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

Crossroads

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.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sleepy

The Indian food I had for lunch must have been laced with some sort of powerful depressant, because I I can barely keep my eyes open or sit up straight. Maybe it's just been a long week. It's far from over. Have a meeting in a few hours to discuss a freelance illustration project I'm working on, and tomorrow I have to be at a car dealership at 7 a.m. (thanks Toyota recall!), and hopefully out of there before noon to sit for a portrait (not kidding). Then a concert tomorrow night.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Today I submitted the proposal for "Being" to a script contest. I know, I know, script contests are scams and they won't get your work in front of the right people and you're just giving over money you could have spent on coffee to fuel writing your next script. I get it. But the entry fee wasn't more than a typical dinner out, and it's run by a well-established TV writer whose book on writing for television is practically gospel.

But really, entering such a contest was simply something that forced me to get back to work on the pilot script. After my script studies related in the last blog update, I went back through the "Being" pilot, re-examined it, figured out if there were natural act breaks (there were), and tightened it up. I also brainstormed another episode logline, which means I now have at least four episode premises I can expand into future scripts. And, even if I don't win first or any other prize in this contest, I've gotten that much more work done, and possibly made more connections with other people who could be guides in this wondrous world of writing for the screen(s).

And hey, let's remember that the last contest into which I entered the pitch for "Being" resulted in an agent asking me for a script, which is pretty low on the worst outcome scale, even if he didn't think the writing was up to snuff yet. I'm hoping this latest iteration proves otherwise.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pilot season

Yesterday, I was looking for some inspiration to tighten up my own scripts, and did a little perusal around the Daily Script archive. I ended up reading the pilot scripts for The West Wing and How I Met Your Mother in their entirety, and aside from being quite amused by the little changes made between draft and shooting scripts, something else occurred to me: These were damn good reads.

I know that's obvious. We're talking about an acclaimed Aaron Sorkin joint on one hand, and a Bays/Thomas piece that's become one of the more popular sitcoms of the last half-decade. But it's amazing how well these flow, even with sometimes inscrutable teleplay format, and especially in the case of the HIMYM script, how much I found myself laughing without the aid of witty, attractive actors reading the lines.

It also made me think about how I'm still not entirely pleased with the tone of the "Being" pilot script. It ends on a pretty serious note, which wouldn't bother me so much if I thought it was otherwise up to snuff. I conceived it being a drama with dry comedic highlights, such as Californication or Entourage. But it's definitely not network-friendly right now, if I were to pitch it that direction. I don't have act breaks, it doesn't sit well into either the drama or comedy categories, and while it is rife with conflicts, it doesn't have a central obstacle for the protagonist to overcome.

Then again, it's a pilot. It's setting up the conflict for the series. It's introducing the key players. It's welcoming viewers to this world, hoping to interest them enough to come back week after week.

I recently created a "bible" for a new comic book series I'm developing. That's something I've never done before -- put so much planning into a project before launching it. And creating the bible, delving into all of the main characters' back stories and synthesizing the series concept into just a few sentences, it all really helped not only hone the idea, but also provide a map of where to go from there. Maybe I need to do the same thing with this TV proposal.