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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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Another Ending in Sight

Warning: Lengthy post!

Spring is typically seen as the season of rebirth, and new things. But following my recent ending to the search for information on a certain producer who was getting a number of hits on my blog, I now have yet another ending in sight:

The first draft of Hell on Wheels!

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while (or who is savvy enough to search through the archives) knows that this has taken me a ridiculously and foolishly long time to finish. But first a brief recap of me and HoW to date. And so you regular readers don't get bored by this, I'll go into a bit more detail about a few things along the way.

The origins of the idea for HoW came when I was doing a reading job for pay. No, I didn't steal someone else's idea (I assure you). I was reading a book about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, deciding if the company should adapt it into a movie. I previously knew very little about the railroad, and though I didn't think the book would make for an excellent movie in itself, I was fascinated by many of the little things I learned along the way.

One of those things was that it was during this time that the term "Hell on Wheels" was coined. As it turns out, the Transcontinental Railroad was built from opposite ends (and not even stretching the whole country, but rather connecting to pre-existing railroads for the rest), and meeting in the middle. The Central Pacific moved eastward from Sacramento, and through Nevada, while the Union Pacific moved westward from Omaha, through Nebraska and Wyoming. The two railroads met in northern Utah.

But the two railways were being paid by the government based on the amount of track they laid, so it became something of a race between the two. As the UP raced westward (the CP moved more slowly, going through mountains), they would set up a base camp at track's end, and it would stay there for a few months until the tracks were extended another hundred miles or so. Then the camp would pack up, move down the tracks, and set up again.

To separate the rail workers from the money they earned, temporary towns sprung up right outside the base camps. These were basically built of tents and shacks, and that's it, and primarily supplied the men with booze and women. Since these towns were temporary, they never really had any police, and became completely lawless, at times experiencing literally a murder a night. Hence the name applied to these towns, Hell on Wheels.

After reading about this, it occurred to me what a great setting for a movie this would be, and since these towns really came to life (no pun intended) at night, the idea of setting a vampire western in that setting popped into my head. I mentioned the idea once in my writing group, and it was then that my buddy and fellow writing group member Michael Lee Barlin approached me about collaborating on it. He liked the idea and was interested in exploring a writing partnership.

Now, when I told the group the idea for the movie, I was already hesitant to write it, knowing that vampire westerns were kind of a joke around town. Even though I liked the story idea I had, I still was concerned. But I was also interested in trying a collaboration, since I hadn't done that before, and finding a friend who was enthusiastic about my idea offered a good opening for me to explore that. So I figured that even if the script didn't go anywhere (due to its concept's joke status), I'd hopefully improve my writing, explore the art of collaborative writing and ideally have a good writing sample (though I recognized the potential issues of it being a writing sample for both of us).

So that was that. We started writing, as I've previously described our collaborative method. We also eventually dissolved the partnership, due primarily to scheduling issues. We agreed to split story credit (because he certainly contributed significantly in that area), and I would maintain complete "Written By" credit. And though I had initially had hesitance about writing this property, my life and writing career were already too littered with projects begun and never completed, so I decided to finish the script on my own. Plus, I enjoy it, and think it still could be a decent sample, even if its chances of selling are somewhat limited for the aforementioned reasons. So I soldiered on.

Somewhat. More accurately, I attempted to, but as too often is the case, life interfered. I was finding that I never had the time or energy to dedicate to my writing because, as a full-time freelancer, I was always using my hustle just to get enough work to make a living. And I didn't mind being poor if it was allowing me to do what I wanted to do, but since I wasn't able to do that, what was the point? So as I've also discussed previously, that realization (in conjunction with my turning 35) made me decide it was time to make some major life changes.

I took a full time job (basically my first "real job"). A job that uses my skills but doesn't really drain my creativity (I write, but it isn't particularly creative writing). A job that pays decently (nothing amazing, but relative to what I'd made previously, it was a ton) and has really good benefits (e.g. free in-house massage therapy). And a job with regular hours and little stress, so that my time out of the office is actually my own. With that time, I could continue doing some freelancing, but also refocus on my screenwriting (and specifically on Hell on Wheels).

So, although there had been a large time gap in my actively writing, due to a job search, etc., I was looking forward to getting back to the grindstone. But of course, the first few months at the job were spent acclimating to a new schedule and lifestyle, so still very little writing. Then I was ready to get started again, and right then, my laptop died. Ugh. I lost a lot of information, including about 15 pages of the script (I had backed it up, but not the most current version). Another month passes, and I finally get a brand new laptop (which I'm quite pleased with, by the way). Finally, I was ready to buckle down and write again.

And I did, somewhat. Slowly, I was working the writing back into my schedule, along with many other things that had been shunted aside when I started the job. Gradually, I added more things back in, slowly finding balance between the various areas of my life. But I was still not writing as much as I wanted to or needed to. Whenever people would ask me how the writing was going, I would tell them I was writing more than I had been, but less than I wanted to be.

Interestingly, I was encountering a strange problem. Though I was so close to the end of my draft (basically, just the third act left), I was finding the writing slow going. Almost plodding. Part of it, I think, was that following such a big gap in active writing, it was hard to get the passion up again. Also, I think that with so little left to write, and seeing the end so close, it was also hard to get moving. It was almost as if I would have to stop so soon, so why start?

I know this all might seem a bit odd, but I'm trying to get into the psychology of writing and/or procrastination a bit. Maybe this can be instructive, and I also want to talk about what I did to get past it.

I knew that things weren't working as well as they should, so there were two things I did. Firstly, I started sitting down on Sunday night or Monday morning and planning out my upcoming week. I am not able to have a set schedule for each week (and I actually prefer not to have one). But I know that I need to carve out protected time for writing. It doesn't have to be the same segments of time each week, but they do need to be scheduled. So now I'm aiming to find 3-5 sessions a week. If possible down the road, I can up it to more, but just that basic amount will be a huge step for me if I can make it concrete and steady.

More importantly, though, I decided to use a device to bypass the avoidance. I knew that a lot of procrastination is in the head, so at least for the final push to completion, I wanted to bypass the head as much as possible. Essentially, I wanted to rely on the outline I had already developed. So while I had already created a relatively detailed outline (with Michael Lee's collaboration), I decided to get even more detailed.

I went through the final portion of my outline, and made an even more detailed outline, which was literally a beat-by-beat sheet, with almost every detail. That way, every time I sat down to write, I didn't have to think about what I was writing. I could just execute whatever I had planned out.

And it worked. Now I go through about 2 pages an hour, which is a pretty decent pace. I'm not saying everything I'm pumping out is high quality, but it is a first draft after all. It ain't supposed to be perfect. I'm going to do a quick polish/brush-up as I normally would before I give it to my writing group for feedback. But I'm happy that I found a way to push through the blocks.

Now don't get me wrong. This is not a major celebration, because this script is still far from complete. This is very much a first draft. But I'm still happy with this small step.

Lastly, this is the plan moving forward (to add a little more accountability). Finish this draft by the end of the week. Get it to my group for feedback. While I await/gather the feedback, and let the notes gestate, I plan to return to the straight-to-vid, low-budget type horror script that I wrote previously. I owe it one good solid rewrite, hopefully not for more than a month of writing time. After that, I revise Hell on Wheels, with hopefully not more than one more draft (but we'll see). Then, use both to try to get some representation, and/or try to sell one or the other.

And my next script that I want to write is a wedding themed comedy, in the vein of My Best Friend's Wedding or Monster-in-Law. Wish me luck! :-)

[Oh, and yes, as MaryAn pointed out in the comments of my last post, you are seeing right in that picture up above. I cut my hair short, after 9-12 years (I forget exactly how long it had been). Surprise!]



Blogger shecanfilmit said...

Good to hear you're back in at the typewriter, and I like the hair.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hey Joel,

Good luck. Keep it going.

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Leif Smart said...

Congrats Joel, good to see you're making progress in your writing. Though maybe we had lost you the the 9-5 world! 8)

Can't wait to hear more about Hell on Wheels, maybe even see it!

Keep it up.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Chris (ukscriptwriter) said...

Welcome back,

I'm looking forward to the increased activity here as this is one of the better blogs out there when posting is rife.

Oh, and the haircut: It makes you look like a person from my home town that I don't get on with; but I won't hold it against you :)

10:02 AM  

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