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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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Okay, not my actual birthday. But yesterday was my third "bloggerversary!" Yep, I staked out this small, warm, welcoming piece of virtual real estate just over three years ago. It has had its ups and downs over the years, but I think this is a good point at which to look back, assess, report on things, and take stock. Think of it as a "State of the Blog Address."

First of all, I must give a huge thank you to all of you for reading. Like the proverbial tree falling in the empty forest, this blog would be a worthless exercise in vanity and futility if it weren't for all of you (yes, I realize that ended up as a somewhat ineffectual mixed metaphor -- tough). So I honestly thank you from the depths of my heart, and hope that you enjoy, learn and most of all -- return!

Let me get into some stats. In the three years since I began the blog, I have written 384 posts (this is my 385th). So I guess that averages out to approximately one every 2.85 days or so. Not too bad, considering the times when I've gone long periods without posting at all. Over that span of time, I've received somewhere above 130,000 pageloads, which is pretty cool in my book.

What kinds of posts were they? many of these numbers will be approximate, based on how you define the categories. But I've written 51 posts that were reviews of movies, DVDs, or screenplays (e.g. my FFFJ posts), including 4 quasi-reviews in which I offer my opinions on films I haven't even seen! 60 posts address the craft of screenwriting while 65 focus on the business of film and screenwriting in particular. And 48 have focused on the specifics of my screenwriting -- the safari script, Hell on Wheels, my effort at collaboration, my struggles with maintaining schedules, or my "process" in general. The other 160 posts I'd classify as miscellaneous. Writing-related memes, announcements about events of interest, links to blogs or other things around the web, 2 spoof fake news stories, etc.

And what of those gaps in posting that I mentioned? At least 11 posts included an apology for not posting in a long time! The first year, I posted very regularly, with few gaps. I also posted far more times than either the second or third year. In year one, I published 237 posts. The second year saw me take a full-time job, which greatly affected my schedule and time to post (not to mention my exposure to screenplays and the number of ideas I had for posts). Thus, over the second year, I only posted 61 times. That year also saw my first extended gap in posting, nearly a month from mid August to mid September 2006. Two more 3-week gaps followed during the winter that followed.

Year Three was better than Year Two. I posted 86 times (still not a ton), and also experienced 3 large gaps in posting. But at least two of them were what I would term more "acceptable." The first was a month long, in September/October, but that was while I was in Africa doing research for the script I was hired to write. And there was also a nearly 2 month long break that just recently ended, but that one was while I was deeply engrossed in actually writing the first draft of that script. So I consider both "excusable" and also beneficial since they gave me more knowledge about screenwriting, more experiences, and more insight -- all of which find their way into the blog itself. (The third gap of the year was about 3 weeks long in Dec/Jan. I was also traveling during that period, so it may be understandable, even if not screenwriting-related.)

Year Three also saw a big step in the evolution of this blog. When I started the blog, I wanted to help people who were earlier in their career paths than I was. I saw that I was sort of "on the cusp" of advancing my career, and though there was definitely traction before then, this past year saw the first big step forward for me since then. I got an assignment to write a screenplay for an independent production company, and officially became a professional screenwriter. That development has added a new dimension to the types of posts I've written, with greater attention paid to the business and my experiences in this first pro gig. I truly hope they've been helpful and enlightening to some of you, and/or that they will be to future readers.

I've always been proud to be one of the earlier members of the so-called Scribosphere -- the corner of the extended blogosphere to focus on screenwriting. I don't know exactly, but I'd guess I was among the first 10-20 members. Now there are well over 100, and possibly even 2-300 (or more). I've seen many wonderful blogs come, and unfortunately a few go as well (including some of those that I particularly enjoyed). I've always been honored by anyone who links to me (which is why I always thank anyone who does, as soon as I notice the link), and have felt a certain amount of responsibility as one of those early adopters. It is for that reason that I feel a certain amount of guilt whenever my posting slows. Hence the exposition above about number of posts, and periods of non-posting.

It is also the reason that I've kept my blog so focused, posting almost exclusively on screenwriting and film. I know that I might be able to get more hits if my blog had broader content. But I feel that the message would be watered down somewhat. Thus, I hope it is that focus that brings you, my core readers, back -- even after my long gaps in posting.

So in the end, thank you all for reading over all these years. I was just talking last night to a few other screenwriting bloggers and marveled about all the wonderful people I met due to this blog. People I never would have met otherwise. To me, writing is about connecting with people and communicating with them. Just as I hope to do with my screenwriting, this blog allows me to do the same. I look forward to posting more Q&A posts in the future (I have 4 or 5 waiting to be answered), and furthering that connection in the year(s) ahead!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Few Things I Forgot

There were a few things I wanted to include in recent posts, but forgot about when I wrote them. I'll blame it on the fact that during that two-month gap in posting, another birthday passed for me!

Anyway... Firstly, in yesterday's post about my friends' projects, there was one other that I neglected to include, but meant to. My friend Alisa Katz spent the winter in Europe, as Associate Producer on Defiance, Ed Zwick's new film. The film has not yet been released, but its trailer has, and the film looks good. It is set during the Holocaust, but the story is different from any other Holocaust film. I wanted to let you all know about it, so you could go check out the trailer!

Also, in my post in which I updated the info on the Untitled Safari Picture, I wanted to talk about research briefly. I've done a ton of research on this project, and have learned a tremendous amount about various types of big game animals, their behavioral characteristics, etc. I've read many books, numerous articles (both academic and popular), and of course observed some things on my trip. But one of the key aspects to putting some puzzle pieces together was speaking to experts in the field.

The reason I mention this here is that I wanted to underscore for some of you who have never tried it: speaking to experts is a very good source of information. Most people are willing to and happy to speak to you about their work, at least briefly. I've done it multiple times on previous projects, and have spoken to true world leaders in their fields. Sometimes, if they were found locally, it cost me coffee or sushi, but then I got to meet them in person. More frequently, however, people were happy and kind enough to just answer some questions via email.

Partially to indicate how easy and useful a research this is, partially to express my gratitude towards them, and partially to highlight (in a few cases) some worthwhile organizations, I want to list the people who helped me (to greater or lesser degree) with my research for this project. The film has ended up being largely (though not exclusively) focused on elephants, so all of these people are experts in some aspect of elephant behavior.

Dr. Bruce A. Schulte - Georgia Southern University
Dr. James Peddie, D.V.M.
Charlie Sammut - Vision Quest Ranch/EARS (Elephants of Africa Rescue Society)
Julien Marchais/Sandi Groves - Living With Elephants
Dr. Julian T. Fennessy - AfESG/IUCN (African Elephant Specialist Group/International Union for Conservation of Nature)
Dr. Loki Osborn - Elephant Pepper Development Trust
Prof. Rob Slotow - University of KwaZulu-Natal
Audrey Delsink - Makalali Private Game Reserve
Prof. Henk Bertschinger - University of Pretoria

Let me also add that I didn't contact all of these people directly. Many of them referred me to others, or even CC'd another expert in their response to me. In particular, it was quite interesting for me to watch the last three on the list, as they passed my email between them, and each commented on a different bit of the question I asked them. It was like I was sitting in a room surrounded by some experts, listening to them have a conversation.

I'll also add that there were other people I sent emails to who never responded. So be it. If that happens to you, don't be discouraged. Just find others.

Anyhow, thanks to all the experts who helped me. Your help was immense, and contributed significant background material to the development of this screenplay.

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The Miracles of Birth

I am, of course, referring to the metaphorical births of various creative works. But they are miraculous births nonetheless. Thus, in this post, I'd like to highlight a few projects that have recently been released into the world by some friends of mine. I hope you'll check them out!

First off, my buddy Nick Weiss has just seen the DVD release of his directorial debut, the teen comedy Senior Skip Day. It stars a couple of actors I really like (though I won't tell you which of these they are). Still, they are: Tara Reid, Lea Thompson, Norm MacDonald, Gary Lundy, and Larry Miller.

Buy it at Amazon HERE. Add to your queue at Netflix HERE or Blockbuster Online HERE. Or just go pick it up at Best Buy!

And if you want a taste of his comedic sense, check out a short Nick directed, The Cat and the Blanket, over at Funny or Die.

Next, you're all (no doubt) familiar with the concept of the musical "mashup," yes? When someone deftly mixes and blends two songs together to make a single song that cleverly juxtaposes the originals? Well, my good friend Paul Davidson has recently started a website of video mashups -- both TV and film. Some very funny and clever little things in there. And hopefully the start of something great!

Please do check out CutUpTV.com, and forward the YouTube clips on to your friends!

Lastly, most of you readers of various blogs in the Scribosphere already know of and/or read Billy Mernit's excellent blog, Living the Romantic Comedy. But if you don't already, you might not know about his debut novel, Imagine Me and You. I have not read it yet, but it sounds entertaining, romantic, and cleverly mind-bending -- in the vein of Stranger than Fiction.

Congrats to all on their respective births. Guys, let me know if you need a babysitter, but please don't ask me to change any diapers!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

I Just Saw Iron Man...

...and really enjoyed it.

That being said, I just have one question. How is it that a movie that was as formulaic -- down to every last detail and plot point -- as Iron Man was, was still such a damned enjoyable flick? Your thoughts?

Minor Spoilers (both for Iron Man and Hulk):

Okay, I guess I have a second question as well. One of the trailers before Iron Man was for the upcoming Hulk movie. Not great buzz on this movie yet. But I have to wonder if it was wise to show that trailer before this one, when the core element of the plot -- revealed in the trailer -- was virtually identical to that of Iron Man. The villain takes the technology of the hero and creates a bigger, uglier and presumably more powerful version of the hero. Iron Man vs. Obidaiah (sp?). Hulk vs. Tim Roth's monstrous persona.

Even if the rest of the film is different, is it wise to show a trailer showcasing that key plot point before a movie from the same studio that uses an almost identical plot point? Rather than building interest for this troubled picture, I think it is merely hammering in a nail. Your thoughts on this as well...

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Safari Picture Update #7

The time has come for my long overdue update on the Untitled Safari Picture. For starters, I have come up with a working title, as well as a few alternate titles, but since none of them really rock my world, I'm going to still refer to it herein as the Untitled Safari Picture.

So, to catch up, the last real update got us up to the point of when I had returned from my research trip in Africa. I didn't do much updating again until THIS POST, in which I discussed (albeit vaguely) some of the changes that were taking place, and how they made me somewhat nervous. Let me start by filling in some gaps, and then move up to now.

Before we went to Africa, I did a treatment of the script (actually a few drafts of the treatment), as you may recall. The original idea was that we'd go down to Africa, and there might be some minor changes, but that I'd basically start writing the script when we got back. However, once we got back, the changes that we discussed were much more fundamental, and the story was changing more significantly. Thus, I started reworking the treatment to try and get it to a point that we all liked it, before starting the actual writing.

During that process, I hit a few story roadblocks that I couldn't find ways around, which slowed me down tremendously. The producers and I finally had a long phone meeting, and thrashed some of those issues out, and I came back to them with a newly revised treatment, which I thought was very good. They did not agree, which threw a lot of stress on me. In retrospect, I believe that a big part of this may have simply been a lack of communication, with they and I speaking a slightly different language. I think that I gave them what they were looking for, but they didn't recognize it as such because it wasn't necessarily in the form that they expected or wanted.

At that point, there was a lot of frustration and stress on all of our parts. We knew we had to keep the process moving, but things weren't looking good. I was convinced that what I had given them was good, however, so we decided that instead of continually going back and forth with the treatment, I would move on and write the first draft of the script. We would then go back and forth with that instead. Simultaneously, we revised some of our deal points. That's about the time that I wrote the "trapeze" post (with apologies again to my dear friend Montana). I wasn't pleased with changing the deal points, but I also recognized that it was necessary to do so in order to keep the project moving and for me to stay involved with it. Even though I saw it as them likely getting extra work out of me for the same price, I accepted it as the best option for me overall.

[This will be a good time for a brief interlude to mention two things. Firstly, my worries about the script reading work have also proven unnecessary, as I've picked up plenty more, and even am still reading for both Walden and New Line. So things are fine on that front.

Also, since this post does bare some of the ugly speed bumps I've run across in this process, I wanted to reiterate why I'm writing this at all. As I said in my very first post, the absolute main reason I started this blog was so that my experiences might help others. I wrote:

"[I]t is my sincere hope that this blog might be enlightening to beginning or developing screenwriters. I am first now getting to the point in my career that I'm really trying to establish myself as a professional screenwriter, and I'm hoping that by blogging about the ups and downs that I experience along the way, this might serve as some kind of guide for those who follow."

While my experiences working on this picture have certainly been unique to me, I'm certain they are at least somewhat representative of what many people go through as their careers slowly develop. I hope that by writing about these experiences, others might be better equipped to handle similar situations when they come upon them.

Anyhow, following that revised plan, I basically had about two months to deliver my first draft to the producers. (I should add that the two months was a period I gave the producers, not one they forced upon me.) Those two months got off to a slightly slower start than I would've liked, since I still had a few details to finish researching. But I did finally get moving on the writing itself. As the period wore on, I got more and more into a groove (though at many times I found myself procrastinating much more than I should have). In time, the fist draft was finally taking shape.

I had made a pretty detailed outline for myself, and was working off of that to maximize my time efficiency. And as the draft grew, I got more into the minds of my characters. I stuck very strictly to a rule that I highly recommend to anyone (especially chronic procrastinators, such as myself), which is to not do any revisions while writing. Give yourself permission to have a flawed first draft that is fully complete, knowing that you're going to be revising it. As I recently told a friend who was getting stuck on page 50-something of her script, you can never finish a script without first finishing the first draft. The flip side is that you can finish a script when you have a complete draft, even if it is weak. Writing is rewriting. So I basically forced myself to push straight through to the end, barely touching anything I had already written, and filing away all the changes I knew I'd want to make. I call this a "vomit draft," because that's what it is -- a draft that you are just spewing forth quickly. (Beautiful image, eh?)

So I was pretty much done with my vomit draft when the deadline was approaching. But I knew I wanted to clean it up and revise a bit, so that I could turn the vomit draft into a true first draft. So I sent the producers an email. I told them that I could deliver the script on deadline day, as promised, but that if they gave me just one more week it would be much better. In my mind, I much preferred to send them a cleaned up first draft, rather than a complete but very rough vomit draft. They did not seem pleased at all, but they did agree to give me the extra week. Thankfully.

So, last Thursday I finally delivered a true First Draft of the Untitled Safari Picture. It was still a bit rough around the edges (including being about 7-12 pages longer than I want the final product to be), but overall, it was a solid first effort, and much improved over the pure vomit draft. I was pleased with it, but also somewhat wary, since I had no idea whether or not the producers would like it. After that initial tension due to the lack of communication, I really just didn't know what to expect here. But, in typical Fun Joel fashion, I looked at it all with equanimity. Whatever happened, either way, would be fine with me. Obviously I wanted to continue working on the project, but if I ended up getting replaced, I'd accept that. I had had a great opportunity and learning experience, plus I got paid, and even was lucky enough to have the trip to Africa.

In the end, however, I had nothing to be worried about. That same miscommunication that made me wary, is also (I think) what made the producers tell me they were "pleasantly surprised" by the script. I told them I was glad they liked, but sorry they were surprised! In brief, we all recognized that there is still plenty of work to be done, but that this was a solid first effort, and a good start. In a phone meeting on Monday, they gave me their notes (which are generally helpful). I'm also getting some feedback from a few trusted readers, and will be doing my own review as well. I told them I wanted a short break to let it breathe, but that I want to keep this ball moving as quickly as possible. By the end of this week I'm going to get back to them to discuss a timetable for the next revision.

So, all in all, that's that and thinks are looking good for now. On to the next step, and as always I'm taking everything one step at a time.

Until next time... Have Fun!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's Going On

Just a brief post to explain where I've been the last nearly 2 months!

In short, I was on deadline with the safari script, and writing away, not leaving me much time to do much outside of work. So I apologize for the long radio silence.

I'm now coming up for air, and trying to take care of all those things that have fallen through the cracks over the last couple of months, and of course this blog is one of them. So look for a number of posts over the near future, and then a hopeful return to a more regular blogging schedule.

First up, I'll give you the next update on the safari picture. Among other things after that, I want to spread the word about a number of projects that friends of mine are involved in. I also received some questions via email, which I intend to answer on here (and by the way, you can always feel free to send me questions as well). And I'll also likely throw up a review of Stephanie Palmer's new book, Good in a Room.

So now you know where I've been and what you can hopefully look forward to. That, my friends, is what's going on!