25 November 2005

Illusory Procrastination

“I'm searching for marbles all day long!”
-- Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon), in MR. ROBERTS

I have a Pulver-esque quality, sometimes. I give the appearance of being distracted, of not being focused, or not actually committing fully to some project, when in fact I am deeply committed and engaged in an internal manner than does not lend itself to easy or quick recognition.

Surely there’s a great deal of self-serving nonsense to that, but equally surely there is a faint stink of truth to it, as well. Usually, when I am truly interested in a project, I will spend a great deal of time just mulling the project in my head, circling it slowly from all possible angles using my mental camera, looking for every conceivable point where problems might lurk, or where elegant potential solutions and improvements might be sleeping unnoticed. I hate rushing into any important project, consumed by the childish need to “do something” rather than think things through, and then look up and realize that I’ve wasted a great deal of energy and opportunity because I failed to recognize some critical factor which became obvious only in hindsight.

I once remember hearing a big-name pro screenwriter (no name-dropping today) casually mutter “I always delay writing. I try to avoid writing for as long as possible, because II’d rather make sure that once I start that I actually have a decent idea of what I’m supposed to be writing.”

I chuckled aloud, as that was the first time I can recall hearing someone else articulate pretty much my exact take on the situation. Yes, there is a joy to be had in just slinging words (witness the popularity of these damnable “blogs”), but when you are actually trying to “get somewhere” with your writing — telling a story for specific purpose and effect... for possible financial gain... — it seems worth the time and trouble to make sure you understand what the hell you are trying to do.

So for now, the new Rom-Com seems to languish. I have 30 ragged pages scribbled into the WP program, and I know that at least 30% of that will be tossed aside like fishguts, but I can’t quite bring myself to even try adding more actual pages just yet. I like what I have so far — the beginning and the ending — but these portions always seem clear in my head at this stage. It’s that damned “middle” which always poses a real problem.

Which of course is kind of like building a bridge over a river, and saying “well, the approach ramps are done, so all that’s left is the part that crosses water.”

Riiiigghhht...

So for now I tote around a reporter’s notepad into which I scribble lots of odd notes and random ideas about such issues as “theme” and “questions” and “why?” and I list “cool scenes” and “clich├ęs I hate” and “scenes to avoid” and “cool ideas” and all sorts of odd bits of mental fluff.

Between FADE IN and FADE OUT, nothing seems to be happening. But between the ears... "my mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”

Hell, sounds good, anyway.
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22 November 2005

Slow-going through familiar lands...

So I’m starting work on a new Rom-Com, one which I hope (or, HAD hoped...) to have read-ready by the end of the year.

I’m probably going to have to push back the deadline.

It’s not that I’m not excited by this project, because I am. A great deal, in fact. It feels really nice to be back on more familiar ground after the last two screenplay projects took me into unfamiliar waters.

Last spring I knuckled down and wrote a war drama which had been nagging and gnawing at me. The project was a rather odd departure for me in terms of tone and setting. I’m not normally a big historical drama kind of guy, preferring instead to stick to contemporary smart asses and their stories (no — really). So finding myself spending months working in a mind-space where I was not supposed to be humorous, and where I knew there was going to be a lot of death and suffering (”war story,” remember?) was... well, different. Not bad, but just... different.

After that I sorta fell into an interesting situation where I spent the summer partnering with a writer who had a great premise and a great contact with a development exec eager to see a script using this premise, so we held hands and bull-rushed our way from “hi, glad to meet you” to submit-ready fourth draft in about 6 weeks.

There the weirdness was not the tone so much — I got to write funny again, and I created a character who, by many accounts, is maybe the most autobiographical character I’ve yet committed to paper — but the weirdness of having another person “at the keyboard” with me. A co-writer with equal control over what is said (or not) and what happens (or not) and what gets played up (or not) is a very different experience for someone who’s never had such an arrangement.

Not bad, but just... different.

While I am very proud of the work on both of these projects, and feel they might very well rate serious attention from actual movie folks, both seemed just a tiny bit “off” for me for being outside my normal comfort zone. Perhaps that’s a good thing — perhaps it’s good to try new things, and work in situations and genres and conditions which force you to pay a little more attention rather than sleepwalking through on comfortable familiar auto-pilot. But sometimes it’s a good thing to be able to step into a situation where you can just smile and say “OK, I know this stuff. Were you don’t have to think so much, but can instead just be and do.

Which is where I am now, ‘cept I can’t find enough time to be and do as much or as often as I’d like.

Oh well.

Onwards.
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19 November 2005

Brett hates this title

Recently I've seen a few different blogs mentioning an amusing variation of the now-classic "vanity Google." Instead of merely Googling up your name to see what oddly off-topic references you can find, you enter a search string such as "Brett wants" or "Brett needs," and then you kick back and revel in the high-larity of the first dozen or so mostly random nonsensical returns Google tosses your way.

Being the nasty evil bastardly soul that I am, I of course decided to Google up "Brett hates" just to see what I might find:

Brett hates name dropping so we won’t mention his stints on Law and Order, Comedy Central ...
Scary how true this one is. Yes, I'm am beloved the world over for my brief yet memorable stint as "The Whacky Neighbor" on a slew of mid-90's TV shows.

Brett hates Dutch now because Dutch totally fucked him over in some kind of ...
But the Dutch are nothing compared to those dirty thieving Belgians (or "sprouts", as I prefer to call them).

Brett hates emo, and emo fags, as do the other members of his band. He is an artist. He destroys Dan at art ...
And I am here to tell you that Dan is none too happy at this state of affairs.

Brett hates it ...
I like this one. "What do you hate?" "Oh, I dunno — whaddya got?" Somehow both vague and specific at the same time.

Brett hates it when I remind him that I changed his diapers ...
"And who doesn't"?

Brett hates Microsoft, everyone knows that :) ...
OK, this one might have actually been referring to me as opposed to some other mysterious Dutch-hating Dan-destroying dude by the same name...

Brett hates you obviously. Go change. I'm not taking you anywhere with that shirt ...
Seriously — have you seen the shirt>? Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef wouldn't try the thing on, saying it seemed "a bit much, don;t you think?" 'Nuff fuckin' said, bubba.

Brett hates George's cut of the film ...
George is a hack. George has no eye. George could find the narrative heart of the story if he had a compass, a birddog, a funnel, and trail of bread crumbs. George watches lots of mid-60s Russian sci-fi. George is not a man you would leave your children with. George is not a man you would leave your goldfish with. George is not a man you feel entirely comfortable leaving George with. But George has an editing rig, and he works cheap. So we will work with George as best we can.

Brett hates me which is probably good but so do some of his friends ...
This one started so well, too. The idea that antipathy from me might be viewed as an absolute positive... somehow that makes me feel warm and gooey all over. But then they go and bugger it up by suggesting that I have friends, and I've never been a huge fan of fantasy fiction.

Brett hates this, Brett thinks this is boring, Brett can't wait until this is over, Brett hates his room, Brett hates the food, Brett likes the bar ...
*DING DING DING* We have a winner. For most of this line it seems as though Brett hates a great deal (hey — "cest moi," n'est-ce pas?), but just when you think it's all going to be dark and gloomful, BLAMMO here comes that tiny glimmer of joyful hope to help give the dark something to contrast against: "Brett likes the bar."

Damned straight, skippy.

Set 'em up, Joe, and play "Walkin' The Floor."
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13 November 2005

Perspective Sucks

I mean, it's not like I have any damned fool delusions that this silly blog is read by more than one or perhaps two people worldwide. There are some six [dr_evil] BILLION [/dr_evil] hairless monkeys padding around this planet, and I can't capture and hold the attention of even enough to field a basketball squad.

That's cool. I can handle that.

But dammit, this is just cruel:



Putting an actual price tag on my blog and showing me in coldly ruthless business terms just how useless and value-free this puddle of verbiage truly is... well, that's like your grandmother patting you on the knee and saying "you know, I'll always love you, but let's be honest — you really are one stupid boring ugly motherfucker."

Some truths are just hard to swallow, you know?
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11 November 2005

On Approaching The Verge Of The Brink

It's a funny thing when you suddenly look up and realize that you are fully engaged in your life.

Once upon a time I felt connected to fifty different things at once. I had dreams and schemes and projects and plans stretching to the horizon in every direction, but a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the rainbow: life.

Suddenly and without even realizing it, all those half-pursued dreams and unlaunched schemes were rolled up and stored away, tucked into odd dusty unvisited corners of my mind. Eventually, many of these odd dreams died natural deaths as time closed off doors which had once seemed so wide and inviting ("astronaut", anyone?). Other dreams were made irrelevant by changes in circumstance and interest. Others were simply misplaced, forgotten, lost in the clutter of a thousand other competing concerns. But some — that special few which were always the most heartfelt and closely held set of dreams — just waited.

Then a few years back I stubbed my psychic toe hard enough to wake me from my sleepwalking, and when I looked around and took stock of where I was and where I was headed and what I'd been up to, I initially depressed, but then I got angry. I mean, furiously violently raging mad, because time is too precious to waste doing nothing.

It would be easy (and disgustingly typical) to serve up a laundry list of the Usual Suspects to justify and rationalize this decade of distraction — kids, marriage, money, etc etc etc — but ultimately such a list would be just one more load of self-aggrandizing bullshit. "Living your life" is your primary duty as a human being, and either you do the job (and well), or you don't. Find a way — make a way. Period. Ducking blame for your inability to get the job done — your refusal to even try — seems one of the most despicable forms of cowardice available without prescription.

Fast forward to today, and I look around and realize that I have three huge writing projects at various stages of critical development: a very good completed screenplay that I need to buff one last final time and then start seriously marketing to managers and prodcos and such; another very good completed screenplay which needs a last tweak here and there before I start the same marketing push on its behalf; and a very exciting idea for a rom-com to be handed directly to a cool producer I met in Austin (and who I somehow managed to impress rather than piss off). Any one of the three seems potentially the one that will spark The Big Break, and when I look at all three lined up side by side, I can't help but feel pretty damned optimistic that surely something of diary-grade import is about to happen in the coming months.

So is everything in my life suddenly a boundless field of Pollyanna blossoms? Hardly, but there's nothing wrong with being objectively proud of your situation. Yeah, I could stand to make some more money, and Lord knows I could stand to drop a few pounds and get some exercise on a more consistent basis, but overall, what complaints I might make are laughably trivial. I have four beautiful healthy insanely cool kids. I have a wife whom I adore as much today as at any point in my life, and she still suffers from the same convenient dementia that lets her think I'm somehow a pleasant and useful guy with whom to grow old and decrepit. There's food on the table, milk in the fridge. We live in a nice home, in a nice area which prompts no complaints more serious than "things are often a little dull round here."

Things are pretty good right now, but what's exciting is the feeling — the creepily sure understanding — that things are going to get a whole lot better sometime not so far ahead. I know this, and I can see glimmers and hints of how this is going to go down, and all it takes is for me to stay one focused steely-eyed missile man.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage...

Or, to quote Saint Al of Bundy, "Let's rock."
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08 November 2005

Vacuuming Before Finals

“So what made you decide to start blogging after years of claiming that it was a pointless self-absorbed waste of time, effort, and energy?”

Simple. I finally have a project that I really really ought to be totally focusing upon, so naturally I flail about looking for the worst possible distraction. The project — “Untitled Romantic Comedy” listed atop the Current Projects list in the sidebar — is something which seems right up my alley, is something connected to some very cool and connected people, and is something which, if I would just shut up and focus, seems the sort of thing which might actually be The Big Break you always dream about as a screenwriter and complain about not being able to find.

So of course I look for something else to do, something totally pointless and, to anyone with any perspective at all, something totally lunatic and off-task.

Do you like the new progress bars on the sidebar?

Yeah, like that sort of thing. I spent 90 minutes tweaking code on that trying to figure out how and why those work, and they finally look almost — almost — exactly like what I’d wish for if I were the sad sort to spend time making about blogs. If I only fritter away a few more hours, I’m sure I can have them even closer to perfect, and that way I can turn in to bed tonight with the security blanket comfort of having a very Good Excuse for having not done a damned thing to move the Untitled Romantic Comedy a few more words or ‘graphs or pages toward some sort of completion.

I badly want/need/hope to get a readable draft of the new rom-com done within the next few weeks. I love the characters, I love the premise, I love the setting, I love the first and final moments (which I’ve already written, a weird work habit I’ve developed over the years, kinda like a kid bounding the outside edges of a coloring book drawing first, then going crazy to fill in the rest with ham-fisted glee). What the project needs is a really tight outline, and that takes focus and effort, things I seem far more eager to devote to things like sorting the spice rack and organizing the DVR playlist and counting my socks and undies and boxing yard decorations according to specific holiday.

This does not seem a very good way to get this golden opportunity rom-com project completed, read, optioned, and sold in short order.

But dammit, I know I can get those progress bars looking even cooler if I just tweak the CSS code a bit more....
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03 November 2005

Let The Pigeons Loose

"One of the hallmarks of a truly advanced intelligence is the ability to reverse course on any previously uttered position or belief."

I've always loved that line, as it seems to both identify and criticize one of my most heartfelt complaints about people: that they refuse to think. It's one thing to claim some belief or opinion based upon next to nothing—to merely roll the dice and claim something as "what you believe." It's another to do the research and develop an informed opinion. But it's still something else to do the research, come to a conclusion, and THEN, at some point farther down the line, re-examine that earlier work to see if perhaps there was a flaw in the calculations, or if perhaps conditions have changed such that the original premise and conclusion no longer have relevance.

Plus, let's be honest, sometimes it's really damned convenient to be able to pull a Bat Turn and do an instant 180-degree turn for no reason beyond childish amusement.

Such is my take with blogs, at least, it is today.

For years, I have scratched my head wondering what the hell the big attraction of this whole "blogging" thing is. Harsh though this might be for some to accept, most people can't write for shit, and most people can't tell a good story for shit, and the overlap of the two minorities who CAN both write and tell a story seems like such a specialized subset that people falling into this camp ought to rate some special label (which of course they do: "writer geeks").

I have friends who blog (and well), and I see a few strangers and civilians who manage the trick, but let's be honest, gang—the vast vast majority of blog sites out there have no real reason for being. They make their hosts feel happy and creative, and maybe the three or four semi-regular readers of these sites will claim (with a touch too much vehemence) that they LOVE this person's writing, but in truth you could probably demonstrate the old 90% Axiom ("90% of everything is crap") by culling any random 90% of the blog sites from existence. It might be amusing to actually do this, if only to watch 90% of the remaining 10% of those blog sites re-dedicate themselves to excoriating the Liberal Elite/Right Wing Moralists/Brain Dead Centrists who are secretly behind this great culling.

So what have we got? A few truths:

1) I've never been a big fan of blogging
2) most blogging is a pointless self-absorbed waste of time
3) few decent people care much about what gets said on any blog
and
4) I tend to drop into far too many parenthetical sub-references

Therefore, I have decided to dabble in blogging.

If you do not have pigeons to release, we can wait a few minutes while you rush to the local pigeon store, as I'm sure there are crowds of people hoping to be part of the big celebration at this news.

I reserve the right to again reverse course and return to the previous/original line of claiming that blogs are a pointless waste of time, but then, such is a hallmark of higher intelligence.

And, yes -- that line quoted above was mine. So apparently I already have the "self-absorbed" part of this game down cold.