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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I just spent an hour writing a post about The Constant Gardener, which I read as a writing sample a year and a half ago. Then somehow, Blogger swallowed it, and my work has disappeared. Grrr!

I have to get back to my article, but I hopefully will rewrite the post later on today, so stay tuned. And I apologize for the lack of significant posting so far this week!

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Lotsa Progress (Weekend Update)

A good, productive weekend!

I finished up my portion of Hell on Wheels and just sent it off to Michael Lee. I don't feel like its great, and told him to feel free to change anything he wants. I'm not really married to any of it.

It's kind of funny. I totally think we needed to do the strong outline that we did, since we are passing it back and forth and need to be on the same page as to where we're going, and what will get written when. But at the same time, I feel as if the outlining also hurt the script in the short term. It felt like I was almost painting by numbers as I wrote it, just expanding whatever was written on the outline pages. I didn't feel as passionate while writing it as I often do, and part of that might have been a result of having already figured much of it out in advance.

But when I mentioned this to MLee, he came back with a good adage that I think is worth repeating and remembering:

Your first draft is never as bad or as good as you think it is.

Anyway, that's that, and I'm glad to have finished the first 30 pages and gotten the first act over to him. He will revise my work, and then write the next bit. We'll probably meet and review what we've got after he finishes his piece, or maybe between revising mine and the start of his writing.

Also, around the writing I did on HoW, I also wrote and revised a brief essay that I submitted to a local paper. I'm hoping they'll include it in one of their weekly features for their issue around September 11. It is about some of my experiences in NYC during and after that tragic morning. Not film related, but something I had wanted to write for a long time.

And I also did some more work on the article for scr(i)pt magazine. I have to get that done in the next few days, by the end of the month.

So I should be breathing regularly again by Thursday! In the meantime, let me just remind you that you can vote for The Sperm Donor once a day, and that you can use the discount code Expo4Haber for 10% off at the Screenwriting Expo! I hope to see you all there.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Tired of Donating Sperm?

Then why not just vote for The Sperm Donor to win Bravo's Situation: Comedy?

As you're no doubt aware, by now, my friend Mark is one of the two finalists on the show. What you might not know is that voting begins TONIGHT, at 7PM EDT/4PM PDT (I assume it starts simultaneously on the west coast). You're allowed to vote exactly once a day for exactly seven days. So head on over to www.aol.com/situationcomedy and exercise your democratic freedoms! Voting ends next Friday at 11:59 PM EDT.

You can also catch the sixth episode of the series on Bravo this evening!

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Expo Update

We're getting closer to Screenwriting Expo 4, which as you know will have two awesome seminars by some guy named Joel Haber. But now I've got the chance to offer all of you a discount for attending the event! Read on:

Meet me at Screenwriting Expo 4 and receive a 10% discount on your registration.

Screenwriting Expo 4 is back at the Los Angeles Convention Center, November 11-13, 2005, with more than 350 seminars, panel discussions, and guests of honor on screenwriting.

I will be teaching 2 seminars at the Expo:

Verbalizing the Visual, and

Writing to Be Read

A $74.95 registration brings you three days of guest speakers including William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby), David Koepp (War of the Worlds), Ehren Kruger (The Ring), Don Roos (Happy Endings), and Joss Whedon (Serenity).

With over 350 different events, the Expo offers you the chance to tailor your experience to your exact career goals.

The Expo also brings you the CS Open (a $5,000 on-site screenwriting tournament), a discount trade show, and three days of pitch meetings with over 60 top companies.

With registration you'll get 3 full days of guest speakers, producer and agent panels, and a discount trade show. But there is much more than this going on at Expo 4. Download the 48-page catalog of events at www.screenwritingexpo.com.

As a reader of my blog, you can register online at www.screenwritingexpo.com during the next 30 days and use this special code to receive a 10% discount on your registration fee:

Coupon Code: Expo4Haber

It's going to be a great weekend. I hope I'll see you there, either in my seminars or just around.

Joel Haber

P.S. Register before October 15th to receive your free subscription to Creative Screenwriting magazine. Called the "Best Magazine About Screenwriting" by the Los Angeles Times, a subscription to Creative Screenwriting is a $30 value, free with your registration.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Dropping Shorts in LA

I'm talking about the LA International Short Film Festival, of course, what did you think I meant, pervert?

Anyway, my friend Tani is looking for volunteers to help out at the festival, and there's a meeting this Saturday. As volunteers you work a 4-hour shift, starting from 12:30, with the last screening at 10:15. Then you get to attend a screening for free that day or the next day. She needs RSVPs for Saturday, and is also looking for pre-fest volunteers this Friday-Sunday. Here's the info:

Hey everyone,

I am the Volunteer Coordinator for the LA International Short Film Festival (www.lashortsfest.com) taking place at the Arclight from September 6-13.

If you or your friends are interested in meeting great people and viewing films, we are having a volunteer meeting this Saturday morning at 10:00 am at the Arclight.

If you are unable to make it and are still interested in volunteering, please let me know.

I know some of you will be attending, please keep an eye open for me, I will be hosting some of the films and introducing the panel participants.


Tani can be reached at TaniDemain@aol.com.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Choosing a Medium, Well Done

I have a feeling that title will be more clever than this post, but anyway...

I've been a little slow at posting lately (been busy), and I apologize, but I did want to fulfill a promise I teased last week some time. How to determine the correct medium in which to tell your story. No, I'm not talking about Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost vs. a t-shirt that ain't that big. I'm gonna address the big four forms in the lit world (in no particular order): film, TV, stage, and book.

One error I see a lot in amateur scripts is that despite the fact that they are film scripts, they don't feel like films. There are clearly many potential reasons for this. But often it stems from a lack of understanding of what makes a film a film. It's not just that it will be seen on a large screen (though with the increasing importance of the DVD market, even this is becoming less the case). Different types of stories -- and more importantly, different types of storytelling -- work better in the different media. And while film might prove highly lucrative, if your story is better suited to a different medium, it will never succeed as a film (or if it will, you or someone else will need to make major alterations to the way in which it is told).

(By the way, I'd like to mention that I'm focusing primarily on fictional tales here. Frequently, the same non-fiction subjects can be explored in much the same manner in a documentary film, a non-fiction book, and a TV documentary or news program. I have yet to see a documentary play, however.)

Film, by its nature is a visual medium. We all know the famous exhortation that in film we should "show, don't tell." Now of course there will be those who will chime in with, "What about My Dinner with Andre or the bulk of Neil Labute's career?" Well, first off I'll say that I'm focused primarily on mainstream films, rather than experimental indies, such as the former Malle/Gregory/Shawn classic. I'll also say that the talking-much-but-saying-nothing is what I most dislike about Labute's work. His stuff would probably work great in the theater world from which he came, but I think they represent rather poor examples of films, for this exact reason. Where I was intrigued by Andre's subject matter within its conversations, I never felt this way watching a Labute film. Hey, maybe I'm just too boorish to catch some of his subtle subtext or something, but to me his stuff belongs on the stage. Why?

Because stage plays by their very nature create a sense of intimacy, and because they are built on a specific lack of action. In fact, this stems at least in part (I think) from that snarky comment I made earlier. No stage documentaries. When we watch anything on a screen in either a filmed or taped medium, our minds can connect it with reality in a way that they can never do when we watch something on stage. There is a long history of documentary films (in fact, they form the medium's origin), and we've all seen hundreds or thousands of hours of actual events portrayed on the news. I won't even get into reality TV here (for more reasons than one). So when we watch a good fictional film, if it truly absorbs us, the mind has the ability to "forget" that it is fiction and "think" it is processing data from reality. When we watch a stage play, we are sitting in a room with these people who are on the stage, and we can look off to the side and see the curtain and the proscenium. We can spot the wooden stage upon which they stand. Sometimes the set is not designed to mimic reality (recognizing, nay embracing the limitations of the medium and turning them into positively artistic distinctions), and thus we know even more deeply that we are not watching reality.

Thus, without the call to think we are watching reality, and with its obvious physical limitations, a stage play instead focuses on a more incisive look into subject matter. The actors can't move around a lot, and can't do many actions that can be done in real life. So we stay with a particular situation and examine it intensely, often from distinct perspectives.

So what about TV then? Well, hour-long "dramas" (which has become the all-encompassing term for many different types of hour-long shows) actually differ less from films than do sitcoms. Especially with the growth of such action oriented dramas as 24 or Alias. But even within such shows, the focus is much more on the characters, as they develop over the course of a long period of time (heck, Reunion is going to watch them develop over 20 years).

Certainly, however, the distinction is even greater within the sitcom format. Many people forget that the term "sitcom" is a combination of two words: situation comedy (not to be confused with Situation: Comedy, starring my man Mark, though of course that's why it's the show's name). In the old days, sitcoms were all on a single set. Nowadays, they often have a handful, but still a limited number of sets for the show. The comedy stemmed from different situations occurring in these limited spaces. Interspersed with strings of jokes. Thus, much as on stage, the writers were limited by space, and the format became a largely verbal one. Now, many sitcoms (though hopefully not the best ones) are built on jokes that are almost purely verbal, rarely relating to the situations at hand. But even in stronger sitcoms, the laughs usually come from the jokes themselves and the situations are only mildly humorous set-ups for these jokes. Only the more off-beat sitcoms really present scenarios that themselves make us laugh. In my mind, the ones that first spring up are Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons, and The Family Guy, though I'm not saying that's all there are. And you may note that all four have the ability to break the rules and limitations more, either through the use of practical exteriors or animation.

Before I continue, I must add that I am in no way denigrating the skill of writers in other media, nor am I saying that jokes themselves are not funny. I'm merely attempting to delineate the distinctions between the media, and learn from those differences.

Anyway, that leaves us with books, and novels in particular. Well, as I see it, where film is a primarily visual medium and TV and stage are both primarily verbal ones, novels are mainly built on the mental. What I mean by this is that because books have the ability to tell us what people are thinking and how they are feeling, they actually must do so in most cases. The best books get inside the heads of their characters, and teach us things about them that a film, stage play, or TV show would be hard pressed to do. Now of course they too feel no constraints of time or place, just as film doesn't (or barely does). Thus, action can work in a book as well. But what they lack (obviously) is the visual. While an author can describe a scene in great detail, he will still be limited in communicating his view by the reader's ability to understand and his preconceptions. If the author references a specific experience or metaphor, the reader may not understand the metaphor, or his prior experiences might cloud the emotions the author wants to evoke. Of course, this necessary vagueness can often become the birth of art, and an entire school literary criticism focuses on a reader's response to a literary work. Again, this is not meant to be a negative aspect to books as compared to film, but rather a note of distinction.

"But what about all of those literary adaptations on screen?" you may ask. There's a semi-famous maxim which states that Hollywood makes good movies out of bad books. I don't want to get into the discussion of "good" or "bad" books, but I think there is a certain truth in this statement. Books that are less internal are much easier to adapt to the screen, and thus are more frequently into Hollywood movies. Thus, the "bad" epithet here may refer more to these books' embrace of the things that make books unique as a medium. Some best seller type books seem little more than extended treatments for the movies they will later become. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are the good or even great novels that are turned into films. Well, many of those fail for the very reasons the other ones work. The things that made the novels great can never translate effectively to the large screen. And the ones that did work, for the most part, made major changes during the transition. Perhaps the only cases where such changes are not necessary are those in which the book itself has such a sizable enough audience that would prefer to see it translated 100% accurately, though in even those cases, a "faithful" but slightly altered retelling is often warranted.

Whew, this post is already much longer than I anticipated. I'm not even going to go back and reread it, so I hope it's clear. Feel free to ask any questions, if something isn't. Let me also add one more caveat: I come from a Hollywood, mainstream sensibility, and that's what I'm mainly focused on here. Are there exceptions in each of these media? Of course! I'm simply trying to focus on the generic qualities of each one.

Let me end with a oversimplification:

FILM: active, visual
THEATER: verbal, intensely focused
TV: verbal with some visual, more character driven
NOVELS: inner-focused, descriptive with some action

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Weekend Wrap-up

A busy weekend with lots of fun stuff for me. I got some work done on Hell on Wheels, though not as much as I'd like. No surprise there, with the fun going on, but it is what it is. Anyway, the weekend's not over yet -- I still have tonight and tomorrow A.M. (in my book, the weekend lasts until I have to start working). So let me catch you up on a few screenwriting-related things this weekend.

Earlier today, I had lunch with a friend of mine who was visiting from New York City. What does that have to do with screenwriting, you ask? Good question! Watch this sleight of hand. So we went to a restaurant called The Milky Way, which happens to be owned by Steven Spielberg's mother. On our way out, my buddy pointed out a director's chair from the movie War of the Worlds. At which point, I mentioned to him... this new blog. Yep, pro screenwriter Josh Friedman has started "I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing." Among his first posts he has a two-parter about his experiences fighting for (and winning) the co-writing credit he deserved writing WotW. Didn't see that one coming, didja? Okay, I know that anyone popping around the scribosphere already knows about this new blog, but at least I found a fresh way of mentioning it!

Anyway, after a short break following lunch, I made my way over to the Avalon Hotel for the Screenwriter/Blogger Gathering I organized. Was really nice. I think we had 9 or 10 people there. Let's see... Making their appearances were Gary from the Screenwriter's Podcast, Warren from Screenwriting Life, Erik from The Realm of the American Knight along with his friend Ingrid, Bill from Disc/ontent and his producer friend Roy, Emily of E.B. Langton, and Neil from Citizen of the Month. I think that was it, and if I forgot anybody, I'm really sorry! We had lots of interesting conversation, and some fun drinks, etc. Hopefully we'll do this again soon, and get others out. And maybe I'll also arrange a get together for us to meet some of the non-bloggers as well.

Anyhow, back to writing now, and looking forward to getting back to the meat and potatoes blogging soon!

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Titles and Character Names Redux

...or more accurately, "to be Reduxed" (and yes, I know that's not a word).

I'll be getting back to posting in earnest over the next few days, but in the interim, I figured I'd ask your opinions/thoughts/etc. As I mentioned last week, I have an article due for scr(i)pt magazine in which I will be expanding on some of the thoughts I posted about here and here on character names and film titles. So if y'all have any thoughts about these topics, or examples both good and bad, I'd love to hear them in the comments! If you've already commented in previous posts, no need to repeat.

Thanks! And I look forward to hearing your insights, and getting more posts out to you this coming week.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Managing Agents

Still busy with other stuff, but in the interim, I simply had to link to this awesome post by John Rogers, the original (and as far as I know, only) Kung Fu Monkey.

One question that I've heard asked many times, and even heard answered (but never to my satisfaction) is, "What's the difference between an agent and a manager," or more accurately, "What's the benefit (if any) of having both?" Well, John goes into great depth in this post, and I think he illustrates perfectly. Plus it's a fun read, as well!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Lotsa Writing to Do

So just a brief "touching base" post. I have a new post I want to write later today or tomorrow about choosing a medium for your story. But until then, I wanted to update you on the various writing I have scheduled on tap.

I have until the end of this week to get my segment of Hell on Wheels done and over to MLee. I'm about halfway done with my piece, but after a small break I went back to reread the stuff I wrote that I was less than pleased with. Turns out (not surprisingly, since I'm always hard on myself), it wasn't nearly as bad as I felt while I was writing it. Just my emotional demons stepping up to try to derail me (and succeeding). So now I've been back at that, and feeling good.

Then after I get HoW out of my hands, I have an article on Titles and Character Names for scr(i)pt magazine due by the end of the month, and if I have time, also a different article for their webzine. Plus, I'm trying to finish up a short non-screenwriting essay for a local newspaper. It is for their issue around 9/11 abut some of my experiences living in NYC at that fateful time. That's also due by the end of the month, so I'm aiming to do that as well.

At the same time, I don't want to use up those 2 weeks of down time from HoW with all non-script writing. I planned and hope to use that time to work on revising the two other scripts I have that await such work. If I don't get those revised, I won't meet my goal of having all three scripts done around the same time, which is what I'd really like.

So, as usual, I have my work cut out for me! But by telling y'all it helps make it more concrete and makes me feel as if I'm somewhat more beholden to someone other than myself.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pretty Persuasion Update

Just to touch base on the box office from Pretty Persuasion this weekend after my post last Friday...

So, on the one hand, the film only made $58,570 this weekend. BUT, as is the strategy with many indie releases, it opened very small, only appearing on eight screens, for a very respectable $7321 per screen average. By way of comparison, the only film in the top 10 that had a higher per screen average this weekend was the #1 film of the weekend, Four Brothers at $8360. (I've heard great things about this film. Anyone see it this yet?)

Obviously, this is not the only stat that matters in film business -- to be successful the film will need to recoup its costs and then some. But this is a promising opening for an indie release. Since I liked the script so much, I'm hoping the road ahead leads to expanding box office for some time on this release. And if any of you have seen it (I had a busy weekend, but hope to see it soon enough), let us hear what you thought!

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Who You Be?

Taking a page from Warren's book, I thought it might be nice to get to know more of you. My hits and unique visitors have been steadily growing since I started writing this thing back in May (thank you all for that).

So, lacking anything else to post about in brief (I have a lot of writing to do today), I figured I'd open it to all y'all. Drop a comment with your name (or pseudonym if you're feeling secretive), some of your writing background if you have it, where you live, and anything else that seems pertinent. Fave films or genres? Birthday (don't expect presents)? Favorite cut of beef? I don't know, this is your post!

So fill me in!

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Extroverted Writer

If I ever see the stereotypical description of a writer, perhaps prototypically the screenwriter, it usually describes a solitudinous character. Hell, John Scott Lewinski even has a book of secrets for screenwriters entitled Alone in a Room! This may in fact be the most enduring image of the screenwriter: some dude holed up in a room by himself, hammering away at a keyboard (forgive that not-for-the-faint-of-heart link), lights probably dimmed, music likely off.

Who is that guy?! I know it sure as hell ain't me! Okay, I'm being a bit sharp about this. Of course I know that that's the stereotype for a good reason. It is largely true. I know from reading the other blogs in the scribosphere that many of you out there fit that description pretty accurately. And that's cool.

But anyone who has ever met me (or probably even just seen me across a room) knows that I'm about the farthest you can get from introverted. And while I know this can only help me with the business side of screenwriting, down the road, in pitch meetings and such, I wonder if it is more a liability to me as a writer now.

Where an introverted writer sits holed up in his room, typing away, I keep feeling myself pulled out to people and things outside. The introverted writer goes out as well, but by keeping to his or herself somewhat more, they can view the other people from a distance, observing their interactions. I meanwhile dive right in and chat it up, rarely finding that time to sit back and just watch.

And to be honest, I'm not sure I'd want to change it, even if I could. I enjoy interacting with people, even if its at the expense of truly observing them.

But I wonder if (or more correctly how) my writing would differ if I were less of an extrovert. Perhaps I'd be more focused on writing more serious or substantive screenplays, rather than comedic or escapist fare. I wonder if I'd more easily find the ring of truth in my characters' words and actions.

Maybe I just need to find ways to have moments of observation carved into my week. I've often thought of going somewhere where there are many people and just sitting and observing people, listening to their conversation snippets, and taking notes (though I've rarely, if ever, actually done it).

I know I can't be the only extroverted writer out here. You others chime in and let me know how you deal with it, if at all. And do any of you introverts think you'd have it better if you were extroverted? Is this just a "grass is greener" scenario?

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Screenplay Review: Pretty Persuasion

I've been waiting a few weeks to post this, but now that the film is being (platform) released today, figured I could put it up now.

I read this script (draft dated 6/15/04) just a few weeks ago as a writing sample for screenwriter Skander Halim, with a specific project of the company for whom I was reading it in mind. I can't really quote the whole comments page, since it is still recent, and relates to the project, but I will pull out a few lines from my comments, and summarize them as well.

First off, I'm actually somewhat surprised by the less-than-glowing reviews I've read for this film. They've referred to it as unfunny, and an unoriginal film that wants to be seen as similar to films such as Election. While I won't deny there are a few similarities between this film and others, I still felt it was a largely original and well-written piece of work. And truly humorous as well, though darkly so. I can only imagine two possible reasons why the reviews have been so poor: they didn't get it (less likely, since the reviews seem to be somewhat universally weak) or the film got ruined somewhere between script and screen.

This latter possibility happens all too often, and since I have not seen the film, but rather only read the script (notice this is a "Screenplay Review" not a "Film Review"), I cannot speak to this here. And as I will often tell people when they complain about how much crap makes it to the screen these days: "It's pretty easy to make a bad movie from a good script, and almost impossible to make a good one from a bad script."

Anyway, on to my comments, edited down for confidentiality:

Pretty Persuasion is a very well-written film that captures reality with a dark and twisted sense. It offers up its share of humor, and the comedy works well, though in a very bitingly satirical manner. Still, while the screenplay clearly shows Halim to be a talented writer, and one with a handle on realistic humor, it is the script's very dark side that gives some pause. The key issue here is whether Halim can write equally well in a different, lighter style, and still remain entertaining and humorous. Furthermore, the script also suggests some weakness of structure, which may be a greater issue in a more mainstream type of film.

There is no question that Halim is a talented writer. Pretty Persuasion is both humorous, insightful, and moving. It contains complex characters and situations that are simultaneously realistic and heightened enough to be more entertaining than watching a mere slice of life. He does a wonderful job of making his points and getting his messages across, while also writing a film that moves quickly and doesn't get bogged down in exposition. It is a screenplay that is sure to provoke discussion.

Furthermore, Halim's structure in Pretty Persuasion is a bit rough at times. In particular, the introduction and coda both seem too lengthy. While such issues may work adequately in an artsier indie style film such as this one, they may not fly in a more mainstream film.

In case anyone was wondering, I gave Halim a STRONG CONSIDER (more than a CONSIDER but less than a RECOMMEND) as a writer. My point is that he's really written a wonderful script here. While the plot is mildly derivative in parts, overall I think it addresses some serious issues in mature fashion. And I truly meant it when I said that the script is really funny, though darkly so. But many of the script's funnier lines and moments are rather subtle, which may account for some of the reviews. Still, I feel they played realistically (a very difficult brand of humor to sell and make work), and I laughed out loud a few times while reading the script. I'm sure you can imagine how infrequently his happens.

Bottom line: I'd recommend you ignore any negative reviews and go out and see this flick. It is certainly possible that the movie failed while the script worked, and if so, use it as an educational experience! Try to see the written screenplay underlying the film, if need be.


On another note, I just wanted to give an update on the Writers Faire. The schedule is up, and while many of the panels seem a bit more "beginners level," the event still looks good overall. And hey, did I happen to mention that it's free? So I'll probably attend. Let me know if any of you plan to do so as well!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

LA Writer Event

I was going to wait until they got the schedule up (they said August 10, but not yet), but I figured I'd still post about it now, and you can check in yourself. If I find a specific URL for the schedule, I'll update. Anyway...

Last Thursday, I got a postcard in the mail from the UCLA Extension Writers' Program about their upcoming Writers Faire. (Click on "Master Classes, Events [which this is], Awards, and Services" and then "The Writers Faire" under Writers' Program Events.) This is apparently an annual event (though this is the first I've heard of it), will take place on Sunday, September 11th. And best of all, it's free! Sounds pretty cool:

Join us for a festive and enlightening day of free programs on the art and craft of writing -- —and save money on most fall courses. The Writers Faire features mini-classes and panels covering diverse topics in creative writing and screenwriting, hosted by the professional writers who teach for the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. Other Writers Faire highlights include:

  • Register for fall courses and receive a 10-percent discount off most course fees (this day only; excludes advanced and closed courses)
  • Learn about the pros and cons of attending graduate programs in creative writing.
  • Meet and visit with national and community writing organizations and allied businesses

Detailed information about this year'’s Writers Faire, including a schedule of mini-lectures and presenters, will be posted here August 10.

These graduate writing programs, professional organizations, arts collectives, and writing-allied businesses were on hand at last year's Writers Faire.

Antioch University Southern California
Cal Arts
Otis College of Art & Design
Asian American Writers Workshop/Los Angeles
Beyond Baroque
Independent Writers of Southern California
International Black Writers and Artists, Inc.
Organization of Black Screenwriters

Theatre of Hearts/Youth First
UCLA Hammer Museum
West Hollywood Book Fair
World Stage
Writers Guild of America Foundation
Final Draft
Poets & Writers
The Writers Store

Anyone been to this event in the past? Wanna chime in and fill us in? I hope to go, since it seems pretty cool. And as I said, it's FREE! Let me know if you want to meet up or something.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

On Final Drafts

A brief post here, on final drafts and Final Draft.

First, only because I'm writing about Final Draft, I thought about something I saw recently that gave me a laugh. I was covering the manuscript of a new Carl Hiassen kids novel, and on the cover page, at the bottom, he had written: First Final Draft. He knew as well as anybody that it ain't the final draft until the ink has dried on the pages (or in our case, until the light has reacted on the celluloid). Funny.

Now, on to the real purpose of this post. There's been much talk abounding in the scribosphere about Final Draft versus Movie Magic Screenwriter as the preferred program for screenwriters. There have even been some interesting new programs to hit the market, such as celtx. I, however, have always used Final Draft, though I'm still using a woefully outdated version. So for a little while now I've been thinking about an upgrade.

Now I know that I could easily switch to MMS, but I'm just used to FD, and have always been pretty satisfied with it. The reason I want to upgrade is so that I can make use of some of the even better features, and also to ease collaboration. Still, the complaints that everyone has been voicing about FD7, its bugginess, and the poor tech support has gotten me somewhat worried. So I'm thinking, maybe I should just get a copy of FD6. It would still be an upgrade to what I've been using, but from what I hear, people didn't experience quite so many bugs in it.

Thoughts? Anyone know where I can get a copy of FD6, if I should decide to?

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Sunday is for Research

Okay, maybe it's not quite made for it, but that's a good summary of how I spent my day.

As you know, I was feeling a bit less than comfortable with the Western material in Hell on Wheels. So today, Michael Lee and I took a little field trip. See, turns out there's a really cool museum over in Griffith Park: the Museum of the American West, a part of the Autry National Center. It was great. We got to some some excellent examples of Old West artifacts, and took some pictures for reference, as well as got some inspiration for trappings in the film.

Among other things, they have an excellent collection of firearms, mostly from Colt. I learned a lot about the variety and development, plus saw some types of weapons I had never seen or heard of before. Here are a few pictures.

Sorry about any weird formatting, by the way. I'll try to clean that up if need be! Anyway, I thought it was cool the way some weapons were almost crude in their construction, with exposed screws and the like, while others were true works of art. There were also other weapons, such as this Bowie Knife and dagger.

Beyond that, since saloon gambling plays a small part in the film, I came across some old playing cards, and even spent a little bit too much money for an 1864 replica deck.

I also dug this bear claw necklace:

And finally, for fun, here's a dumb picture of me hamming it up behind bars.

Anyway, overall, I learned a lot and we had fun.

But that's not all the research I did today. You may recall that I mentioned that I was also planning to watch a lot more western films as well. One of MLee's faves is Silverado, which I had never seen. So, when I got home tonight, I sat down and watched it.

I must say, it was a solid and fun film with some good characters and color. And again I found a few things to make me feel more at ease with the western material. But at the same time, the film never fully grabbed me. Unlike most of the best westerns I've seen, both old and more recent, this one lacked a really strong dramatic throughline. We never get a feel for what these characters want to achieve in the film. So while it was entertaining, it remained a film that stayed at arm's length, rather than truly pulling me in.

Anyway, I'm hoping this is the start of some good stuff that will make me more comfortable writing the western aspects of this film. Hope you all got a lot of writing done this weekend, and/or got out and had some "real life" fun!

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Anything New Under the Sun?

When Michael Lee and I began discussing our collaboration on Hell on Wheels, one thing we discussed was the subject itself. While I knew there had been almost no vampire western films produced (I was able to dig up one from 1959 called Curse of the Undead but that was it), I also knew that the genre combo alone was not a purely original idea. It had been used in comic books and video games, and I'd heard from many other people that vampire western scripts were always making the rounds in town, though they'd rarely been picked up.

Then, the day that MLee first mentioned the idea of collaborating, I started searching around the web, and found out that literally the week before, Sony Screen Gems had picked up a vampire western called Priest for Sam Raimi to produce through Ghost House. I understandably had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, would another company be interested in making a vampire western when as big a name as Raimi was already planning one? On the flip side, however, was the fact that it proved that there was a market out there for such a script, if it were good enough. And in all honesty, based on the little bit that I've read about Priest's plotline, I truly think our film has a much stronger concept to it. And as I mentioned previously, I feel one of the strengths of how we envision our screenplay is the melding of equal parts western and vamp movie. We're really hoping for HoW to play on the strengths of both genres, which I believe will help make this one stand out.

So we decided to go ahead with it anyway. Even if we find, down the road, that we are unable to sell HoW due to the above mentioned reasons, I still believe it can at the very least, open some doors for us. It will be a great sample, if nothing else, plus it is providing a great learning experience for each of us, in terms of the collaborative process. I still feel this way, even after reading the following in an interview (with Sheila Hanahan Taylor of Practical Pictures, formerly known as Zide/Perry Ent.) that was sent to me by Warren, over at The Screenwriting Life:

The other thing we see a lot of is the horror hybrid genre. So it'’s either vampires in the Old West or werewolves in the Far East. We see hundred of them. I can'’t tell you how many vampires in the Old West I see! Tricky because of the [sic] rules for one genre are tough enough --– splicing them is a challenge.

Okay, so this obviously gave me some pause. I knew they were out there, but I didn't know really how many such scripts were out there. And it got me thinking, is it even possible to come up with a script built on an original premise, and how much does it matter? (Yes, I know I've addressed the issue of originality before, but that was more in terms of the specifics within a script, rather than the concept itself.) Is there truly nothing new under the sun?

Well, in truth, I don't know. I'm not saying you can work in a complete bubble and completely ignore what is going on in the market. This is a business, as I'm sure you're all aware. But still, at some point you just have to write what you want to write and hope that it's good enough to get you to the next point in your career. The erudite (no, I'm not trying to embarrass you; I mean it) Philip Morton recently addressed this issue over at ScreenwriterBones:

You can't worry about it. It's impossible to live as a creative spirit and constantly work from the outside in. You have to work from the inside out.

As he rightfully continued:

Point of it is: every year there are probably four of the same films being developed at every studio. And I mean, the same film. This is the nature of the business, massive companies trying to thread the eye of the needle in what they hope will be their commercial blockbuster. And their eye of the needle is just that - it's quite narrow creatively. So that means - a superhero movie, a cop movie, a killer thriller, a broad teen age comedy, a romance. They're going to develop about four of each of these to try and get one that doesn't suck, so they can pump more money into it than is in most third world countries.

Does Volcano vs. Dante's Peak sound familiar to anyone? Deep Impact or Armageddon? How about competing Columbus movies in 1992? Or the recent race to make an Alexander the Great biopic? It happens even more so in the TV world. When one show becomes a hit, others try to knock it off in similar, yet just different-enough fashion. I'm not going back to check the order of such shows (which aped the other), but you've got Bewitched and I Dream of Genie, The Adams Family and The Munsters, or Dark Angel and Alias.

I urge you to read the rest of that post (and actually to continue reading ScreenwriterBones), because there's a lot of good stuff in there. But as Morton pointed out, when he had a script around town with heat, even though no one picked it up due to similarities to other projects in development, it still led to a lot of other good outcomes for him. That's all I can really hope for with HoW. And it would be a great thing if it did.

The good news is what Sheila Hanahan Taylor said a bit further in that interview:

Everyone swears their idea is unique. The only thing that is usually unique is voice and storytelling --– because we'’ve seen most loglines.

So that's what MLee and I are going to have to focus our energies on! Making the best-told version of Hell on Wheels that we can.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Slipping Into Something More Comfortable

Over at Man Bytes Hollywood, Dave has an excellent post that addresses an issue that nearly all developing writers face. He's recently started a new job that is offering him amazing benefits. Benefits so good that he finds himself looking ahead through his retirement years. But then he writes:

that’s when I felt a pang of . . . not fear, exactly. A pang of comfort. I didn’t know comfort could pang like that. But it scared me. I’m now working for an organization that could potentially take care of my modest needs for the rest of my life, all the way into my old, old age. If I never made that million dollar spec sale, I’d still live comfortably.

There’s that word again. Comfort.

Is it the natural enemy of writing success? Does comfort necessarily lead to complacency? I don’t know. But I suddenly have this feeling that a regular income, paid health benefits, and a nice pension fund ended many more writing careers than we’ll ever really know about.

Now I know a thing or two about this, though if you asked my parents, they'd probably be shocked that I said this. That's because I've never in my life been in a truly financially stable situation. I've always made much less money than the bulk of my friends and acquaintances, and I'm constantly struggling to meet my bill-induced expenses every month. It is not that uncommon to see my bank account dip into the red (though thankfully much less frequently nowadays, with the new part time job).

But I'm happy. Most people that know me would say I'm one of the happiest people they've ever met. I take pride in my happiness. A friend recently told me that he was describing me to someone else to see if they knew who I was. He started describing some of my physical characteristics, and finally this guy who was little more than an acquaintance, if that, responded, "Oh, you mean that really happy guy?" That made me feel good.

But at the same time, that happiness I feel and love also works against me as a writer. (And no, I don't believe that all artists must be miserable and starving.) My happiness is like the "comfort" that David was lamenting or fearing.

You see, I wasn't always like this. When I was in high school, I was a pretty angry kid. Not sad or bitter, but angry. As I'm sure many teens are. And I don't mean I was some stereotypical loner type or something, because I certainly was not that. In fact, I had then, as I am blessed to have now, many many friends. I just mean that I was belligerent and angry, and had a typical Aries' temper. (This, by the way, is something that would not surprise my parents in the least.)

Then in college, I made a fundamental shift in my thinking and attitudes towards life. How and why I made that shift is a different story. Suffice it to say that over time, I basically removed almost all stress from my life. To this day, I rarely get stressed or angry for longer than about 15 minutes. And even that only on occasion.

So now, in my writing as in other areas of my life, I also only rarely feel stress. But this is a bad thing for me. It leads me to complacency and (yes, you guessed it) comfort. I'll ask myself, for example, how I'd feel if I never sold a screenplay in my life. And I very accurately respond that I'd probably find a way to be perfectly happy despite this. And it's true. I know that I can be happy despite nearly any hardship that life throws my way. I'm extrapolating from my past experiences. I mean, I'm sure if my life became really terrible, it would be a lot more difficult for me to find the proverbial silver lining and remain blissful. But I honestly believe I could, and more importantly that I would. It's just the type of person I am (or have become).

You see, I've learned that there's such a thing as "good stress." Stress is not necessarily something to be avoided and/or actively removed. Rather, we must sometimes actively engage the stress because it will spur us to move to better scenarios and growth. Sure, I can look at my life and say, "why change when I'm happy with my life as it is?" I honestly believe that if someone told me I could never write again, I'd even then find a way to be happy. Where David wrote that "If I never made that million dollar spec sale, I’d still live comfortably," my equivalent take would be that I'd still live happily. And I know this is contrary to what most writers will tell you, i.e. write because you have to. For me, writing is just what I'm good at, and that's why I do it. Not great, yet, and that's what I'm working towards, but good. And therefore, I can see myself in life being happy even if I weren't writing. So I obviously can't rely on my inner burning need to write as the driving force to get me to do so.

The more growthful (if that's not a word, it should be) way of approaching the stress is to recognize it as inductive, actively examine the causes of that stress, and making appropriate changes to potentially bring you to an even better and happier state of being.

Ultimately, we as writers must do what so many of the commenters to Dave's post suggested (and they are all worth reading, by the way): take advantage of the good things that come our way and use them as a means to permitting us to write more and better. Rather than just assuming the writing time will come, we must actively search for balance, and fight to protect our writing time and schedule. Embrace the good stress and use it to make us better (and more prolific) writers. And if the good stress isn't readily apparent, maybe we need to sometimes seek it out or even create it artificially.

Write on!

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On Podcasting

In relative terms, I was somewhat behind the curve (or perhaps, as I like to think of it, right in the curve's embrace) when it came to blogging, but were I to jump on the podcasting bandwagon I would still probably be getting started before the trend jumped the shark. (By the way, is it just me, or has the phrase "jumped the shark" already jumped the shark?) Still, I don't really intend to ever present you with "Fun Joel: The Podcast" (just when you thought it was safe to come out...). And I'm about to tell you why.

But first, I must admit that this post is not strictly on the screenwriting topic, and I have been trying to keep this blog focused solely on that. But I believe it relates, as there are a growing number of screenwriting podcasters, and the boundaries between blogs and podcasts are steadily eroding. So first off, let me mention two screenwriting podcasts that I've come across. First, there is "Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood," which I've had included in my blogroll for a little while now. This is an entertaining look at the burgeoning career of a pair of writers who abruptly moved here from the Midwest to pursue their careers. I've also more recently come across Gary Watson's aptly named "Screenwriters Podcast." I have yet to listen to an episode, which is why I have not included it in my blogroll, but a quick perusal of the past shows suggests a truly interesting and helpful collection of interviews.

Okay, now that that bit of business is out of the way, why won't I ever make my own podcast? Well, a few reasons. Firstly, I've never been one to listen to the radio, and particularly not talk radio. If I listen to anything, it's going to be music, and music that I choose to listen to at a given moment. I like to program the soundtrack to my life, not have one thrust upon me. (Link Wray is playing right now, though calendar-wise it would be more appropriate if it were the Dead since Jerry would have turned 63 today.) And I usually listen to things as background while I write or do other things; talk radio (and podcasts) require my attention.

I will only cook foods that I enjoy eating (luckily, that's most foods), because if I don't like them, I won't know how to properly prepare them. I won't know if they taste good or not. So much in the same way, since I don't listen to talk radio, or most podcasts, how could I know if I were making a good one. And why would I want to subject others to my thoughts if I wouldn't listen to them myself? I'd likely read them, which is why I blog, but I wouldn't tune in to my own podcast!

I won't address the time issue, because that's an obvious one. Writing this blog definitely takes me less time than recording a podcast would take me. I'm a perfectionist, and I remember how long it took me when I engaged in the fun hobby of mixing CDs (I mean really mixing them, with MixMeister, not just putting songs into a sequence and burning them).

But there is one other thing that keeps popping into my mind whenever people talk about podcasting. Is this really a new thing, or is it just a new name for a relatively old one? I mean, what really is the big difference between a podcast and an MP3? Okay, so I guess the same could be said about blogs and webpages. They definitely are equivalent in terms of individuals embracing the technology to make and distribute their own content. But still, it does seem a bit odd to me that they've acquired their own name as such.

Maybe I'm just jealous because they remind me that I don't own an iPod, or any of its supposedly inferior equivalents. Anyone who wants to buy me one, though, should feel free to bring it to the Screenwriter/Blogger Gathering!

And since you've stuck around this far, I may as well link you to FOFJ Pauly D's entertaining recent podcast.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

A Formatting Question, and Teasers...

First off, I must apologize for the lack of serious posting this past week. It's been busy for me. But today I received my first real question emailed from the site, so I figured it would form a good segue back into things. Then I'll offer a few teasers of posts I hope to write soon, and another update.

So, John Donald Carlucci wrote to ask me:

How would you handle dialogue between two people when one is on an intercom/walkie-talkie?

Well, you must know by now that I'm not much of a stickler for format for format's sake. To me, the most important thing is that what you're writing is understood clearly by the reader. I don't think that means one should ignore format altogether, but I think when you get into a tricky pickle like this, just do what feels best.

Obviously, one way to do this would be to indicate in your Action element that one character is speaking on a walkie-talkie, and then follow the character cue with (v.o.), which I believe is more accurate here than (o.s.) since the character is not at the same location.

Another option, of course, and as suggested to JDC by Bill Cunningham, you can use "INTERCUT" to move between the two locations. I assume, however, that JDC was asking how to do it when one character was purposely being left unseen.

Anyhow, nothing groundbreaking, I admit, but still worth answering! And by the way, one of these days I'll get around to putting in the CSS code for one of these screenplay formats in my posts.


Next, I wanted to mention that the Screenwriter/Blogger Gathering is on. I've sent out the evite, so if any of you think you should be on it, and didn't receive it, please email me and let me know. I'll hook you up!


Finally, a few hints at what I'll be hopefully posting about soon, some spawned by things I've read on other blogs and want to respond to, and some that are just issues I've been mulling over.

There've been a few recent posts around the blogosphere about the difference between a Protagonist, a main character, and a hero. I've got some things to add to the discussion. Over at Man Bytes Hollywood, Dave is struggling with balancing the burning desire to write with the comfort that comes from a good full-time job. How well I know this struggle! The Thinking Writer also has an interesting post discussing the flaws he encountered regularly as a professional reader. I know them well, and I'll probably add a few more of my own.

I also want to post about pitching and podcasting, original ideas and how I develop ideas, good dialogue and great screenplays, and assorted other topics. If anyone has specific questions, or if any of these topics ring as particularly interesting, let me know!

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