Sunday, May 13, 2018

Writing shouldn't be this hard

There's a certain irony that the thing I've (for the most part) chosen to trade in on for my livelihood–my ability to string together words and sentences into something vaguely appealing–turns out to be something I don't, on the surface, enjoy.

I've written about this before, so I don't really want to belabor the point, but it's maddening how often writing is almost physically painful for me (and literally physically painful, thanks to too many years spent at ergonomically unsound desks). As with most creative endeavors (and even writing a line of copy for an ad is, despite its transactional nature, still "creative"), inspiration and excitement come in fits and starts, often directly affected by whatever is happening around us in the moment. Fatigue, lack of caffeine, too much caffeine, a distracting song, hunger, conflicting deadlines, Mercury in retrograde–they all play into one's ability to produce or choke.

My challenge always seems to be tied into available time for writing versus drive for writing. Basically, there's an inverse proportion happening: The more time I have available, the less drive I have, and vice versa. Often, I find myself most brimming with ideas and the willingness to execute when I'm on the hook for other priorities demanding attention. Maybe that's because my brain is already looking for a distraction, so breaking an episode or writing a scene becomes that distraction, whereas if I sit down purposely to work on a script, my brain looks for a distraction from that (usually on YouTube).

There are people I know who love writing. It pours out of them. They'll sit for hours and just scribble/type away, words flowing onto their page or screen. And yeah, I used to be able to do that, before I started getting paid to do it. But these days, it's a fight to get out every word, every phrase, every paragraph. That's why when the feeling comes, when a scene or story beat or new concept pops into my head, I have to stop everything and get to writing. Because if I don't, catching that elusive feeling again seems nearly impossible.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Seven Years Later



Inside a small bedroom repurposed into a crowded home office, PJ PEREZ (early 40s, salt-and-pepper hair) sits at his cluttered desk, typing on a weathered laptop computer, a BLOGGER WINDOW open on the screen.

It's been seven years since I last updated this blog. And almost a decade since I started a possibly misguided journey into the world of filmmaking. A lot has happened since then, but very little of it that removed any roadblocks on that journey.

Perez leans back, shaking his head at the computer screen. He turns to face the camera directly, breaking the FOURTH WALL.

Okay, to be fair, I probably took a good several years off from those filmmaking ambitions. A lot of creative endeavors got derailed by questionable career moves and business decisions. They were good learning experiences, for sure, but somewhat counterproductive in the short-term.

Perez picks up an empty glass from a coaster atop his desk. He stands up and walks toward the office door leading to a hallway beyond, still directly addressing us.

But before that mess, there were a few productive things that happened after this blog went dormant--after winning the pitch contest and making a well-received 48 Hour Film.


We continue following Perez, walking through a hallway toward the kitchen.

I split "Being" the television pilot from "Being" the screenplay, turning the latter into "Bleeding Neon," which ostensibly featured the same characters in a different stage of life.


Perez switches on the kitchen light, then walks up to the refrigerator, filling his glass with filtered water from the in-door dispenser. He takes a sip before continuing.

Most of 2011 and early 2012 was dedicated to my then-band, As Yet Unbroken. We recorded an album, which I produced, and I also shot and edited a ton of videos, using somewhat subpar equipment, including a Flip Mino HD. 

Perez sets down the water glass and pulls a smartphone out of his back pocket. He looks down at it, swiping and tapping as he continues.

After the band broke up, I used that same subpar equipment to shoot a quasi-pilot called "Las Vegas Rules." It was a reaction to a terrible, short-lived reality TV series called "Sin City Rules" in the vein of "The Real Housewives."

Perez holds up the smartphone to us. On it a VIDEO PLAYS. It's the "Las Vegas Rules" clip.

It was entirely shot on the Flip camera, with a borrowed shotgun mic and a few five-dollar clip lights from Target. I edited it with a few free stock footage clips and royalty-free music snippets, and it actually turned out surprisingly polished.

He puts the phone back in his pocket, and walks to the kitchen table, taking a seat in one of the two chairs.

It didn't become a viral sensation like I hoped it would, but it did reinvigorate my filmmaking interest, and expanded the scope of what I thought I could do. Not long after that, I executed on an ambitious plan to quit my day job, and focus all of my energy on creative endeavors, which included the journalistic writing and comic book creation I was already doing, but also screenwriting, music videos and short films.

Perez turns his head toward the exterior window, looking past it into the night.

But I got a little too ambitious.


1) Perez in a COFFEE SHOP, shaking hands with an extremely TALL MAN in his late 20s.

2) Perez and the TALL MAN opening the door to an EMPTY OFFICE.

3) Perez in the same office, now a small, cluttered PRINT SHOP, manically pulling pages off a printer that are smeared with ink.

4) Perez OUTSIDE AN OFFICE BUILDING, watching a couple of BURLY MEN loading his printer into a truck.


Perez walks back into his home office, setting his glass back onto the coaster as he takes the seat again at his desk.

Anyway, suffice it to say, plans got a little derailed. Scripts sat stagnant on my computer. The only thing close to filmmaking I did for a few years was shooting marketing videos for P.R. clients. Then the Canon Vixia I used to shoot those got stolen. I went back to the corporate world and went back to playing music and working on comics in my free time.

Perez clicks the track pad on his laptop a few times, and pulls up a YOUTUBE VIDEO on the screen. It features various scenes depicting Huntington Beach, California.

But last summer, my wife and I moved to Southern California. I was without a band for the first time in years. Without distractions. And closer to Hollywood than I'd lived since I was a kid. And I wasn't getting any younger.

With a few more clicks, the LAPTOP SCREEN switches from the YouTube video to a GOOGLE DOC.

So I came up with a plan. I wrote down all the creative projects I wanted to complete. It turned out to be mostly filmmaking related--a few screenplays, a documentary, a T.V. series. I was reinvigorated. I got active again in online filmmaking communities, reworked the "Being" pilot, solicited professional feedback, submitted to some contests, even bought a new camera to replace the one that got stolen.

Perez spins around in his chair, again looking right into the camera.

I'm not sure if any of it will get me anywhere. But I feel closer than ever to something happening. And for the first time in many years, I'm inspired and bubbling with ideas. And actually executing on them.

Perez turns back to his laptop. He clicks back to the BLOGGER WINDOW we saw earlier.

And who knows? Maybe I'll even update this blog on a regular basis.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Screen time

As predicted, the process of turning the extended story of the "Being" TV pilot into a novel has become the process of turning the novel into a screenplay. I'm not a novelist. I don't have the patience (or the skill?) to describe scenes in detail with compelling words, to make characters feel alive and moving through ornately constructed chunks of dialog. My mind conceives of these things visually, hence why -- where fiction is concerned -- I'm most comfortable writing in script format, whether it be for comics, TV or film.

I had finished about four or five chapters of "Being"'s novelization before making the decision to tread the screenplay waters, so little work needed to be done other than reformatting the dialog and action descriptions for those chapters. But it finally occurred to me today that despite having copious notes scattered around my ever-present laptop bag, I didn't actually have a beat sheet, or even outline, for the film (or, the novel, either -- basically, none for the story at all). Sure, I know the major strokes in my head, where the story starts, where it ends, even how the three-act structure kind-of looks. But unlike a different screenplay I'm in the midst of (a completely different type of story, one for an action-drama that is much further along but still unfinished), making progress on individual scenes is getting stalled by my lack of an outline (or even synopsis) to reference.

I know, that seems like a no-brainer. You're thinking as you read this (assuming anyone ever does; I know this blog is mostly for my own indulgence), "Amateur move, writing a script without an outline." But remember: None of this was supposed to happen. I was working on a TV pilot. I had it all wrapped up. I had loglines for future episodes. That was in the can. This, however, was going to unfold more organically (I thought), each chapter of the novel spilling out of my fingers as I drank mocha lattes in my favorite coffee shop, just like the olden days.

Well, that didn't happen, it's now a screenplay (and better off for it), and now I have to draft and outline. I have to know where I'm going. I need a map. Or else I'm going to get lost in the middle of the desert, with no cell reception, watching the vultures circling.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

48 Hour Film Project

I would feel bad about not making progress on my longer-form screenplays/TV scripts, except that the interruption was to co-write/produce/co-direct a short film for this year's 48 Hour Film Project. Enjoy:

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I've been making a lot of art lately, which is kind of strange, because I was supposed to be clearing out room in my brain and schedule to WRITE more. But see, the thing with visual art is that people can recognize "talent" right away. They can't do that with an article or script or whatever. They can't look at a piece of paper with blotches of ink forming letters and say, without reading it, "This is good. This is quality." Whereas they can look at a painting or comic cover or statue and immediately have a reaction.

Thus we have my latest distraction/paying gig: Illustrating a comic strip to be used as a tool for memory research. I know it sounds ludicrous, but that's what it is. A research assistant saw my original comic book art hanging in a gallery, had a positive reaction to it, told his professor, and whammo -- next thing you know, I'm drawing Pacific Northwest Native Americans for nine pages.

It used to be that when I was introduced by a friend to a new person, he or she would say, "This is Pj. He's a writer." Or something to that effect. Now they say, "This is Pj. He makes comics." Or "This is Pj. He ... what the hell do you do again, Peej?" And it's weird. Because I still get paid primarily to write, just words, just words being printed in papers and posted on websites. But people don't see that. They see the visual art. Nothing wrong with that; it's just ... what it is.

I've been thinking about "Being." The longer story, the story beyond the TV pilot that's currently being worked into a novel. I'm not a novelist. I don't read novels. I have no idea how to write a novel. I can write articles or essays, short works up to 5,000 or so words. I can write scripts for plays, comics, movies, etc., things that require little exposition and get right to the heart of a character or scene through the fewest words possible. But I hear reviews of novels on radio interviews and swoon at the authors' abilities to string together words in such meaningful ways, and I realize that maybe I could have done that when I was 17, but at almost 35 my love affair with words is mostly dead. They are now simply tools; a means to an end. Words get the job done, as quickly as possible. What's that, editor, you want 500 words? Bam! There's 500. You need to cut some? They're just words, whatever, that's fine.

So now I'm back on the fence and thinking about reworking the novel back into a screenplay. The story's the same. I just find myself stretching to fill in the space between the characters' breaths. And it FEELS like filler. That's not good. No one is going to want to read that. It makes me realize more than ever that what I do when I write is less writing for the sake of writing, and more writing because it is the mechanism by which I get across my point. By which I tell my story. By which I move you to action. And that means I'm most concerned with the point, the story, the action -- not the fragile and forgettable string of letters standing in their way.