the core of your creative being? (Wait, what was that about money? Creative famine might be fine with money…)

No! No formulas will work for you. No “structure” or “journey” or “beat sheet” will do The Idea justice. Instead, you must cull the collective knowledge and craft your own system. A system, a structure, a theory worthy of The Idea. The Idea needs a warm, fresh, bohemian yet ruthlessly genius home in which to appear once again. Yes. Yessssss. This will work. Just give it time. Tease out the structure with your hybrid, game-changing ideas and all will be well. The Idea will be well. And you will kiss it on the mouth.

Beer

And a little whiskey.

Vomit

In the alley. Defeated, you deposit both your stomach contents and your hopes for The Idea neatly between a dumpster and a family of rats. Even the rats pity you. A baby rat averts her eyes. You don’t disagree with her choice.

Interlude

Hello, Old Friend

Months later, you find a folder on your computer holding a vaguely named file. You open it out of curiosity. “Now that was a good Idea,” you think. “Just a little work and…”

Another ride around the carousel, please.

Of Course I’m Afraid of Nuclear Fallout

[220/365] Nuclear Fear (Explored)

Photo by pasukaru76 @ Flickr

I’ve been having weird dreams lately. And sleeping kinda restlessly. Sleep is literally my favorite thing to do, so it makes me a little bit cranky when it doesn’t work out quite the way I want it to. A lot of things make me cranky, though. Like:

  • Bathrooms that don’t have toilet seat covers
  • When you think you have another mango in the fridge, but discover you don’t
  • (Related) Starting a recipe and discovering half way through that you’re missing a key ingredient
  • People that don’t signal
  • Anything sticky

I could go on for some time in this fashion, because I’m essentially an 84-year-old woman in a 33-year-old’s body. I’m fine with that.

Aaaanyway…so yes, I’ve been having cranky-making sleep as of late. And the weird dreams always linger in the morning, so I spend the first couple hours of the day trying to get over the yelling match I had with my non-existent boss while ice skating; or the panic of accidentally marrying some terrible other person, then remembering I’m married to someone great, and now I have some serious paperwork to do; or spilling ALL the milk in the grocery store and trying in vain to clean it up before anyone notices.

This is a piss poor way to start the day, friends. If I was dreaming about flying that crazy dog thing from the NeverEnding Story to a sushi restaurant where I ate some yummy nigiri, the morning would be spent with the lingering memory of tasty fish. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Anyway, what happened the other night is WORSE than all those other stupid things. You know those times where you roll over and you’re awake for a little nanosecond and then you fall back asleep again? Well, something happened in that nanosecond. A little noise. Like, a bang or something. I live in the city, so it was probably someone’s cat farting in a trash can. You know, something innocuous like that. It was definitely not, as my sleepy little mind imagined, a nuclear bomb being intercepted high above the city, whose toxic contents were now showering 1.2 million people, all of whom, including myself and my family, were soon to have melting insides.

Yeah, it definitely wasn’t that.

But to a sleepy little brain, whose imagination truly knows no bounds, that didn’t matter one little bit. Nope, because the idea had hatched, like a frightening sharp-toothed alien turtle, and now it was going to rip apart my conscience like a squeaky chew toy. Can I just say that I’m super fun? I mean, like a laugh riot o’ fun.

So the next half hour’s thoughts went like this:

That was probably a nuclear bomb.

Okay, it definitely wasn’t.

But probably most certainly was. *scratches skin* Is my skin coming off? No, not yet. That’s good. But when will it? Or is that even the right test? Do your insides just melt or something? I think I remember reading that once. And that all the DNA in all of my cells is fried now. What happens?

Everyone is going to die. We don’t have enough food in the house to survive nuclear fallout. I’m a terrible parent. Couldn’t I have just donated $50 to NPR? I’m pretty sure one of their contributor gifts would save my whole family, AND keep Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me on the air. What the hell is my problem?!

I should check Google.

You definitely should not check Google, you crazy SOB. Stay in bed. GO TO BED.  Now. Go to bed now. Now. Right now.

I should check Google. Although, would they even put it on Google? The government would probably hide it as long as possible as to not create a panic. But I know already. I’m ahead of the curve.

My poor family. We can’t drink the water now, probably. We have no water or food and our insides are melting.

And THEN…and then. Oh freaking lord, and then. I start thinking how if we’re going to starve, and dehydrate, and our insides were turning to goo, then we should probably figure out a way to commit suicide together.

WHAT?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY BRAIN?!

And that’s when I a) see, in stark relief, that this line of thinking has gone a touch too far and b) beg whatever demented gremlin that has taken over my brain to please, oh please, oh please let me fall asleep.

To my credit, I didn’t check Google. Somehow, I fell back asleep. And in the morning, everyone’s insides were intact, and the fear that had gripped me so tightly in the middle of the night was gone. Like magic. Poof.

I don’t know how this stuff happens, but I know this: I don’t want to live gripped in fear. I hate that fear gets the best of me sometimes. Clearly, it’s a pretty big freaking bummer. The last few months have given us all a thousand things to fear, and it seems like that won’t be letting up any time soon. But fear and worry have never solved anything. So I’m gonna try to do less of that.

Good luck to me. Good luck to all of us.

(p.s. I’ve decided I won’t be watching that new show, The Following. I’m pretty sure it will make me afraid of all humans—even the baby ones. An ounce of prevention…)

What kind of monsters are in your closet?

If You Don’t Live Forever, You’re a Sucker

Plastic mannequin head with futuristic v shape

Mannequins are going to have scary faces in the future. You don’t want to miss out on that. Photo by Horia Varlan, on Flickr.

I kind of want to live forever. I know it’s crazy. I just…I do. Because I just have this feeling that if I die—if I slip in the bathtub and break my neck or die from an aneurism while pooping (those are real reasons people die, y’all)—I’m going to miss out on AMAZING stuff by like 5 minutes. And wouldn’t that be terrible? I mean—to die right before life and science get REALLY cool? I don’t know if I could stand it. Even beyond the grave. I’d be haunting the crap out of a bunch of people.

I think it was the iPhone that did it. Not the first iPhone, but the comparison between the first one and the current one. Because here’s the deal: if you bought the first iPhone, you got an 8GB cool phone with texting and apps and stuff for a whopping $599. That’s a pretty penny. No subsidies. No free phones for AT&T users. You just walked up to the counter, gave them your entire wallet, coughed up a little blood, and you got a fancy doodad in return. Now—just five years later—I can get an iPhone with eight times the storage space, more battery life and a much better camera for $200 less. Or, if I don’t feel like paying ANY money for it, I can get the iPhone 3GS that’s still better than the first one for exactly zero dollars. What a difference 5 years makes. In 5 more years they’ll be stuffing iPhones in boxes of Cap’n Crunch.

And that, friends, is the world we’re living in. Except the iPhone—as cool, glorified and worshiped as it is—is no where near the coolest thing on our horizon. If we can make it another 50 years—shit’s gonna get crazy cool. And that’s why I want to live forever. Or at least for another 50 years. Or 100. Yeah, 100 sounds better. Reasonable.

Anyway…

For your enlightentainment (mashing words together is fun), here’s a brief review of stuff that is going to happen to you if you don’t go and die like a sucker before the tech evolves. Better go get you some vitamins, because it’s gonna be worth it.

Fix Skin Cancer with a Band-Aid

Umm…yeah. With a freaking band-aid. Or, rather, a patch. Same thing. You put the patch on your arm for 3 hours, then a few days later for another 3 hours and—shazam!—no more skin cancer. That’s being tested right now. Isn’t that crazy?! The current treatment for Basal cell carcinoma involves burning, freezing, scraping or zapping with radiation. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather slap a patch on my arm. It’s like those stickers from Trader Joe’s, except that it HEALS YOUR FREAKING SKIN.

Print Some Organs on Your Home Printer

“Keep your liver, Mr. Donor-face-guy,” said everyone on the transplant list, “I’ll just print one up after I’m done printing the banner for my daughter’s birthday party.” Okay, it might not be that simple, but I kid you not, people are PRINTING. ORGANS. Printing them! Like a coupon for Trader Joe’s. Except that it goes in your body to save your life. (Trader Joe’s really needs to up their game.)

Anthony Atala at the Wake Forest School of Medicine has done some stunning work with regenerative medicine.  The school is working on printing skin with a souped-up inkjet printer that would totally change the way wounds and burns are treated.

Skin is cool, but they’re also working on printing hearts. Hearts! It takes 40 minutes to print with a desktop printer, then 4-6 hours later the muscles are contracting. And because these things are comprised of the patient’s own cells, there’s no need for rejection meds. The body just says, “Oh, sure. That’s cool. You belong here.” Work is being done with all kinds of 3D printing, and an 83-year-old woman just received the first 3D-printed jaw transplant.

Is your mind blown? Mine is. Cra-zi-ness. This stuff is happening right now. Can you imagine how cool it’s going to be when I’m 132? Real cool, you all. That’s how cool.

Stop Driving the Car Like a Schmuck—Let the Car Drive Itself

This one’s already happening, too. Steve, the first user of Google’s Self-Driving Toyota Prius, is legally blind, and—I assume—feeling like a badass. Granted, he used the technology to drive to a Taco Bell, so clearly he needs some guidance on where to actually go (Umm…Trader Joe’s. Obviously.), but hey…we all gotta start somewhere. Clearly, the technology is perfect for people like Steve because it opens up really practical solutions to problems he faces. But it would also be perfect for people like me who are tired of wasting drive time not practicing hip-hop finger dancing. I mean, come on.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of stuff that’s being developed right now. Like I said, 50 years from now—who knows!? We’re in a time where the technologies that are being developed are working in synchrony to create exponential growth, understanding and revolution. And, dammit, if I die two years before I have a Speech Jammer gun, a cyborg mouse, or an iPhone that can cook me lasagna, I’m gonna be pissed.

So what do you think? Will you be drinking bloody marys in a space car with me? Or does a robot-filled super future scare the plasma out of you? Don’t be shy, friends, let’s talk this business out.

All Hail Old Lady Crutchfield

I'll be like this fine looking woman, but older, and possibly meaner, and likely a little tipsy.

I was sifting through my blog feed when I came across this article from the LA Times on Bloody Marys, which reminded me that Bloody Marys are one of my favorite drinks. They’re so delicious and strange. Refreshing but fiery (if they’re made right). Bloody Marys are the perfect blend of getting schnookered and pretending that you’re eating vegetables. They are also a key element in the role I plan to play  later in life—Old Lady Crutchfield.

Bloody Mary

Image by holisticmonkey @ Flickr

For your amusement (and since this is the best idea rattling around in my attic-like mind) I shall now detail the fabulous life I intend to live in my winter years. Those years are going to be splendid for me, but mostly questionable or possibly unenjoyable for those around me. I think this is fine, because it is my firmly held belief that old people earn the right to kinda do whatever the crap they want to. So, my plan is to take the fullest advantage of this belief when the time comes.

The first element in the grand scheme that is Old Lady Crutchfield, is a porch. Preferably with a rocking chair. Like this one here, but with less of a “someone gone get keeled in the woods” feel.

Doesn't that look nice?

Next, we need Bloody Marys. Duh. And lots of them. I plan on drinking them kinda all the time. I mean…what? Is some youngster really going to try to pry a Bloody Mary from my wrinkly, determined claw? I think not. So I’ll be drinking them a lot.

So, a rocker and some drinks…not a rough start. But here’s where I might lose you—I also want to spread rumors around the neighborhood that it’s not tomato juice in my drink, but ground up little kids! Bwua-ha-ha-ha-ha! Too add to the effect, I’ll keep some little smokies in a bowl of tomato juice to fling at kids when they come a-knockin’. They’ll be too focused on not peeing their pants to inspect the thing thoroughly, thus ensuring a furthering of the neighborhood lore.

Now, you might wonder why I would chose torture children in this way. And I’ll admit, it sounds mean at first. But I’m not just scaring the bejesus out of tomorrows youths (though this is a fun side effect), I’m giving them an enemy to rally against. I’m giving them an entity so great and terrifying that they will be forced to set aside their petty differences for the sake of the common good. Geeks, cool kids, saxophone players and D&D enthusiasts alike will forge alliances in a vain attempt to defeat me (of course this could never happen, because Old Lady Crutchfield is immune to death). And if the tiny tyrants decide to toss one of their own under the bus and send him up to my house to be eaten, I’ll bring him inside, give him some cookies, then send him out covered in tomato sauce so he can be donned “The One That Survived”. It’s for the common good. The common good.

What about you? What are your favorite drinks/plans for your wrinkly future?

It’s Easy to Dream. It’s Hard to Do.

FAME IS FOR DOERS

Image by AMERICAN ARTIST BEN MURPHY, on Flickr

I watch a lot of TV. It’s time to admit it. Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m all modern and innovative and “above it all” (ohmigod, how obnoxious) because we don’t have cable or an actual television, and we just watch Hulu and Netflix on our MacBook Pros. Soooo progressive, right?

As it turns out, you don’t need cable to watch a billion hours of TV. Netflix and Hulu work just fine for that. And I’m like an addict. Once I get on a show, it’s like I can’t get enough. I can’t watch enough. I need to see what happens next. I don’t care that it’s midnight and I need more sleep than a hibernating bear—I NEED TO SEE IT!

Netflix is actually worse in this way. Case in point: on Netflix, you CAN watch 4 old episodes Grey’s Anatomy in one sitting, because they’re all there, just waiting for you. They even prompt you to click the “Next episode” button like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I wish they would get rid of that button and just put up a quick screen saying, “Who are we kidding? You’re not going anywhere. Just sit down while we play the next one.” Just so we can all be honest.

TV Shows We Used To Watch - 1955 Television advertising

Photo by brizzle born and bred, on Flickr

At least the cable company controls your consumption. They give you just a little at a time. They give you commercials so you can go pee or brush your teeth and stuff like that. They give you the opportunity for a little dignity.

(Story detour: one time when we actually had cable, we decided that we wanted to cancel it. Cable companies are NOT cool with this move. They think it’s weird. Plus, they like your money. So I called and said, “I want to cancel my cable service.” and the lady said, “How about we give you three months free?” and I said, “Well, okay…not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, lady.” At the end of the three months I called back again to cancel it and they offered me another great deal. They’re like drug dealers, I tell you. Drug dealers with a call center. So finally, I just said, “I want to cancel my cable service because the TV is sucking my soul out.” to which the lady said, “Right away ma’am.” and we were done. Which proves once again, crazy works.)

ANYWAY, so I’ve been serially watching episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. We watched the first two seasons a few years ago, then just never picked it up again. But the first 7 seasons (seven!) are on Netflix, so, you know…I kinda watched many, many episodes in a row.

Now, if you don’t like the show, just shush for a second, okay? I just want to say that the writing is brilliant (brilliant!). Sure, there’s the occasional unbelievable response or plot hole—some unconvincing element that likely arose from talent leaving or needing time off or something—but by and large they deliver on every. episode.

What I love about the show is that it always has a theme, it always weaves little life lessons. It deals in fears and struggles. Grey’s Anatomy finds all of those intimate moments where we keep our words silent for fear of facing them, and it intrudes upon them. It unearths the mess.

But it also looks for beauty among the dying, diseased, and broken. The hospital has to be the perfect metaphor for our lives—lives in constant states of repair, remission and relapse. Lives without a known ending. Lives full of mystery and defeat and hope. It’s the perfect metaphor and the writers of Grey’s are freaking nailing it.

As I watch episode, after episode, after episode of this cursedly good show, I find myself dreaming…I want to write those words. I want to write the words that inspire thought and introspection. I want to write words that remind us all of our humanity and of our connection. Words that remind us that grace can be as battered and bruised and defeated as a dying man, but it can still fight its way back to life. I’m a writer, dammit, and I want to write those words.

But in order to write those words, or any words, I’ve got to get my fingers on the keyboard. I’ve got to force myself to get something on the page. I’ve got to force myself to churn the work out. I’ve got to grab the creative fairies by the toe as they flutter through my mind at inopportune times, and scribble their thoughts down on notecards and napkins and post-its. And then I’ve got to be a freaking adult and make something of them. It’s easy to dream. It’s hard to do. I need to do some doing.

A Call to Nothing

Luz I - Rayos de luz / Beams of light.

Image by purolipan via Flickr

A calling, in the religious sense of the word, is a religious vocation (which comes from the Latin for “call”) that may be professional or voluntary and, idiosyncratic to different religions, may come from another person, from a divine messenger, or from within oneself.

via Calling (religious) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

There are some fortunate folks who, while wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in the springtime of their lives, looked to the horizon and felt a pull in the center of their being. They squinted their eyes ever so slightly at the rising sun and heard a whisper in their hearts. “This, young soul,” the whisper said, “is your calling.”

I would like to take a moment to tell those fortunate folks to take their clairvoyance and shove it.

That’s a touch on the bitter side, I suppose. I’ll settle with simply stating that I cannot, and do not understand how they came to be the way they are. I don’t know how it is that some people set a course, follow it unwaveringly, and find a quiet perseverance through the troubling bits in life due to the overwhelming conviction that they are following their calling. It must be nice. Like a cozy blanket.

I was raised in a Christian home—Nazarene, to be exact—and the notion that you have a specific purpose in life always hung around me like too much perfume sprayed in the ladies’ room. I was followed, dogged, by this suspicion that while some had meaning, I had none. Of course I did my best to deny that suspicion. I searched my heart and soul, looking for bread crumbs that would lead me back to the core of who I am—to the core of who I was to be.

Initially, I just wanted to be good. I did well in school. Got a job and kept my grades up until graduation, then headed off to college. After attending a couple of private schools I found myself still undecided in my major. It seemed that every topic was equally appealing and unappealing at the same time. The idea of pursuing one field at the exclusion of another scratched at me. The commitment to leave all those possibilities on the roadside of my life’s highway seemed wrong. I couldn’t do it. Wanting to enjoy all fields and all areas of knowledge, I embraced none. I was buying Legos a piece at a time, but they’d never make a castle or a plane or anything awesome. So, I quit.

That was many, many years ago. Now I’m 31. Not much has changed.

Today, I work in starts and fits, chasing after all the beautiful and exciting things to be done. Photography. Writing. Singing and songwriting. Knitting. Crochet. Sewing. Graphic design. Filmmaking. Each project brings challenge, life, satisfaction. Each new goal sparks a little something in me. Each challenge threatens to break me, but I press forward. I learn and grow and truly enjoy myself. But what comes next?

What comes next?

Now that question—that question is what scratches at me. All these many years later, all these challenges met, skills acquired and beauty made and still I have no course to follow. It’s as if my ship continues to find sand bars, but never finds land. My oar has slammed in to the sandy ocean floor and the sun has set. It’s disturbing. And a little chilly.

I’m still open to the idea that one day a fog will be lifted and I’ll have a comforting definition of what I am meant to be. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I should embrace the fact that I’m a vocational gypsy. Maybe I am called to nothing. Or to everything. Maybe those are the same thing.

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